What month are we in?

Post performance dinner with Marilyn Horne

Clearly, I have commitment issues.  It has been six months since my last entry and I feel terrible.  The truth is, I had completely forgotten to write until a couple of family members complained that they didn’t know where I was in the world because I wasn’t keeping up with the blog.  Whoops!  Well, here goes. Let’s start from where we left off.

I spent the summer months in paradise working on the most incredible music.  Two months in Santa Barbara, California working with Marilyn Horne, Warren Jones and the incredible music staff at the Music Academy of the West were just what the doctor ordered.  I was so grateful to be able to dedicate the whole summer to working on Gilda and Juliette, my first set of new roles for the season.  I call them a set because that’s a bit what they felt like.  By the time I had stepped off the stage after my last performance of Gilda in Toronto, I had to be on a plane across the country just six days later to start rehearsals of Juliette in Vancouver.  If I had not had the summer to eat, drink, sleep and dream these roles, it simply wouldn’t have been possible.  I am so grateful to Ms. Horne for letting me come back to Santa Barbara after some time away, to do some much needed detailed work with her, and her incredible team.  It was the most wonderful summer surrounded by old friends, colleagues and of course, those rolling California hills and beaches.  I was in heaven.

I flew from California directly back home to Toronto and began work immediately at the Canadian Opera Company.  A new production of Rigoletto for the company, with a fabulous international cast and sublime production team awaited me.  Before I knew it, I was into costume fittings with the incredible Canadian designer Michael Levine, as he moved seams one inch this way and that, added finishes, and altered hemlines, creating some of the most stunning and intricate costumes I have ever seen.  I just wanted to take them all home with me!

There were coachings with our company’s wonderful music director and conductor for the show, Johannes Debus, staging sessions with the remarkable stage director Christopher Alden, concept discussions, hair consultations, meetings, press photo shoots and interviews and before I knew it we were into the theatre.  The whole rehearsal process was wonderfully liberating, challenging and rewarding.  Christopher pushed us each to create and reveal our own character and was always open to discussion and collaboration.  Add to that the fact that the man can sing the entire piece – and I mean every characters part – from memory and crack jokes with the best of them, and needless to say, the experience was pure joy from start to finish.  I have to admit that there was a moment in the wings, just before my first entrance, when I looked down at this beautiful gown that had been made to my measurements, took in the glorious set that surrounded me and gazed into that vast auditorium at the Four Seasons Centre complete with full Verdi orchestra, where I thought, “What the hell am I doing up here and whose idea was this!?”.  I have to say though, with the dramatic inspiration of Christopher and the musical preparation of Johannes, I quickly realized that it would all be just fine.  I took my first step onto the stage and into the character.  The rest is a blur.  At the end of the final death scene, as I walked into the upstage centre spot light in the final bars of this Verdi masterpiece, I snapped back to reality and could hardly believe it had all really happened.  When it came time for the curtain calls at the end of the show, I was completely suprised, grateful and humbled by the reception.  It was one of the greatest moments of my little career so far and I won’t soon forget it.  The cast had a small celebratory dinner after the show and everyone congratulated each other on what was a tremendous team effort.  We had done it!

I had three more performances to go and family and friends flying in for each.  My mother, father, high school and university singing teachers flew in from the west coast.  My compeers from the Music Academy in Santa Barbara flew in, as well as friends from coast to coast.   But perhaps the most incredible visitor was my amazing mentor, Marilyn Horne, herself.  She flew up from New York for just one day to see a performance and I couldn’t have been happier.  Anyone who works with Ms. Horne knows that her work schedule is about as busy now as any working singer.  She flies all over the country and abroad making appearances, teaching masterclasses, judging competitions, giving speeches, guesting at universities and the list goes on.  The fact that she would make the time to come up and see a performance brought tears to my eyes.  We went for a lovely dinner following the performance, with my boss, Alexander Neef, and a few of the cast members.  I was so grateful she made the trip and so proud to share the experience with her, especially after all the work we had done on Gilda together in the months leading up to my debut.   It was another night that will be hard to forget.

By the end of the Rigoletto run I was exhausted and thankful in equal parts.  It was now clear to me what I was made of.  It was also very clear to me that I had amassed the most incredible support group of friends, colleagues and confidants that I could lean on and trust no matter what happened.  That role debut would absolutely not have been the same without them.  You know the old saying, “It takes a village…”, well it applies to creating professional artists too and I am so thankful for mine.  With just a few days to catch up with these wonderful people, pack my bags, clean my house for the incoming sub letter, and do some final coaching on the next role, I was off to the other side of the country to start the whole process again.  This time in French.  More on that in my next post.

Happy holidays to everyone and Happy New Year if I don’t get to the blog again before then!

Posted in Onstage | Leave a comment

That’s all folks!

Well, that’s another season down.  The last week of contract felt like a whirlwind.  With lots of Ariadne performances, a million errands to run, packing to do and goodbyes to new friends and colleagues, I’m not sure where the time went.  I now find myself in the Okanagan Valley in BC, with about 96 hours of complete vacation and time to reflect.  The last year has been filled with many

Start of summer

lessons learned on the stage and off.  There were hurdles to over come, challenges to meet and some of the most rewarding experiences along the way.  The absolute highlight of the year was crafting my first Pamina in our new production of Magic Flute.  With all of this time to reflect, I expected this to be a long winded post mortem on the 10/11 season.  Instead, I find myself looking forward into the future, overwhelmed with excitement.  For many months now, I’ve been referring to “next seasons” contracts or assignments.  All of a sudden, “next season” is right around the corner.  In fact, rehearsals start just two months from today.  I really tried not to bring any work with me on this 4 day mini vacation, but there was room left in my suitcase, and I simply couldn’t resist.  To be fair – work really doesn’t feel like work when you’re poolside with an orchestra score in one hand and sangria in the other…

The next stop this summer is Santa Barbara, California.  I’ll be working on some of the new roles I’ll be debuting next season with my teacher and a wonderful team of coaches.  Most importantly, Gilda from Verdi’s Rigoletto and Juliette from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.  These are the priority as they happen back to back and right at the beginning of the season.  Both roles are demanding both vocally and dramatically and I look forward to sinking my teeth into them.  I can think of no better place to prepare than in beautiful California with the wonderful Marilyn Horne leading the way.  It will be an inspired summer to be sure.  I’ll try to strike a balance between practice room time and beach time.  Updates from the Golden State coming soon!

Posted in Onstage | Leave a comment

When it rains…it pours.

It pours illness that is…

A view from the dressing room.

Since singing those performances sick as a dog at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in March, I have been knocked out by one bug after another. Stomach stuff, head colds, allergies, sore throats, fatigue…the list goes on. As someone who is generally quite healthy and is either singing or covering a performance every other day right now, you can imagine how frustrating and frightening that is. Some where between making ginger tea, boiling the chicken noodle soup and throwing back shots of straight Grey Goose (just to kill the evil throat germs, I assure you :) ) I completely forgot to write. To be fair, I haven’t exactly been bed ridden. Work and life have been very busy, and things have not really slowed down even with the plague…or whatever this endless string of maladies is.

So, mid March I got back to work at the COC starting with rehearsals for Ariadne auf Naxos the first Monday back and Orfeo ed Euridice the next. Cenerentola (Cinderella) also started rehearsals and between the three shows, there were many reunions with old friends and colleagues. It was so lovely to see familiar conductor, music staff and singer faces around the work place and exciting to catch up with everyone and see where life and work are taking them. I caught the charming double bill of Le docteur Miracle and L’heure espagnole at the Glenn Gould School, had a lovely girls ‘surf n turf dinner’ at a friends in Kensington Market, went apartment hunting with my best friend, and completed a couple of lengthy grant applications including new recordings of some audition repertoire. That takes care of March.

April was full to the brim with Ariadne rehearsals. Since this show is such an ensemble piece, I was in staging rehearsals for six hours almost every day. However, when you spend those hours surrounded by the likes of Alice Coote, Adrianne Pieczonka, Jane Archibald, Richard Stillwell, Richard Margison and Sir Andrew Davis, you are grateful for every minute. Not only are all of these people INCREDIBLE musicians, but they are all lovely, warm and funny individuals. This has been an incredible cast to learn from both on the stage and off. Aside from staging, there was music rehearsal and staging for Euridice, the role that I cover in Orfeo ed Euridice and mid April, the orchestra rehearsals for Ariadne began. Here is where I take a minute to talk about the playing of the COC Orchestra. Strauss, Rossini, Gluck? It’s all absolutely stunning. You have to thank you lucky stars every day when you get to sing on a stage with that team in the pit.

Then there was Adi Braun’s gig at the Trane Studio, by day the COC’s wonderful German diction coach, by night Toronto’s resident jazz diva. Adi was sensational – and talk about a talented family – her brother just happens to be Russell Braun, the great Canadian baritone. Later that week, I helped a friend out at a Gala she hosted for a sister arts organization in town, which was a smash success. Remind me not to wear five inch stilettos whilst volunteering, ever again. The next weekend was the beautiful Jane Archibald’s wedding shower, and also some wedding dress shopping with my very best friend (there’s never been a prouder maid-of-honour!). There was a concert of Mahler and Strauss by the young artists. Then Orfeo moved into technical rehearsals in the theatre and we all began to see what an incredibly visually stunning production director Robert Carsen had up his sleeve. And finally, we opened Ariadne auf Naxos on April 30th to wonderful reviews from audiences and critics alike.

I can’t believe it is already the middle of May. Orfeo opened May 8th to rave reviews, again from critics and audiences alike. I headed to Montreal for a short trip and a single audition. I was there about 24 hours but was able to meet up with my lovely Tamino, from our COC Magic Flute production just a few months ago, Frederic Antoun, for brunch before the audition and some wonderful old friends and mentors for a quick bite just before hopping on the train back home. I got some great news at dinner. A very close friend, and wonderful violinist, landed a coveted spot in a great Canadian string quartet and will be touring wildly from now until eternity, playing shows all over the world – Félicitations Mira! It is always wonderful to see your hard working, dedicated and grounded colleagues succeed in this crazy business of music making. We celebrated a couple of birthdays for colleagues that are in from overseas working on the shows – doing our best to be the ever hospitable Canadians we are and throwing lovely champagne bashes.

There was an Italian song and aria concert and the incredible Lotfi Mansouri was here for a week to work with all of the young artists. Like a handful of people who have come into my life, I will forever be grateful just for having known Lotfi. His wealth of knowledge, experience and passion for this art form are utterly refreshing and inspiring. He reminded us all to be our own artists, and to fight the good fight to get there. Let’s hope we can all make him proud. We had visiting coach Tony Maloni here last week and the wonderful Marlena Malas is here to teach lessons this week. We are now half way through both Ariadne and Orfeo with four shows left for each before the end of the run. Tomorrow night is the Ariadne performance that is being taped for CBC radio, so I had better stop typing and head to bed. The COC 10/11 season comes to a close at the end of May and there will certainly be more to share by then. Have to book a couple of flights and then it’s off to bed. Sleep tight!

Posted in Onstage | Leave a comment


My view from the Nightingale stage at BAM complete with flooded orchestra pit. Photo credit: Mandy Mangold

…Polo! It’s been a month since my last blog post and I have no idea where the time has gone. Between finishing the run of Magic Flute shows in Toronto and a whirlwind tour to NYC on tour with the COC, there doesn’t seem to have been time to breathe, much less blog.

The last two weeks of February were filled with Flute performances and wonderful visits from family and friends from all over. I was fortunate to have had both my mother and father, my little brother, my high school singing teacher and university singing teacher, my manager, a wonderful mentor and friends from far and wide, come to Toronto (in most cases by airplane) and see performances. There was a family member or close friend at each show and I don’t know what more a girl could ask for. Being able to spend time with my family, which I rarely get to see, was a particular treat. I thought of stealing my brothers boarding pass in the hopes that he couldn’t get on the plane and head back across the country. The shows went very well with the entire cast really making the most of every night out on the stage. It was awfully sad to say goodbye to my lovely colleagues but I know we all see each other again on another stage…some as soon as next season. Hooray!

Just as we wrapped up Magic Flute – with about a 24 hour turn around – the orchestra, chorus, soloists and members of tech and admin hopped on planes headed to Laguardia airport in NYC. Thus began the COC tour to the Brooklyn Academy of Music with our critically acclaimed production of The Nightingale and other short fables. I say “our” as though I had something to do with it. Frankly, I just sing some high notes. Nightingale was the brainchild of the brilliant Canadian director Robert LePage. Set to music by Igor Stravinsky, this technically complex masterpiece of puppetry includes an orchestra pit flooded with about 3 feet of water, a maestro on a tiny bridge, a troupe of flexible acrobats, and a whole lot of wet suits. It was a lot of fun to travel with the COC – the flight full of chorus and orchestra members was a particular highlight – and it was lovely to reconnect with old friends, in the form of the soloists, all of which had performed the show with us last season in Toronto. Unfortunately, I caught a bad case of strep throat about as soon as I stepped off the plane and ended up spending the entire week in the hotel room, the theatre or the doctor’s office. With my US health insurance running out at the end of the BAM contract, I was forced to come back to Toronto instead of spending the next week – my one holiday week from work – in NYC. Instead of catching 3 shows at the Met, a couple of concerts, two Broadway plays and a whole lot of coaching on Ariadne…I spent the better part of the week shuffling around my apartment in Toronto sipping hot tea. The rest of the company however, took Brooklyn and Manhattan by storm and the performances and tour were a huge success.

I still have no singing voice to speak of, but work starts again Monday and with both Ariadne and Orfeo to prepare, there is no rest – even for the sickly. Ariadne starts rehearsals in two weeks and Orfeo in three. Luckily, I had the foresight to learn Njade (the high flying nymph in Ariadne) this summer when I was away in Italy, but it would be lovely to have my voice back sooner rather than later as it is not exactly an easy sing. It also happens to be some of the most exquisite music I’ve ever heard and I can’t wait to see what Sir Andrew Davis has to say about the score when he arrives to conduct the show. Orfeo means the return of the lovely Harry Bickett who conducted our Idomeneo last season and another beautiful piece. It should be a charming spring indeed!

Over the last few nights, as the cabin fever and score scouring became unbearable, I ventured out to a couple of performances in town. The first was a workshop performance by Tapestry New Opera of their commission “Oksana G.” in the Distillery district, then a performance of Don Giovanni at the U of T Opera School and finally a concert this evening at Koerner Hall. In just 72 hours I was reminded of how much talent there is in this city of ours and what incredible performance venues we are blessed with in the downtown core alone. It also reminded me to try and attend more performances when we get back to work, even after a long rehearsal day. It is pretty darn inspiring (not to mention RELAXING!) to be in the audience sometimes…. *I must take a moment to make a huge shout out to an incredible artist – who happens to be my very best friend – the wonderful soprano Jennifer Schinzel, made a stunning Donna Anna at U of T!  Brava diva!*

Now it is back to this Orfeo score and lemon honey tea…

Posted in Onstage | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Another opening…not just another show.

Well, we did it.  We survived our first performance of Magic Flute.  To be fair, it felt like the stars aligned and everything fell into place.  All I can hope is that the audience felt the same way.  We had a wonderful time and I can’t wait to get up there again!

There is something very special about making a role debut at your home company.  From the dressers and makeup artists, to the chorus and orchestra members, to the administrators and even that backstage security guards, everyone has known me for almost two years now and knew what a big night it was.  It was an incredible feeling to walk off between scenes to smiles and pats on the back, and when all was said and done, bows were taken and we were able to relax, the line of company members popping by to offer their congratulations and hugs was incredibly heartwarming.  I just wish there was some way to illustrate just how many people are involved in making one of these operas go off without a hitch.  The audience only has a chance to applaud the handful of us on the stage any given evening, but there are multiple floors backstage that are filled with incredibly talented individuals and in fact, here at the COC a whole other building across town that contribute so much to each performance being a success.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to sing my first Pamina in such kind, talented and genuine company.

As I walked out to take my curtain call (all the while focusing on not tripping in my 4 inch pink heels) I began to tear up a bit.  When did this happen?  When did I go from sitting in the nose bleed section, trying to get a good look at the prima donna’s stunning dress, to being in a stunning dress of my own, heading to down centre to take my bow on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre as a member of the Canadian Opera Company?  When you work at something every day, time can pass very slowly…one hour at a time in the practice room, carefully correcting every flaw and adjusting every sound, but on that night, it felt like all of this had happened in the blink of an eye.  I cannot express how grateful I am to have had this opportunity and I simply cannot wait for next season here in Toronto.

Some of my very best friends were able to make it to our opening night, lending their support and making the whole night so much sweeter.  Tonight is the final dress rehearsal with the ensemble cast and then I have another 4 shows to go.  There will be family from the West coast, my two first singing teachers from Vancouver and friends at all of the upcoming performances and I can’t wait to see them all, and for them to see the show.  It is truly beautiful.

Since my first show with the mainstage cast, all of my attention and energy has been devoted to putting the final touches on the ensemble cast performance.  Final dress is tonight, on the stage, with the orchestra and chorus plus set, costumes and props.  Tomorrow we have off and then Thursday night is our performance.  All of my colleagues in the Ensemble here at the COC are pretty phenomenal and I think it will be a truly wonderful performance of this Mozart masterpiece.

Yesterday was an exciting day.  Vancouver Opera had their 2011-2012 season announcement on Valentines day.  I am very excited to announce that I will be singing Juliette from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette with them.  I am thrilled to be able to share this incredible French opera with the wonderful opera audience in Vancouver.  I am also thrilled to be able to spend some time in my hometown and to work with a company that I have had so much respect for since the very start of my operatic journey…but more on that in a later post.

Yesterday I was also able to announce that I will be doing a recital tour next season.  I will be touring Atlantic Canada with Debut Atlantic. Canadian Baritone Tyler Duncan, Canadian pianist Erika Switzer and I will head out east for a few weeks in March of 2012.  Recital work is an absolute passion of mine.  Every part of the process intrigues and challenges me.  From choosing a fitting group of repertoire, the hours (and I mean HOURS) of time exploring the poetry and music that creates these songs, to the incredibly intimate performance quality that is introduced when there is no costume, orchestra or “character” to hide behind, recitals are completely terrifying and in turn, completely rewarding.  Recital work is also a passion of one of my wonderful teachers and mentors, Marilyn Horne.  When I mentioned to Ms. Horne that I had been offered a recital tour, it was made very clear that – on pain of death – I would be doing this tour.  J I wouldn’t have it any other way either. On a personal note, my father spent much of his youth growing up in the Maritimes and I am excited to explore some of the land he loved very much and told me all about when I was young.

Well, I had better start getting ready for this evenings rehearsal.  I still need to pick up supplies, snacks, head over to the rehearsal space for a warm up, look over my score and get to the theatre for a 6pm makeup call…

Happy (belated) Valentines day!

Posted in Onstage | 2 Comments

Performances, Press and Parties!

It’s been a fabulously full few days. After recovering from a wonderful dress rehearsal for Magic Flute, it was right back to work with staging rehearsals for the young artist cast.  These rehearsals are full of laughter and silliness making for a very open and creative environment.  We are a pretty close group, and have a lot of fun as we put together this Mozart masterpiece.  The ensemble performance on Feb 17th should really not be missed.  It is a great, affordable option especially if it is your first time to the opera.  You’ll only part with $22 and experience one of the most famous operas of all time in a stunning production full of youthful energy and spirit.

Wednesday morning was the season announcement for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2011-2012 season.  Listening to the incredible plans of the TSO for their 90th anniversary season, seated in the heart of Roy Thomson Hall was a wonderful way to start the day.  I am thrilled to be able to tell you all that I will be singing my first Mozart Requiem with the TSO next year.  There will be four performances in January of 2012, with a fabulous cast including the wonderful Canadian tenor, Frederic Antoun, who sings Tamino opposite me in Flute this month, and the lovely Canadian baritone, Tyler Duncan, who I will work with on another project next season!  The fact that I will have the opportunity to make my debut with this great orchestra, in such a beautiful hall and in such a remarkable piece of music leaves me speechless…and very, very grateful.

That evening was the open dress rehearsal for Magic Flute.  When I arrived, the opera house was filled to the brim with energetic, excited school aged kids.  However, a few bars into the overture, a hush fell over the thousands of seats, and the hall seemed transfixed.  During intermission I heard lots of conversations between the kids about the music, the story, the singers, orchestra, and costumes…It was heartwarming to see thousands of young people utterly engaged in the performance they were attending.  The curtain call at the end of the show sounded more like the end of a Justin Bieber concert than a Mozart opera, with all of the kids screaming and clapping whole heartedly.  Some of the littlest members of the audience didn’t want the show to end and asked for the music to start all over again…

I was able to catch a couple of other performances in the city and a rehearsal for the COC’s Nixon in China this week.  It’s always nice to escape from Mozart land for a little while.  Although, I just never seem to get sick of this score…

This week also marked the airing of a profile on me for CBC Television’s “The National” with Peter Mansbridge.  I was fortunate enough to have a CBC camera crew, producer and journalist follow me around for the better part of a week as I attended rehearsals, coachings, costume fittings, events and conducted interviews.  I have to say that the National team is truly a remarkable group of people.  I felt honoured to be able to share my story and to work with them to shed some light on this incredible art form we call classical music.  A huge thanks to the CBC and the The National.  You can watch the story here if you’re interested:                                     http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/TV_Shows/The_National/1233408557/ID=1774854877

This was not the only press to air this week.  I sat down with Margo Kelly of the CBC’s “The World at Six” to chat about Magic Flute and life as a young singer, and also did an interview with Sylvie L’Écuyer for French CBC with my counterpart, tenor Frederic Antoun.  French interviews are always a bit nerve wracking as my spoken French has been in a tailspin since finishing French immersion in school and especially after living in Italy this past summer and learning Italian.  Thank goodness Frederic was there to save me when I got stuck, fix my verb conjugations and provide enough charm for two!

The opening night of Magic Flute was one of those nights that dreams are made of.  The performance was beautiful, the audience was completely starry eyed as they left the theatre and the after party in the lobby of the opera house was a wonderful celebration of the great accomplishments of so many.  Cocktail dresses and tailored suits abounded, guests dined on risotto and wine and everyone mingled happily for hours.  As often happens on nights like this, the cast enjoyed each others company into the early morning hours and I for one slept well into the afternoon the following day.  The collegial, supportive atmosphere is palpable amongst this cast, and nights like this only serve to strengthen our relationships and in turn our performances.  You always say a little thank you to the universe when you are blessed with a cast like this!

The other cast of Flute had a performance on Tuesday night, but that didn’t stop the Papageno (Rodion Pogossov), Queen of the Night (Aline Kutan), and Papagena (Lisa DiMaria) from joining Frederic and I for the inaugural performance of the Health Arts Society of Ontario on Wednesday afternoon.  We performed excerpts from the Magic Flute for a wonderful audience at a long term care facility here in Toronto.  Johannes Debus lead us all from the piano and many administrators from the COC were in attendance for the press conference and performance.  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to perform for a group of people who can no longer come and hear us at the opera house.  Many of the residents that I spoke with mentioned being long time subscribers of the COC, lovers of classical music, theatre patrons and even musicians themselves.  They were so grateful and appreciative of us coming to perform for them.  What they don’t realize is that we were just as grateful to be able to sing for them.  After all, isn’t that the whole point of doing this?  Connecting with people, making them feel something and sharing a little bit of your soul – I have to thank Health Arts for the incredible opportunity and to the COC for supporting such a worthwhile venture.

Today was back to reality with an audition, an interview one of my favourite publications (details coming soon!), a radio interview, rehearsal for the ensemble Flute cast and a German diction coaching.  Tomorrow is my day off this week.  It will include a much needed check in with my personal trainer (thanks to the COC, all of the young artists work with the incredible Jasen of Libra Fitness), some work on Ariadne auf Naxos (my next mainstage show with the COC), reviewing my Flute score, catching up on correspondance and maybe even a quiet dinner with two of my best girl friends.  It is just one week to my first Flute performance and I couldn’t be more excited!  February 10th – here we come!

Posted in Onstage | 4 Comments

Recovery day.

It is 2pm and I am still in my bathrobe…

Curled up on the couch with a warm cup of tea, I’m still in recovery from last night’s orchestra dress rehearsal for my cast of Magic Flute. It’s been a busy week and today, being -25 outside and my only day off, shall be dedicated to rest.  Most of the muscles in my body are a bit sore and I feel like I could sleep for days.  This often happens after a big night on the stage, but it never ceases to amaze me.  I guess we don’t realize how much energy is expelled, how many unusual muscle groups come into play and how much mental focus is employed over the course of the evening.  In fact, the whole day yesterday was dedicated to preparing for the evenings rehearsal.

I forced myself to sleep in until noon (since I was to be on the stage until 11pm), headed to the gym for a light workout, took an extra long shower ensuring about 30 minutes of steaming and ate a good “breakfast”.  Then I headed over to the rehearsal space to walk through the staging of each and every scene of mine, spoke all of my German dialogues, warmed up slowly for about 45 minutes and headed to the theatre, grabbing dinner to go on the way.  My hair and makeup call was at 6pm for a 7:30 rehearsal start.  I got there a bit early just to settle in and soon enough, my mane of hair was in rollers, fake eyelashes were applied and I was being all suited up from head to toe in a pink princess costume.  7:15 snuck up on me and I did a couple more minutes of vocalizing in my dressing room before heading to the stage.  The day began at noon, and I got out of the theatre at about 11:30.

Last night felt a bit like reaching the summit of a mountain.  A mountain of music, words, character development, staging, German translations, nerves…and the list goes on.  Last night was the first full run of the opera, and our cast’s only shot with costumes, orchestra and set.  So, that explains the nerves!  Luckily, things went quite well and we are feeling pretty excited to start the run.  I have been blessed with incredible colleagues bursting with talent and collegial, supportive personalities.  From the Queen running the staging of her aria (the one with all of the high F’s) in her dressing room just before having to go on, just to make sure I felt comfortable, to incredible chorus members nudging me into the light when I was off my mark, it was a real team effort last night.  I am so grateful to all of them and can’t wait to get back up there with them.  February 10th can’t come soon enough!

This coming week will be filled to the brim with staging rehearsals for the Ensemble studio cast of Magic Flute. It will be nice to revisit the staging, get back to basics and have the chance to percolate on this little Mozart heroine we call Pamina, all while listening to a completely different cast.  The final dress rehearsal of Flute is this coming Wednesday with the other cast Pamina and Tamino (Isabel Bayrakdarian and Michael Schade respectively) singing.  I have to say; one of my favourite things about numerous casts is getting the chance to actually see the whole show as an audience member would.  What an uncommon luxury!  I remember doing a new Robert LePage production last season and longing to be able to sneak off stage and take a look at what everyone was raving about.  I knew it must have been beautiful to take in, but to this day, production photos are about as close as I’ll get!

This afternoon will consist of returning emails, taking a look at a new score for next season, cleaning my apartment (which has been completely neglected for a week), hitting the gym and doing a bit of reading.  Maybe I won’t even leave the building…

It’s been an exciting week of big announcements, and new experiences, but more on that in a later post!


Posted in Onstage | 7 Comments

The not so glamorous life…

Time for work.

Today was a long one.  I had a rehearsal with orchestra starting at 10am, which meant I was on the treadmill by 6am.  After I warmed up my body, it was off to the practice room to warm up my voice.  Then I headed straight over to the opera house for the rehearsal.  The COC orchestra is absolutely incredible and it is a true privilege to be able to sing with them.  When you add Johannes Debus, our new music director at the COC, to the mix – the result is magical.  Since there are two Paminas and Taminos for this production, Frederic Antoun (the wonderful young Canadian tenor who sings Tamino opposite my Pamina) and I were singing with the orchestra today.  It was a great morning of music, and we got through the whole second act of Magic Flute.

Freddy and I grabbed a quick lunch with some of the music staff that were at the rehearsal before I had to head to the CBC studios here in Toronto.  I was excited about this particular radio interview, for Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, as it is one of my favourite radio programs and Bill Richardson, the programs host is a lovely, knowledgeable and witty character that I have had to pleasure of knowing for a few years now.  After three hours of music rehearsal, I was a bit zonked, but as soon as I heard Bill’s voice over the headset, I knew we would have some fun.  The interview will be airing this Saturday after the Traviata live broadcast from the Met (about 3:50pm).  Here is a link in case you’re interested:


It can also be streamed online in a couple of different time zones.  We chatted about a whole host of things, including Carnegie, Magic Flute and some exciting future engagements.

After the interview it was back to the COC rehearsal space for some work on my recital rep.  Luckily, friend and colleague Topher Mokrzewski was able to work with me at the piano and we ran through all of my solo rep for the recital.  This will be happening daily until I leave for NYC.

Thank goodness there is a supermarket down the block from the rehearsal space, as I had about 15 minutes to grab some dinner before a staging rehearsal for the Ensemble cast of Magic Flute.  I am fortunate enough to be singing both in the main stage production of Flute and the young artist ensemble performance.  Both casts are absolutely marvellous and each brings a different energy and insight to the piece.

Rehearsal finished at 9pm tonight.  I’ll be looking over the Carnegie rep some more tonight, however at this juncture, collapsing on the couch is about all that seems physically possible…

Tomorrow is an early costume fitting (9:45 is early in soprano land) at the rehearsal space, followed by the Sitzprobe for Magic Flute at the opera house, then back to the rehearsal space for another press interview (this time with cameras…more info coming soon!), and then a music rehearsal for an upcoming concert here in Toronto.  Following that, I’ll do another rehearsal with Topher on the Carnegie recital rep and then venture out in the hopes of finding a new gown for the NYC recital.  Wish me luck!

Posted in Onstage | 9 Comments

Long days and long nights

I am currently in the thick of staging The Magic Flute with the Canadian Opera Company.  I get to sing the part of a princess who falls in love with a handsome prince – AND – I get a pink dress.  That is a good day in soprano land.  This particular Flute is a new production; meaning that the set, costumes, and concept have never been presented before.  It is very exciting to take part in a new production because there is so much creative energy flowing in the rehearsal space.  However, there is also a lot of time and energy invested in coming up with fresh ideas and a new vision about a piece.  This means full 6 hour rehearsal days (we’re not allowed to work longer – Union rules), 6 days a week.  Lately, we have been working from about 2:30, taking a dinner break at 5:30 and coming back to work until 10 or 10:30pm.  Six hours of work a day probably seems like a breeze for most normal human beings, but when you include time each night and morning brushing up your memorized music, German dialogue and staging (movements on the stage – where to go and when) plus a good half hour warm up before each rehearsal, your day starts to fill up rather quickly.  Add to that a daily work out, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and all other normal human activities and theres no room left.  Forget nights out on the town, date night, girls night, movie night…come to think of it…EVERY night is spent in rehearsal.  Phone calls to family become scarce, laundry piles up and friends remove you from their speed dial during the rehearsal process.  It’s the nature of the beast.

In addition to getting Flute up and running, I am preparing for a very exciting/terrifying recital debut.  I will be making my Carnegie Hall debut this month.   The recital is a part of the Marilyn Horne legacy series at Carnegie.  I am fortunate enough to share the stage with the venerable Warren Jones at the piano and Canadian tenor, Jeffrey Hill.  So, every night after Flute rehearsals are done, I come home and get to work on Schumann, Viardot and Strauss…

Days full of Mozart and nights full of French and German song.  Doesn’t get much better than that.   I can hardly believe how many family members, friends and supporters are travelling to New York for the event, and I’ve got to make them proud!  On that note, it’s back to the music.  Off to remind myself of some dynamic markings in the Strauss and a couple of tricky memory spots in the Schumann.  Wish me luck!

Tomorrow will include a stop in at the gym, a meeting at the bank, picking up some groceries (only 2 apples and half a jar of pickles in the fridge) and some practicing of the recital rep before Flute rehearsal starts at 2:30. We’ll rehearse until 10:30, then I owe my mother a long distance call and I’ll take a look at some dialogue for the show and go over the Carnegie rep again before bed.  So far, Tuesday looks similar…

Posted in Onstage | 2 Comments

A year in review

Vino a Venezia

To be honest, I don’t know where 2010 really began.  For a couple of years now, I have had very bad sense of time.  Often times I won’t remember whether a performance happened 3 weeks ago or 3 months ago. Some weeks fly by, while others feel endless.  And don’t even try and ask me what day of the week it is at any given time…I’ll fail miserably.  The inherent lack of routine built into this little career I’ve chosen is probably the main culprit.  I am also generally under the impression that I am not accomplishing as much as I could or should be accomplishing at any given point in time.  So, I’ve decided to consult my 2010 day planner to figure out what I actually did this year.

Here goes:

January 1st 2010, we were already into the thick of rehearsals for Carmen at the Canadian Opera Company.  This was my first Carmen and between singing Frasquita and covering Michaela, I think I now know the score cover to cover.  We called Carmen the dream team.  This cast was truly the most incredible group of people I’ve ever worked with.  We all said it – that was the best contract of our lives so far.  It started on New Year’s Eve and we were all inseperable until the end of the run in March.  Trips to Niagara Falls, countless hours of hilarious rehearsals, epic steak dinners at the Keg across from the theatre and many a hotel gathering were had.  I miss everyone to this day.   The first month of the year also marked my debut with the Edmonton Symphony.  We performed Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Bach Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen. That’s about enough coloratura for a lifetime…

February was full of Carmen performances and also welcome visits from friends and family.  Having moved to Toronto just months prior, it was nice to see close friends including Canadian conductor Gordon Gerrard, trumpet player Jeremy Vint and my very own little brother from out west.  It was Corbin’s first visit and we went wine tasting in Niagara, took our first helicopter ride (over the falls) and had a great time running around Toronto.

March marked the break between the winter and spring sections of my contract here at the COC.  I had two weeks off during which, the fabulous pianist Andrea Grant and I performed a series of concerts on the west coast of Canada before heading to Hong Kong to perform a lieder recital for the Hong Kong International Arts Festival.  That was a whirlwind trip involving almost as much travel time as time on the ground, but the recital was very well received and we had a great time doing it.  We did get a little bit of time to explore and…shop.  Four words: Hong Kong Pearl Markets.  After a 16 hour flight, it was right back to work in Toronto.

April was a balancing act, as I was staging both Maria Stuarda and Idomeneo at the same time with the COC.  It was a busy time but you can’t really complain about getting to sing both Mozart and Donizetti all day long.  There were also a couple of appearances on CBC Radio in April including one with the talented Topher Mokrzewski, where we performed some standard arias and then were challenged to turn a Lady Gaga song (Telephone) into an operatic show piece.  Toph even managed to reference Tannhauser in the process.  Good times on “GO!”.

May 1st was the opening of Maria Stuarda and the rest of the month flew by with performances of both Stuarda and Idomeneo (I was only covering, thank goodness), in addition to rehearsals for the ensemble production of Idomeneo in which I sang my first Ilia.  My 2009/2010 COC contract ended at the end of the month.

June started with a lot of packing.  I locked the door to my Toronto apartment and bid it farewell for 3 months.  The first stop was Vancouver for a few concerts and recital appearances and some much needed lessons with long time teacher and touchstone Nancy Hermiston.  Then it was off to California for a recital at the Music Academy of the West as part of their “Luminary Artists” series.  I was headed across the pond next, landing in London, England just in time for my good friend Bryan Hymel’s Covent Garden debut as Don Jose in Carmen.  He was outstanding.  We had a bit of a COC Carmen reunion with our maestro, Jose, Michaela and Frasquita all in London at the same time.  I was fortunate enough to take in a lot of shows in England, seeing Carmen, Nozze and Manon at ROH, Pearl Fishers at ENO (with fabulous conductor and friend Rory Macdonald at the healm), and the new Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne.

July was when I headed south – southern Italy to be exact.  I spent the whole month in an in Italian school in Calabria thanks to the Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto.

August was filled with Italian, Opera and Italian Opera.  I headed to the Rossini Festival in Pesaro first.  My friend Joshua Stewart was singing in Viaggio a Reims and I spent the better part of a week with him, biking the boardwalks along the seaside by day (in my 4 inch stiletto sandals, like a good little Italian) and taking in a different Rossini opera every night.  Much too soon I bid farwell to Josh and headed to Tuscany.  Serena Farnocchia is an exquisite Italian soprano who sang Maria Stuarda with us at the COC last season.  I was singing the small role of Anne Kennedy, Maria’s maid, the highlight of which (in addition to the great Donizetti finales, and a generally fabulous and fun cast) was being about 3 feet from Serena all night as she flew through cadenzas, interpolated high notes all over the place and filled the Four Seasons Centre with her creamy, lush and achingly beautiful voice.  It was like free singing lessons in Italian style every night.  Another highlight?  This world class diva also happens to be the most down to earth, funny, genuine person you’ll ever meet.  Her charming and talented pianist/coach husband Paolo, and the world’s cutest 5 year old Italian girl, Matilde (with personality to BURN), were in Toronto for the whole contract and we all got quite close.  Serena and Paolo graciously opened their home to me and little Matilde quickly appointed herself my Italian teacher.  We visited the Puccini Festival in Lucca, Puccini’s villa, the leaning tower of Pisa and explored the winding roads of Tuscany en route to a few out door concerts that week.  I cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and I think this was the week that my Italian really started to stick – Brava Matilde!  Thank goodness I was going to Florence to meet my best friend next, or I probably would have never left Tuscany.  Jenn Schinzel is an incredible Canadian soprano I have the honour of calling my best friend for many years.  She was singing in Italy this summer so we met up for 2 weeks of traveling, promising to speak as much Italian as possible.  Florence, Lucca, Siena, Venice, Bologna, Cinque Terre were all stops along the way, as was pasta, wine, gelato, pizza…you get my drift.  I am now fluent in Italian and constantly craving pistacchio gelato.  I had a couple of extra days after Jenn’s departure, which I spent in Paris.  I was a different person after the d’Orsay and every minute of my time in Paris felt like a little piece of heaven.  I will live there at some point in my life – it’s non negotiable.

September marked my return to North America and the COC.  Rehearsals for Death in Venice were incredible, with Stuart Bedford, the original conductor of the piece, leading the way.   Another highlight was being able to sing at the book launch of Lotfi Mansouri at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  Lotfi and I have worked together and he used to run the COC, so it was very nice to see two worlds come together.

October marked the opening of Death in Venice, Opera Canada’s Rubie Awards, the huge see and be seen fundraiser – Operanation – at the COC, and a particularly beautiful night off, watching my good friend Gordon Gerrard lead an incredibly strong Nozze cast at Hamilton Opera.  It was also chalk full of rehearsals for the COC school tour.  Every season we tour two operas for 4-6 weeks all across Ontario, performing in elementary schools twice daily.  School tour by day, Death in Venice performances by night.

November was filled with lots of auditions as opera companies came through Toronto to see Death in Venice and Aida at the COC.  I also made two trips down to New York for auditions and lessons with the great American mezzo and teacher extraordinaire Marilyn Horne.  November was also filled with school tour performances – twice a day!

December began with a last minute trip to Vancouver for lessons with Nancy.  The second week was full of school tour performances in Toronto.  Then it was time for our annual winter week off contract.  This year we had to rehearse over Christmas, so I went to New York for the week off to do some auditions, coachings and rehearsals with pianist Warren Jones for my upcoming Carnegie Hall debut recital.  I was able to catch Magic Flute, Don Carlos, the dress and opening night of Pelleas (Simon Rattle + Debussy = magic) at the Met that week.  I flew in just in time to do a little Christmas gig with Canadian tenor Ben Heppner in a dramatic reading of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and started back at work the next morning.  Christmas eve, Christmas day and boxing day we were not scheduled for rehearsals (thank you COC!) but I still ended up skipping the tree and turkey for time in the practice room.

And that was 2010.  Thank goodness I write things down, or I don’t think I would have remembered about 6 months in there…Now that I look at it all together, 2010 was pretty darn good to me – full of incredible music, incredible people and incredible experiences.

Now, let that be the longest blog post I EVER put anyone through!

Happy New Year to all!

Posted in Onstage | 2 Comments