The 2015 Halifax Summer Opera Festival featured performer: mezzo Stephanie O’Leary!

Artist Name: Stephanie O’Leary
Voice type: mezzo soprano
Role you’re singing this year: Madame de la Haltière (the wicked stepmother) in Cendrillon

Tell us where you’re from! 

I am from London Ontario and currently reside there. I did not grow up in a home that listened to opera or musical theatre, however my father heavily influenced what I listened to with his love for classic rock. I sang all the time and was encouraged to do so. I remember watching ‘Grease’ growing up and that was my first encounter with a musical. I was soon obsessed with the movie and the majority of my friends and family will tell you I probably forced them to watch it with me for the gazillionth time against thier will. I was very fortunate to have an amazing music teacher in elementary school that encouraged me immensely while learning to play the cello. She continued to encourage me in highschool when she taught me in the vocal class offered at the school. I had no idea that going to university to persue a music career was possible and with the assistance of my music teacher, very patient piano teacher, and my extremely supportive parents, we made it happen!

When did you start studying voice? Where are you studying now?

I started studying voice at the University of Western Ontario where I completed my undergraduate degree in performance under the instruction on Jackie Short and Torin Chiles. I have continued my studies with Jackie at Western as I persue my Master’s degree.

 

What arias, songs or entire roles belonging to other voice types would you like to perform?

Der Holle Rache (Queen of the Night’s Aria)
Dove sono from Le nozze di Figaro
O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi

Who are your favourite performing artists?

Joyce Didonato
Elina Garanca
Renee Fleming
Jessye Norman 

How can we keep opera a relevant art form for young people? What is the future of opera?

This is such a loaded question and one that I hear being discussed often. I personally feel that education is key to keeping opera and classical music a relevant art form for young people. Cuts to Music education and art departments are taking away the opportunity to expose children and young teens to classical music. It also prevents them from discovering an artistic outlet that they may have never known before and want to pursue. I was lucky enough to see my first show when I was in grade six with my school. I saw more shows and my first opera in highschool. Those experiences are irreplaceable. Even my peers that were not too involved in the music program loved them and I know most of them would be inclined to see another live theatre production or live opera again because of those experiences.

I also feel as artists giving back to the community is always a great thing. Stepping back into those schools we grew up in and talking about our craft can inspire young people to learn more about classical music/opera.
 

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I am most looking forward to working with the faculty and meeting my fellow participants involved with the program. This will be my first year at HSOF and I always find it refreshing and interesting to learn/discover what new teachers and coaches have to offer! It also doesn’t hurt that I get spend a month doing what I love in beautiful Halifax!

Thanks, Stephanie! Are you a participant or staff member this year? Why not submit your own answers to our questionnaire

The 2015 Halifax Summer Opera Festival: Featured performer, soprano Breanne Rourke!

Artist Name: Breanne Rourke.
Voice type: soprano
Role you’re singing this year: Spirit 2 in Cendrillon

Tell us where you’re from!

I’m from St. Catharines, ON and I first became interested in opera while completing my Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance with Torin Chiles. I was always interested in singing classical music and art song prior to that, but being at Western and studying so intently really opened my eyes up to how wonderful, grandiose, and just magical opera can be. I love diving into an aria and enveloping myself into the music, the score, the character. I am a mystery in my family, as I am the only one who has a musical background! When my mother was pregnant with me, she played classical music through headphones and put them on her stomach every night. She was also visually artistic, but I primarily come from a science/math heavy family. I was very fortunate and blessed to have a family who supported me so heavily in my music career!

When did you start studying voice? Where are you studying now?

I took voice lessons at 5 years old, but my teacher just made me sing Disney songs. At 11, I knew this was a passion of mine and I wanted to be serious about it. So I studied with David Holler in Niagara for 7 years, before going off to University – he played a major role in shaping the singer I am today. I studied under Torin Chiles throughout my undergrad at Western, and I made major breakthroughs with him in 4 years. He really helped to polish my technique and inspired me to teach voice. I am now studying with Rachel Mallon in London, whom I just adore. We do a lot of body awareness exercises, which has allowed me to be more focussed.

What came first for you: theatre or music?

Definitely music. I was never really involved in a lot of theatre growing up – I was so busy with voice lessons, piano lessons, and theory lessons. I did get involved in the chorus of my high school’s play Urinetown, and I loved that. I am looking forward at gaining more experience on the stage!

What are your dream roles? Why?

As I’m settling into being a lyric soprano, and am fairly new to performing opera, I would love to play the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. I find her character challenging, musically and emotionally. I have sung Dove sono and Porgi amor and both are great arias, as they exhibit her pain, while displaying technical and dynamic changes. And who doesn’t love Mozart?!

What arias, songs or entire roles belonging to other voice types would you like to perform?

If I could have any fach, it would be dramatic! I love the colour dramatic sopranos produce. I would LOVE to be able to sing Strauss or Wagner. When I DO hear these dramatic sopranos sing these roles, I just immerse myself completely into what they are singing. One of my best friends is a ‘baby’ dramatic soprano, and every time we are together I make her sing for me! Ha! 

Who are your favourite performing artists?

I know this sounds really cliche, but I do love Renee Fleming. The finesse of her instrument is gorgeous. I would love to have my technique solidified like that! I am a big fan of Jessye Norman, her voice is so majestic to listen to. I’m a fan of pop/folk music as well, and my favourite vocalist would be Sara Bareilles.

How can we keep opera a relevant art form for young people? What is the future of opera?

I think opera IS relevant today – I love that there are so many smaller opera companies within Canada giving opportunities to singers. I feel like we need to expose opera and classical music to the younger generation. As a teacher of many young students, they simply don’t know about it. Or they think that opera is the typical ‘fat lady singing’ – I think it’s our job, as performers, to educate!

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I am looking forward to performing my first role in an opera! I have never been a part of this before, so it’ll be really fun to pour myself into the whole experience. I’m like a sponge – I am passionate about learning about my craft and I am so glad for this opportunity to make myself a better singer! I’m also really looking forward to meeting everyone and working with the cast of Cendrillon. It’ll be so fun to hang out with people with one big common interest – opera and theatre!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about you and your journey to HSOF?

This past year I have worked so hard to create opportunities for myself within opera, while working on my technique. I own my own voice studio with over 40 students, and conduct a church choir, so time off is rare. I love being a singer/teacher/conductor – but I am definitely ready to take my performing skills and my career to the next level!

Thanks, Breanne! Are you a participant or staff member this year? Why not submit your own answers to our questionnaire

The 2015 Halifax Summer Opera Festival featured performer: Meghan Hopkins!

Artist Name: Meghan Hopkins.
Voice type: mezzo soprano
Role you’re singing this year: Mrs Ott in Susannah

Tell us where you’re from!

I’m from London, Ontario and it was actually my vocal teacher that got me interested in opera/classical music. My first experience with opera type music was when I saw a production of Phantom of the Opera. The enticing high notes of the characters made me want to sing and be as powerful as them!

When did you start studying voice? Where are you studying now?

I started studying voice in grade 10, which seems quite late in the singer world. I am currently studying at Western University, under the tutelage of Bethany Horst.

What came first for you: theatre or music?

Acting is a true passion of mine. I love the written play and the emotion it can evoke. I bring my passion of acting to my music, to make it truly believable.

What are your dream roles? Why?

My dream role for opera is Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. I love the comedic relief the character brings to the story, I also believe he represents the deep emotions of love.
My dream musical theatre role is Eponine in Les Miserables. Eponine represents the rejections we all face in life and I would be honoured to represent such a strong emotional character.

How can we keep opera a relevant art form for young people? What is the future of opera?

As an optimist, I think the future of opera is a bright one. I think singing English opera’s are a way to relate to younger audiences, but opera’s in other languages can be intriguing! If we can introduce young people to the stories in opera that are still relevant today, I think it can become a more relevant art form.

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I’m looking forward to meeting and learning wonderful music with everyone! I’m excited to be working with wonderful staff and the other young artists within the program. I’m also excited to experience beautiful Halifax and perform my first operatic role!

Thanks, Meghan! Are you a participant or staff member this year? Why not submit your own answers to our questionnaire

Halifax Summer Opera Festival Featured Performer: Eric Charbonneau

Our first featured performer is Éric Charbonneau, the conductor for Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. He made his debut with us last year as the music director for the Opera Scenes program as well as the Musical Theatre night.

Éric is from St-Félicien, Lac-St-Jean, Qc and has had a passion for Musical Theatre since high school. His excitement for opera is more recent. It all started in his undergraduate studies when he got to assist famous Quebec stage director Normand Chouinard at the University of Sherbrooke for their production of Massenet’s Cinderella. Since then, Éric completed a masters of music in collaborative piano and discovered so much about the world of singers!

Éric is now a Vocal Coach at Western University, London, On and is frequently music director musical theatre and opera productions.

Éric started studying piano at the age of 5.

In opera land, Eric dreams of working again on Verdi’s La Traviata. In the world of musical theatre his life won’t be complete until he directs a production of RENT!

If Eric was a singer he would love to perform his favourite aria – Saint-Saëns’ Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samson et Dalila.

Eric has a lot of admiration for wonderful musicians he worked and studied with such as Dr. John Hess & Maestra Judith Yan!

Eric strongly believes in making opera more accessible and more intimate. He is currently music directing a very exciting production of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment in a small theatre with limited seating (72 seats). His colleague Mireille Camier (stage director from Montreal) is transforming this operetta into a shorter interactive contemporary version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPm3IV1NSaA

Street Scene is the perfect opera at the crossroads between Musical Theatre and Opera! What an exciting project to work on! Eric also is looking forward to work with young kids!

Are you a participant this year? Why not submit your own answers to our questionnaire