Opera singers gear up for live shows
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | August 7, 2015
Powerful voices echo through the halls of St. George's Anglican Church on a Thursday morning.
Inside the building, 24 young opera singers are in the process of mastering their skills under the tutelage of a coach with years of knowledge and experience behind them.
It's the ideal setting for one whose main objective is to make a real go of it in the world of opera.
"It's great," said artistic director Richard Margison. "We've got some fantastic singers and everything is moving along beautifully."
The ninth annual season of the Highlands Opera Studio (HOS) began on July 28. In total, participants will spend six weeks in the intensive training program, which includes performances for audiences in the form of master classes, concerts and two full-staged operas.
As in previous years, Margison, who is also an internationally-acclaimed Canadian tenor, travelled across the country with his wife Valerie Kuinka (general director for the HOS) to find the talent for this year's program. They heard close to 210 voices in auditions held in Vancouver Island, Alberta, Toronto, Montreal and even New York.
"Then of course we have to whittle it down to 24, which is not always easy because there's a lot of great singers," he said.
Each singer accepted into the program receives free training and all of their living costs are paid for. This translates to about $8,500 per participant, Margison pointed out.
The HOS comes up with the funds through fundraisers, private donations and corporate sponsorships.
Danielle MacMillan, a 26-year-old Mezzo-soprano from Toronto, first applied to the program a few years ago. She will play Cherubino in Mozart's Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).
On day three of the program, she expressed her enthusiasm for working with a new conductor and collaborating with different people.
"I'm always thinking about how I can establish a relationship," said MacMillan.
She got her start in opera at the tender age of 12 by mimicking soprano Charlotte Church.
"My parents actually got me her CD collection and I just started copying her voice, and my grandmother convinced my mom to put me into voice lessons."
After high school, MacMillan obtained a bachelor of fine arts degree with a specialty in voice performance at York University. She then went to The Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory of Music.
She has starred in a couple of productions put on by the Canadian Opera Company.
Although MacMillan is new to the HOS, she has been to the Highlands before.
"I used to cottage here a couple of times," she said. "I love cottage country; it makes me feel at home."
Prince Edward Island native Nathan Keoughan is back for his fifth year in the program. He "lucked out" in 2010 when someone he sang in Toronto made a call to Margison and Kuinka.
"They were just like, 'I have this young bass that you need here,'" recalled Keoughan.
The Toronto resident is one of three returning participants, however, he has been in the program longer than anyone.
"I know the shtick, I know Haliburton pretty well at this point," he laughed.
The 27-year-old said he has developed "a wonderful rapport" with Margison and Kuinka, which is a big part of the reason he continues to come back.
"They really watch out for me career-wise and they just really care. So I've kind of felt safe with them," he said.
In addition to the training component, singers are provided networking opportunities with agents and other industry insiders.
"That's unheard of, really. There's no other program in North America that brings all these agents in. So we get exposure in the middle of nowhere."
As a bass-baritone, Keoughan will also star in Le Nozze Di Figaro as Figaro.
Once this season of the HOS wraps up, he will head to Calgary to perform with Calgary Opera. He plans on sticking with his passion.
"My intention is to stick with it," he said, adding that the program is "meant to be a launching board for people."
According to the HOS website, Figaro continues the plot of The Barber of Seville. The local production will be set in Hollywood in the 1970s and will veer away from the traditional count and countess characters from the 18th century.
"The count will be a Richard Burton-type character, who was a famous philanderer, and Elizabeth Taylor will be the countess," said Margison.
The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.
Performances will be held from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion. For more information or to buy tickets visit highlandsoperastudio.com.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.