Canadian mezzo-soprano Katherine Flynn, featured performer of the 13th Annual Halifax Summer Opera Festival

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Nancy in Britten’s Albert Herring

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“My family is very supportive … I think they understand that performing is in my veins and it has been ever since I walked shakily onto the stage with my ruby red slippers and sang Somewhere Over The Rainbow when I was 11 years old.”

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

I am from Chatham Ontario originally. The very first time I saw my first musical was when I was in the 6th grade. We went as a field trip to see the CKSS production of Les Misérables and I fell in love with it immediately and could not wait to be in high school so that I could perform in a CK musical one day. I first became interested in opera when I started university. I enjoyed learning about the history of opera in music history. And then in voice lessons, I enjoyed performing classic mezzo arias such as Carmen’s Habanera and Cherubino’s Non so piu. I remember how excited I was just a few years ago to perform Habanera for the first time in front of an audience. The feeling that so many famous mezzo soprano singers had sung this role and this piece, it was an exciting thought.

I feel like I really brought my passion of musicals and opera to my family. When I started to listen to musicals and perform songs from shows in the Kiwanis Music Festival I believe my mom started to fall in love with more and more musicals. Wicked is probably her favourite. I can think of many times of us driving somewhere and belting out For Good together. And the first time I finally brought her to go and see it, it was a magical evening. As for opera, as my dad would put it, other than watching The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show as kids, neither of us were that familiar with opera. My family is very supportive. I can’t say they wouldn’t prefer me to go into a field with more of a steady career position but I think they understand that performing is in my veins and it has been ever since I walked shakily onto the stage with my ruby red slippers and sang Somewhere Over The Rainbow when I was 11 years old. I know they believe in me and are excited for me to pursue my passion which is performing opera.

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

I began studying voice when I was about 11 years old. One day I sang White Christmas to my dad and my grandpa out in the garage and after I opened my eyes and turned around they were crying. I thought I was so awful that I had made them cry. Haha. After that it was out of tap class and into voice lessons, where I wanted to be.

I continued with my voice lessons through my teen years until I graduated and moved away for school. I have been studying with Torin Chiles at Western University for the last 3 years. I am thrilled to say that I have been accepted into the University of British Coumbia for a Master’s in Opera so I will be studying there this year with Patrick Raftery.

What came first for you, theatre or music?

I believe theatre came first for me. My elementary school put on A Mid Summer’s Night Dream when I was in grade 6 and I played Hermia. Thinking back now I am pretty sure I understood about 60% of that show, since it was Shakespeare and I was 12 haha. But it was a terrific experience and I loved every minute of it. Music came not long after with performing every year in the Kiwanis Music Festival and then in Theatre Kent productions of Beauty and The Beast (I was a spoon xD), and a Von Trapp kid in The Sound of Music by Ridge Players. I also performed in many high school musicals. My favourite role probably being Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors.

What are your dream roles?

One of my dream roles in opera would have to be Carmen. Ever since I was told the DEVASTATING news that my voice type was not a soprano but actually a Mezzo-Soprano in my first year at Western, and my teacher Torin and collaborative pianist Marianna Chibotar had to convince me that being a Mezzo is a great thing because YOU GET TO BE CARMEN. After watching that opera and studying her character and arias I knew that that is what I want. To sing Carmen with a professional opera company one day is a dream of mine. I would also love to perform the title role in Rossini’s Cenerentola. I love that opera and Non Piu Mesta is a beast that I would love to conquer in front of a large audience one day.

I would also love to perform as Cherubino. Who wouldn’t with such an adorable pre pubescent sweetheart like him. I love his amazing arias where he sings of how much he loves women and how nervous he feels around them. Definitely a pants role that I would love to try on. I would also love to sing Dorabella. I learned Smanie implacabili this year and absolutely loved it. She’s such a fun character and I would love to learn such a fun and challenging role in such a hilarious show as Cosi fan tutte.

Who are your favourite performing artists?

I really love Joyce DiDonato. Her voice is absolutely gorgeous and she is such a brilliant artist. I love watching her masterclass videos on youtube. They are so informative and helpful as a young artist. It would be such an honor to ever perform and learn from her in a masterclass.

I am also so in love with Janet Baker’s warm toned, gorgeous mezzo voice. I learned the Frauenliebe und leben this year for my graduating recital and I enjoyed so much listening to her recording to hear how she expresses the young woman in the song cycle with such youth, depth and beauty. I also really love her portrayal as Orfeo. She is an incredible artist.

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?:

Ooh. I love this question. Especially having faced this issue in my undergraduate studies. One song in particular comes to mind which is What a Movie from Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti.

I learned the aria and when I would sing it in my voice lessons I felt very uncomfortable with the character I was portraying. My teacher kept asking me to make it bigger and in my opinion, more racist. Eventually I turned to him and said “I don’t know how I feel about singing this piece.” We had a big discussion about how the character in this piece is perhaps uneducated and possibly doesn’t know how racist she is being. For example when she describes the natives in the movie and sings “aaaaaaaah” in a very shrill nasal way, mocking the natives and then shouts OLé at the end, she clearly does not realize that these natives are not Spanish or Latin and therefore wouldn’t shout olé. Hence why the song is funny. Its amusing because she’s a stereotypical 1950’s racist character whether she knows it or not. The audience definitely does. Characters like that are a part of our history and I think it’s important to portray the characters as they are written. If you feel uncomfortable in doing so then try to see it more as though you are the character, and not as though you are you singing a racist song. Don’t be embarrassed, sing it large and loud and be proud of the actor you are.

What are you most enjoying about this summer?

Performing as Nancy in Albert Herring of course!! I have really been enjoying the Halifax Summer Opera Festival program and everything it has to offer. The cast of AH has been working very hard and it’s going to be such a great show. I’m really excited! After HSOF I am looking forward to relaxing at home by the pool for a couple of days and spending time with my family. 🙂

From my answer to the previous question of “what are your dream roles”, one would probably think I am disappointed to not have received the role of Carmen in HSOF however I would say that’s not true at all. I am thrilled to be playing such a sweet, fun and sexy character as Nancy in AH. If anything, she helps me channel my inner Carmen with her seductive lines like “I’ve come for a piece of best English beef”. It’s a terrific and challenging role and I love to sing her emotional aria. I also feel so happy and accomplished to have learned a Benjamin Britten role in such a difficult show as this one, it has not been easy. Just ask the cast. This program has been such a wonderful experience and I have loved every minute of it. Not to mention Nova Scotia is downright beautiful and I have loved visiting the East Coast and meeting some very nice Halifaxians.:D

Thanks, Katherine! Come and see Katie channel her inner Carmen as seductive Nancy in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring on Sunday afternoon, at 2 pm at the Dunn Theatre!

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