Canadian mezzo Sarah Klapman: featured artist of the 2017 Halifax Summer Opera Festival

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Florence Pike in Britten’s Albert Herring

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“I’m a swimmer, a huge book nerd, I’m also studying psychology and I LOVE neuroscience! I can’t wait to see these amazing shows come together, and to learn at each step of the process”

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Where are you from? How did you first get interested in opera or musical theatre? 

Hi! My name is Sarah, although my friends at Mount Allison University call me Kaye. I’m originally from Toronto, but am loving my time on the East Coast! My mum is a classically trained singer and my dad is a jazz pianist; it’s a running gag in our family that it would have been disastrous if my brother or I didn’t turn out to be musical. I grew up listening to more jazz than opera, and I sang some musical theatre. In one performance, I was a princess in a pink dress singing a love duet to the prince – only I was so much taller that he had to stand on a bench. I switched to opera soon after!

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

I’ve been a choral singer since I was really little, but my mother has strong opinions about kids doing private singing lessons, so I only started those when I was sixteen. I started studying with a wonderful teacher in Toronto, and now I’m going into my final year of my Voice degree at Mount Allison.

What came first for you, theatre or music?

Wow – tough question! Music, by virtue of the fact that you can listen – but can’t act – in utero. My parents have always played a lot of music around the house, and my mum did some recordings of classical music for kids that she played for me before I was born. (Read into that what you will!) Ever since then, though, theatre and music been virtually inseparable for me. That’s why I love opera so much!

What are your dream roles?

Well, it’s a cliché, but I’d love to play Carmen. She’s a badass! The whole 6’1″ thing is a hindrance; opera as an institution has this weird thing about gender where it’s totally normal for a singer to gender-swap (no one bats an eye at Cherubino!) but if you’re a person playing your assigned gender, you have to epitomize it – not so great for tall women. Sorry, rant over.

Other roles? Cherubino (see above), Lucretia, maybe Amneris some day, Dido, Charlotte in Werther, Siébel in Faust, Erika in Vanessa, Octavian. I like wearing pants, but I like playing girls, too! Characters with rich inner lives are always so much fun to play. My big dream role right now is Kitty Oppenheimer in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic (about the Manhattan Project), although the counting makes me wish I had a degree in physics!

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

II would LOVE to be able to sing Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel as a baritone. They’re so gorgeous, and you really have to be male to sing them right. I would be thrilled to pull off a Norma or Tosca, obviously (wouldn’t anyone?), and I’m getting more and more interested in Baroque opera. I think Poppea in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea has gorgeous music, and I’ve done the final duet with sopranos before. Selfishly, I’d like to be able to sing both parts!

Who are your favourite performing artists?

There are big names, definitely – Frederica von Stade, Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming. I saw Rihab Chaieb in the Against the Grain production of “A Little Too Cozy” (based on Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte), and she was totally terrific. And I love seeing Wallis Giunta and Allison Angelo in anything! Also Gerald Finley, because baritones.

What’s the most embarrassing song on your phone/tablet/streaming playlist?

I won’t lie, I have that epically mediocre ballad, “Can I Have This Dance” from High School Musical 3, queued up for rainy days. I like to think all the ABBA on my playlists makes up for it.

How should we as interpretive artists deal with works that are racist and/or sexist? What can be done to make opera relevant to the next generation?:

The argument that opera is an anachronistic art form, with a standard repertoire and canon consisting of works that don’t fit with our modern world, definitely has some value. Some works ARE racist, sexist, immensely colonial, etc. They were created at a time when that sort of bigotry was more accepted – not that our society is perfect by a long shot!

I think the best way to deal with problematic works is to find ways for them to generate uncomfortable conversations, instead of just making people uncomfortable as they watch. We might take a page out of the Baroque era and gender-bend some of the roles to mess with gendered power dynamics, or cast operas exclusively with singers of colour to help explore how our perceptions of race affect our experience of opera. It’s one thing to have colour-blind casting in problematic works, but another entirely to actively promote performers representing visible minorities in high-profile roles in those works! Not only does that help to rewrite the oppressive narratives in these operas, it also makes them loads more relevant – and fun!

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I’ve only been to Halifax briefly, and I thought the city was wonderful. I can’t wait to explore it further! This will be my first summer opera program, and my first fully staged opera, so of course I’m thrilled – and just a little bit nervous. I’m lucky that there’s a huge Mount Allison contingent participating in the Festival this year, so I’ll have friends already and the opportunity to make plenty of new ones.

Thanks, Sarah!

If you’d like more information about Albert Herring, the show Sarah’s performing in, see the Albert Herring page!

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

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