Oli Guselle, alto

Oli Guselle is a settler born in Saskatoon (Treaty 6) now residing in Toronto (Treaty 13). They just graduated this spring with their Bachelors of Music in vocal performance from the University of Toronto, and though they are a classically trained mezzo, they put no limit on their musical expression and enjoy singing everything from musical theatre to R&B and are currently in 3 punk bands. Recent credits include: Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus (SO 2019), Marie Anna von Mozart in Mozart Re-reimagined (SO and SSO 2021), Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Sparrow Theatre 2021), and The Hero in The Sinai Sessions concept album (Dandelion Theatre 2022). They are so grateful to be performing among such wonderful colleagues, and would like to thank their family, friends, and the Saskatoon arts community for supporting them on their musical journey thus far.

Spencer McKnight, tenor

Tenor Spencer McKnight has been described as “one of the finest tenor voices” in Canada.

McKnight began singing at the age of 17. He was encouraged to pursue music by an adjudicator who heard him sing at his local music festival. His passion for music finds him frequently immersed in the music of Handel, Rossini, and Britten.

Spencer has garnered much attention both in concert and in competition over the course of the last six years, including multiple awards at a national level, and the 2018 winner of the Gordon C. Wallis Opera Competition.  Though early in his career, Spencer has had the opportunity to sing a wealth of oratorio repertoire and had recent engagements with the Regina and Saskatoon Symphony Orchestras.

He recently toured with a recital program entitled Songs of the Great War.  An artistic project many years in the making, the recital featured songs, both popular and art, from the World War One era, including the Canadian premieres of two songs by composer William Dennis Browne.

Spencer had the pleasure of making his international opera debut in Vicenza, Italy in 2019 as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He was reviewed as having a “clear timbre” by the Giornale di Vicenza.

McKnight will tour a new recital programme called “Within a Dream” in 2024 with longtime collaborator Mark Turner.

Spencer studied with teacher and mentor Lisa Hornung for many years, and now he studies with Toronto-based vocal pedagogue Mark Daboll.

His voice is described as fresh and brassy with stratospheric high notes.

Cosette Justo Valdés, conductor

With her gorgeous, passionate style and firecracking energy, Cuban-born and raised conductor Cosette Justo Valdés has garnered acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic and is a rising star on the world’s concert stage. She is presently Resident Conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Canada) where she won the hearts of musicians and audience alike with her “unique style, full of flaming energy and human warmth.” Recent highlights include a “mindblowing” (Ottawa Citizen) collaboration with Esperanza Spalding and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, and a praised Così fan tutte with the Edmonton Opera, conducted from the harpsichord.

Cosette maintains strong ties to her native Cuba, where she is celebrated as Honorary Director of the prestigious Orquesta Sinfónica de Oriente in Santiago, Cuba’s musical heartland, which she led for 9 years. During that time, she single-handedly (with a team formed by an administrator and a librarian) managed and directed the 80-musician ensemble, developing an extensive repertoire of classical and contemporary music, jazz and pop, while championing Cuban music both new and traditional. A frequent guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba in La Habana, she premiered works by Cuba’s musical luminaries including Leo Brouwer, Alfredo Diez Nieto, Roberto Valera, and many more.

With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Cosette is equally at ease leading programs from the Masters, Pops, or Kids series, garnering praise from critics, audience, and musicians alike for her “incisive presence,” “vivacity,” and “inspiring, precise, fiery” conducting. Her position with the orchestra since 2019 includes the role of Community Ambassador, through which she has developed an exceptionally warm and rewarding relationship with orchestra patrons as well as the city’s arts community. Cosette is also the Artistic Director of the Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta, the ESO’s Sistema-based program that provides free music education to some 200 children from Edmonton’s priority neighborhoods and surrounding First Nations.

Cosette holds her bachelor degree in conducting with Prof. Jorge López Marín at the Instituto Superior de Arte (La Habana, Cuba) and her master degree with Prof. Klaus Arp at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (Mannheim, Germany). As part of her training, she has assisted many conductors in Europe and the Americas, including Klaus Arp (Germany), Francesco Belli (Italy), Alexander Prior (UK), Alexander Shelley (UK) and Mario Venzago (Switzerland).

She has guest-conducted with dozens of orchestras in Germany and Eastern Europe, such as the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg, and Nationaltheater Mannheim. In addition to her duties with the Edmonton Symphony, Cosette has upcoming engagements from coast to coast in Canada, as well as across the Americas. Some highlights include two concerts with Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, 5 concerts with Thunder Bay, a collaboration with the Against the Grain Experimental Opera in Toronto and a repeat invitation with NACO in Canada, Orquesta Sinfónica de la Universidad de Guanajato (Mexico).

McKenzie Warriner, soprano

McKenzie Warriner is a Saskatchewan born and raised soprano bringing
music and text to life in works ranging from 17 th century opera to the
cutting-edge. In the 22/23 season, McKenzie is honoured to be a
Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist with Vancouver Opera, where she will
sing the role of Aurore in Le portrait de Manon, as well as understudy
Leïla in Les pêcheurs de perles and Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s
Dream. She is also excited to make her United Kingdom debut at the
2023 Aldeburgh Festival premiering new works as a Britten Pears
Young Artist. Recent credits include Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s
Alligator Pie with the Regina Symphony Orchestra, Bessie Brent in The
Shop Girl (COSA Canada), Madame Herz in Der Schauspieldirektor
(Eastman Opera Theatre), and Gretel in Hansel and Gretel (University
of Manitoba). Passionate about contemporary music, McKenzie co-
founded Slow Rise Music in 2021, a concert series devoted to creating
bold new vocal works. McKenzie earned her Master of Music degree
from the Eastman School of Music and her Bachelor of Music degree
from the University of Manitoba.

Brenden Friesen, bass

Saskatchewan born bass Brenden Friesen has captured audiences with his powerful resonance, exceptional diction, enormous comedic presence, and incredible interpretation of text (Opera Canada). Brenden is a recent graduate of the esteemed L’Atelier lyrique young artist program at l’Opéra de Montréal. His studies include a Bachelor of Arts in Voice Performance from  Briercrest College while studying with Dr. Ron de Jager, followed by completing University of Toronto’s MMus Opera degree while studying with Professor Lorna MacDonald. Brenden is now a current student of Ariane Girard in Montréal, Québec.

After debuting with Opéra de Montréal in 2018 with Verdi’s Rigoletto as Count Ceprano under the baton of Maestro Carlo Montanaro, he has since performed notable roles such as Colline in Puccini’s La bohème with both Saskatoon Opera (2018) and Highlands Opera Studio (2018), Ernest Hemingway in Ricky Ian Gordon’s Canadian debut of 27 (2019), Truffaldino in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (HOS2019), and Zaretski in Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Eugene Onegin (Opéra de Montréal 2019). Brenden has also undertaken such roles as Sarastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (2018), Leporello and Il Commendatore (UofT Opera), and Masetto (Saskatoon Opera 2017) in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Duff Warkentin, conductor

Duff Warkentin has been a choral conductor and clinician for many years. His formal post-secondary education was at Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Regina. He has conducted children’s choirs, high school choirs, church choirs, university choirs, and community choirs. He has sung under the direction of noted conductors such as Robert Shaw, George Wiebe, Helmut Rilling, John Martens, Elmer Iseler, Wayne Riddell, Jon Washburn, and Bramwell Tovey. He has prepared and conducted many of the Requiems, Masses, oratorios, and other larger works in the standard repertoire. Two particular choral experiences stand out for him. He conducted the Station Singers of Rosthern, a non-auditioned community choir, since its inception in 2000. That choir discontinued at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this summer the decision was made to end the choir. It was a difficult decision, arrived at after considering a number of factors. He was honoured to conduct this wonderful choir. He also conducted a Warkentin family choir at their triennial family reunion. This experience too is one that is tremendously important and meaningful to him. The commonality between these two experiences is that both groups were, and are, amateur choirs, in the truest sense of the word. Singing for the sheer love of music and singing together, creating together what we cannot create alone, recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, building community through music, through singing together – this is what inspires and energizes Duff Warkentin, and he is thrilled to be able to participate in Handel’s Messiah again!