Soprano Morgan Reid: featured 2017 Halifax Opera Festival artist

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Belezza and Fedra in Cavalli’s L’Egisto

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“For me, the process of putting a show together is always a new learning experience, as you will always have new ideas, aspects, and people to work with. I always learn more about myself with every performance I do, big or small.”

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

I’m originally from Sydney in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is, undoubtedly, home to so much variety and richness of music, performance, and artistic culture. As a younger girl, I was a part of music & drama programs and community musical theatre, which then transitioned into larger musical theatre productions and programs, private voice lessons, and developing a love for performance in any way. I knew I wanted to study music at a higher level, but sort of took the risk of jumping into classical training with no background in it. After starting my Bachelor of Music, that doubt faded away completely and I’ve been hooked on classical singing and opera since. My family has been incredibly supportive in all my musical endeavours, regardless of genre. I’m actually very fortunate in that way, as they also love attending and listening to musicals and opera, with or without me. However, it’s still a mystery as to where I inherited my singing ability from!

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

I took private lessons in my last two years of high school, as singing became a major focus for me. After this, I began my Bachelor of Music at Mount Allison University, where I’m now entering my fourth (and final!) year. I’m currently studying under Dr. Vicki St. Pierre, who has absolutely changed my musical life!

What came first for you, theatre or music?

I suppose a combo of the two. I was in a youth drama program where we did musicals but also acting basics. I also took piano and violin lessons. After I caught the musical theatre bug, I started doing community productions, starting with starring as Annie when I was 9 years old (red wig and all). From then on in, I jumped at any performance opportunity, at any level, I could- music, theatre, dance, you name it! Funnily enough, unlike most beginning performers who took RCM exams in music, I took RCM theatre exams instead- breaking down poetry, performing monologues, public speaking, miming, and improv. Looking back, I credit these acting/theatre exams for my ability to memorize quickly, my foundational acting skills, and it also gave me a start on learning IPA!

What are your dream roles?

One of the first operatic roles that comes to mind is Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Traviata was one of the first operas I really listened to seriously, then watched online… then studied in class… and then saw in person at the Met just this past February (Thanks Mom and Dad- best birthday ever!). It definitely has a special place in my heart because of this. Musically, I just think its very romantic and emotional while still virtuosic, and Violetta is such a powerful and heartbreaking character. I would also love to sing Lucia because who doesn’t love a good mad scene? Opera is still relatively new to me and I know there is so much more out there for me to explore and fall in love with.

For musical theatre, I’m pretty sure I could ramble on about over a dozen, but I’d love to play Dot in Sunday in the Park and Cinderella in Into the Woods (again) because I just adore Sondheim. Lastly, if not cliché, Christine in Phantom. I know, I know, but Phantom was my favourite musical when I was, like, 5 or 6 years old, so knowing that I’ve grown up to be a soprano who could sing Christine makes Little 5 Year Old Morgan incredibly joyful and fulfilled.

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

I absolutely adore the Songs of Travel by Vaughn Williams. If there was a baritone inside of me, I would sing them all the time. Same with Dichterliebe. Love, love, love.

Who are your favourite performing artists?

As a soprano, I spend a lot of time listening to sopranos and Diana Damrau never fails to blow me away. Anna Netrebko is also up there on the list and I am always captivated by watching videos of Cecilia Bartolli perform. For musical theatre, Jesse Mueller has captured my heart recently, and I love Annaleigh Ashford, Bernadette Peters, Sutton Foster, and Audra MacDonald.

Not forgetting about the guys, Placido Domingo’s voice and Fischer-Dieskau’s text and interpretation are just wonderful examples. For the broadway fellas, I love Jeremey Jordan, Christian Borle, Lin Manuel Miranda (duh!), and Alan Cumming.

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

Honestly, I feel like anyone could find something “embarrassing” to them in my music library. I totally love some pop music sometimes- sue me! But more surprising to most people is that I love hiphop and rap. I trained in hiphop, and was on the varsity dance team at my university, as well as teaching and choreographing advanced hip hop classes. So, like I said, there’s quite a mix of music on my playlists… something for everyone!

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?:

I think this is such a difficult topic, as one could argue that we need to understand works within the lens of when they were written, but frankly, how many subjects were tackled then are problematic today. The option to (which is usually determined out of the hands of a performer if cast in a production) make decisions or changes to a work is always there, but then its the question of how much and to what extent? What can one censor without affecting the work, as some aspects are so inherent to the plot? For instance, how Don Giovanni treats women and Leporello’s Catalogue aria, or aspects of Carmen and Madama Butterfly reflecting the treatment of women, class, and minorities, or even the debate that John Adam’s The Death of Klinghoffer shouldn’t be performed at all. I’m sure many performers, especially younger singers, would have trepidations concerning changing aspects to a long standing work in the canon, despite knowing some of the content is problematic. As a performer, we should be aware of and acknowledge the cultures from which these stories come and what our roles actually mean in that context. We should play our female roles confidently and give them agency. If we’re performing singular arias or numbers from a work, we can pull them out of context and not have to appear as or appropriate another culture. It’s a tricky road, but music alone can be enjoyed, its the other aspects that cause the issues.

As for opera remaining relevant, I think many companies are doing a great job promoting and making opera accessible. Even just student pricing, the Met’s Fridays under 40 or their children’s performances of The Magic Flute, make going to the opera more accessible for different generation, financially, but also just make it more intriguing. Opera has a reputation of being another generation’s music, being elitist or too high strung, but opera realistically has something for everyone. There are also wonderful indie opera companies making new performances fresh and exciting, there are new works being commissioned and premiered, and there’s a new audience ready to enjoy and appreciate these things. I’m a really big fan of the Bicycle Opera Project, as they perform contemporary works, make them accessible, and bring them (by bicycle!) to communities who may not have the chance to hear them otherwise (great works and great people- check them out!). I think the future of opera lies in these companies and projects who want to create, share, and grow the genre in new ways and to new people.

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I’m looking forward to meeting and working with new peers and teachers, but working with some familiar faces in a new environment. At any program, there is plenty to learn both on and off stage. For me, the process of putting a show together is always a new learning experience, as you will always have new ideas, aspects, and people to work with. I always learn more about myself with every performance I do, big or small. Especially as a young singer, programs like this allow major potential for growth and discovery, and I can’t wait for this opportunity to learn more about myself and my voice!


Thanks, Morgan!

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

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Soprano Brenna Robins: featured 2017 Halifax Opera Festival artist

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Miss Wordsworth in Britten’s Albert Herring and acting workshop coach for L’Egisto

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“I love performing and I love seeing progress and discoveries in students so I’m looking forward to being able to guide others on that journey and make some exciting discoveries together!!”

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

I’m originally from Toronto, Ontario and at around 8 or 9 I guess I showed enough interest in singing that my parents put me into voice lessons. It was through my lessons that I started singing musical theatre rep and fell in love with the music and performing. My teacher always encouraged me to watch recordings or live performances of the shows I was singing songs from and it was her who had me start auditioning for community theatre roles. When I was a little older I started venturing into Opera and it’s still quite new to me but I enjoyed the challenge. My family was quite musical, but I was the only one who pursued it as a career goal. My family have always been supportive in my growth and education as a singer, and do everything they can to help me take advantage of many opportunities to refine my skills.

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

I started studying in Toronto with Wendy Dobson at a little studio called the Music Studio around 2003/2004 – I was maybe 8 or 9 years old I took lessons there right up until 2013 when I started at Acadia University. I studied for four years with Paula Rockwell as a Vocal Performance major and have just graduated with my Bachelor of Music. I also spent some time focussing on Musical Theatre in 2012-2013 when I attended and and studied at Sheridan College for Performing Arts Preparation.

What came first for you, theatre or music?

I think theatre came first but it’s hard to tell because I started trying different things out around the same time. I remember being in Theatre camps when I was very young, and part of a Junior Repertory Company in Toronto. My mom also put me in “Storybook Theatre” classes for kids and I always loved any kind of skit-making at school. But I also was introduced to music through dance, so even though I wasn’t training yet I was already connecting to and understanding the power of music from a young age. The theatre camps I went to often incorporated music into their shows so music and theatre have almost always been connected for me. It wasn’t until high school when I really started training both of those skills separately and Sheridan College really helped me to study them individually as well as together.

What are your dream roles?

Belle from Beauty and the Beast has always been a dream role for me. Perhaps there’s something about the childhood fantasy of feeling like a princess that appeals to me, but I also think there’s so much courage and beauty hidden within that role. On the surface it feels like a simple fairytale “happily ever after story” but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. Other than that I haven’t fantasized much about a dream role. There’s lots of appeal to me in many different roles – I don’t think there will ever be a moment where I perform one role and feel satisfied. I will always be ready for something new!

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

I have recently become very intrigued by Don Giovanni and I think it would be so much fun and so challenging to attempt that role and some of those arias. The opera itself is so complicated and confusing and there would be so many new discoveries to make within that role and opera.

Who are your favourite performing artists?

Sara Bareilles has always been my favourite singer/songwriter/musician, and recently she not only wrote music for her own musical Waitress, she also got to star in the role. She is so inspiring to me – her lyrics have an honesty about them that is so relatable and her live performances are so connected to the music that she writes. You know that it’s real and comes from a genuine place within her heart and that is exactly what performing should be about – sharing an experience in a genuine way for the sake of sharing.

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

I think it’s probably Time of the Season by The Zombies! I have a guilty pleasure from a lot of 60’s music because when I was little we had this “60’s Power” cassette tape that I used to listen to and that was one of the songs on it! I used to put it on when my family and I went on long road trips and I would make my Barbies put on concerts while I listened!

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?:

This is really tough because we have to find a balance between understanding opera in its historical context when it was written/performed but also why we are choosing to perform it hundreds of years later. I think it’s important to understand – no matter what the interpretation a director might be taking – its initial purpose and context. Once you understand that I think you can take concepts and re-interpret them to be relevant to audiences today. I think, it is often the case that things weren’t written to be sexist or to be racist – composers were simply writing in accordance with accepted social practice even though today we recognize the social injustices of the past. Being well-informed of original intention can allow modern performers and creative teams to keep the intention without promoting sexist or racist practices. It’s a tricky topic and hard to sum up so quickly, but I think the root of it all is educating yourself. It doesn’t mean we have to perform operas the same every time, but if you’re going to mess with it, you should at least know what you’re changing and have a purpose for it.

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

First I’m really looking forward to being part of an opera. I have never been part of an entire opera show and I’m very excited to try it! I’m also so excited to help out as an acting coach for the festival. I love performing and I love seeing progress and discoveries in students so I’m looking forward to being able to guide others on that journey and make some exciting discoveries together! I’m also really excited to spend some time in Halifax! I’ve lived in Toronto and Wolfville and Halifax will be an exciting new experience and I can’t wait to see what the city has to offer!


Thanks, Brenna!

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

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Baritone Mike Fan: featured 2017 Halifax Opera Festival artist

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Morales/Dancaïre in Bizet’s Carmen

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“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to visit Nova Scotia for the first time to be meeting other talented singers, staff, and faculty. Carmen is such an iconic opera and I am really excited about the directors’ intriguing vision for the opera!”

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

I was born in Edmonton and grew up in Texas and Indiana before settling in Ontario. I became interested in opera after I became obsessed with Dido’s Lament, which I first heard in a music history class when I was 13. My parents didn’t really get my love for opera and classical music at first! I did a biomed degree before realizing that music was where I really needed to be. They are very proud of me now, but my parents were very skeptical and confused at first!

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

I started studying voice quite late – at age 21! Fortunately, I had a lot of musical training through the RCM system as a child, and things came together very quickly. Currently, I am having a ball studying with the inspiring Marianne Bindig privately and at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University.

What came first for you, theatre or music?

Music definitely came first – but not as a singer! I began piano lessons at age 6 and I still accompany professionally. In terms of acting, I was bitten by the acting bug when I was cast as Benvolio in a middle school production of “Romeo and Juliet”. I asked for Mercutio instead! I still love acting and have played such interesting and diverse characters as Malvolio, Tom Baxter (en français!), and Theseus.

What are your dream roles?

My dream role is Tatiana in Eugene Onegin! I am a HUUUGE sucker for Slavic repertoire. In particular, I identify so strongly with the dreamy bookworm she starts out as at the beginning of the opera. Ironically, I am the polar opposite of Onegin, who is my voice type. Maybe Lensky is possible if my voice grows into the tenor rep in the future – he’d also be closer to who I am. In my own rep as a lyric baritone, the pinnacle would probably be Figaro in the Rossini’s “Barbiere”! 🙂

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

I am convinced that in another lifetime I was or will be a coloratura or lyric soprano. I would LOVE to sing roles such as Gilda, Thaïs, and Zerbinetta – roles with a lot of vocal fireworks as well as vulnerability and complexity. The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say!

Who are your favourite performing artists?

I listen to A LOT of opera. Some of my favourite singers include Natalie Dessay, Maria Callas, Cecilia Bartoli, Plácido Domingo, Jonas Kaufmann, Gerard Souzay…I also love of a lot of other classical musicians such as Mistuko Uchida, Anne Akiko Meyers, and Yo-Yo Ma. I also listen to a lot of other artists such as Johnny Hollow, Rosa Passos, and Kristin Chenoweth!

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

I’m not embarrassed of anything! However, people would probably be surprised to find the large range of music that I love – from Renaissance lute music and verismo to bossa nova and indie rock to movie soundtracks. 🙂

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?:

There is such a plethora of recently composed contemporary opera and operas being written today that we need to embrace! I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to perform works composed by young composer friends of mine. A challenge I face consistently is singing or acting in largely heteronormative works as a gay artist. I think acknowledging the historical and cultural context of these works of the past is important. These works are wonderful and have great things to say, though they also should be appreciated in light of the world views and social limitations that their creators had at the time of composition. That said, I have seen some really fascinating “updates” of operas – a stunning Hoffmann set in 1950s Italy that I sang in recently, for instance. However, this can sometimes be controversial and the reception can be mixed! However, it certainly creates new conversations and interest for opera, which is perhaps exactly what is needed. 🙂

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I am also singing in the ten-day program at Opera NUOVA in May! I am really excited not only to hone my singing craft there but also to revisit my hometown of Edmonton, which I haven’t seen since I was 2 years old! I am also looking forward to seeing Halifax for the first time and to be spending my 25th birthday in Nova Scotia! Maybe not looking forward to turning a quarter of a century though… 😛


Thanks, Mike!

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

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Tenor Nolan Kehler: featured 2017 Halifax Opera Festival artist

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Albert Herring in Britten’s Albert Herring

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The most embarrassing song on my playlist is “The Rose” by Bette Midler. And I’m not ashamed. It’s one of the best songs ever. Deal with it!”

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

My first exposure to musical theatre came in middle school, after watching a local production of “State Fair”. It was funny, it was engaging, and it was in the beautiful setting of a southern Manitoba theater. All I wanted after that was to be in a show. My family have supported that dream ever since.

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

I was a bit of a late starter – only in my senior year of high school after I had decided I wanted to pursue music at a university level. 5 years on, I finished my undergraduate degree in vocal performance at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, studying under David Klassen. This fall, I’ll be starting my Masters in Music in vocal performance at the University of Victoria, where I’ll be studying with Ben Butterfield.

What came first for you, theatre or music?

Definitely music. Before singing, drumming was my main thing. I still do plenty of drumming work for bands in the Winnipeg area, doing recording and live gigs! It helps me to be a more well-rounded musician, as well as exercising my creative muscles in different ways.

What are your dream roles?

You mean aside from Albert? Oh geez, where to start… Tom Rakewell in “The Rake’s Progress”, Sam Kaplan in “Street Scene”, and Lensky in “Eugene Onegin” are shows I would really love to do. I’d also really love Romeo in the Gounod version of “Romeo et Juliette”, and maybe a Werther sometime down the road. All that said, I’m not picky! Put me in, coach – wherever!

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

Good question! I don’t know… I’ve always loved the swagger of the “Largo” aria, and probably also “Look! Through the port” from “Billy Budd”. On the soprano side, I’ve always loved the Messaien “Chants de Terre et de ciel”, and I also really wish that Strauss had written more for tenors… these are just drops in the bucket. I can’t complain too much though – tenors really do have some fabulous rep!

Who are your favourite performing artists?

I think Jonas Kaufmann’s style of singing is absolutely sublime – the low frequency that he produces is just outstanding. Like being sunk in a warm tenor bath. I’ve also loved watching what Andrew Haji has been doing at the COC! Outside of the opera world, I really enjoy artist doing different things in music on the whole. Guys like Prince, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean are artists I love watching because they’re doing innovative things in their genres and bending the rules. As an artist, I think the biggest challenge is walking the tightrope between being innovative and interesting and being accessible, and I always look for that in the art that I take part in. That’s also what I strive to bring to the table with productions that I’m a part of.

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

“The Rose” by Bette Midler. And I’m not ashamed. It’s one of the best songs ever. Deal with 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?:

I think it all comes back to walking that tightrope between accessibility and novelty. If you innovate the opera genre too much, you run the risk of losing the key elements of opera that make it great and unique. I think the innovation comes in how the classic shows get marketed and portrayed. We’re seeing more and more interesting companies changing the setting in which opera is performed, new interpretations of older works, and the broadening of the repertoire to reflect the modern era as well. Shows like “Louis Riel” are fantastic because they look at the history of our country, and that is something that is relevant for opera-goers that will keep the genre vibrant. As far as racism and sexism goes in shows, I think the answer is simple as far as I’m concerned: cut it. I did a Magic Flute production with Manitoba Underground Opera last summer where the sexist parts were taken out altogether and Monostatos’ aria was completely cut because of its racist overtones. Music just has so much potential in our culture to speak social truth that I think keeping those portions in the repertoire doesn’t reflect well on opera.

What are you most looking forward to about this summer?

I’ve never been to Nova Scotia! I’m so stoked to take in the best of what the province has to offer in young artists, as well as getting the opportunity to sing a role I love so much!


Thanks, Nolan!

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

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Just a few roles left for Halifax Summer Opera Festival!

We have just a few roles left for the 2017 Festival!

We need one or two mezzos for the role of La Notte/Didone in Cavalli’s L’Egisto (I can offer a very good scholarship for this one). 

Other roles open (with various levels of scholarships possible) are:

Mezzo:

  • Mrs Herring in Albert Herring

Tenor:

  • Remandado in Carmen

Baritone:  

  • Ipparco in L’Egisto
  • Sid in Britten’s Albert Herring
  • Escamillio in Carmen

Bass-baritone:

  • Superintendant Budd in Albert Herring
  • Zuniga in Carmen

 

The Festival runs from July 15 to August 13 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Please contact me directly if you have an interest in any of these roles and would like to discuss them.

Thanks!
Nina
ninascottstoddart@gmail.com