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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