West Side Story

Vancouver Opera’s production of West Side Story will certainly go down as a career highlight. One of those shows every few years or so that stick with you, that you feel change you in some way, that you wish you could perform again and again…a show that you’ll never forget. It was almost as if the planets aligned and created the perfect opportunity for something magical to happen…and it did! A great company to work for, a great production and creative team, the most amazing cast and the most perfect weather in Vancouver. What more else could you want? When the piece was written, it was almost as if the same thing had happened. The stars aligned and the perfect group of men got together to create this masterpiece; Bernstein, the music, Sondheim, the lyrics, Laurents, the script and Robbins, the choreography. Bernstein’s score is a brilliant piece of theatre on its own - full of energy, humour, sadness, youthful angst and passion. Add this with Jerome Robbins’ brilliant choreography and Sondheim’s lyrics, it’s a feast for the ears and eyes. Obviously, the audiences love it too. We had eight performances in one week and broke the single ticket sales record three times!

Playing Tony was certainly an amazing experience for me. I loved singing “Maria”, “One Hand, One Heart” and “Could Be, Who Knows”. Not only did I get to sing but also dance! Our choreographer, Tracey Flye, put Lucia and I in the dances and not that we did anything spectacular but we did have two crazy lifts and a few dance steps to learn. The dance steps were fine, it was the lifts that we worked pretty hard on. Lucia Cesaroni, our Maria, would run at me, jump up in the air and spin and I would have to catch her. I’m not sure what it’s called but it was fun to do, especially when it worked. But, our dancing wasn’t anything close in comparison to what the dancers had to do. I have SO much respect for them and the things they had to accomplish on a daily basis. When I wasn’t in a quick change or standing behind the set waiting for an entrance, I would watch the dancers perform from the wings. They were simply amazing…I wish I could list them all here! My hat’s off to all you guys!

On another note, I got to work with director, Ken Cazan, again! The last time we worked together was when I was at the University of Toronto for Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I hope I don’t have to wait that long to work with him again.

Festival de Lanaudière

I killed two birds with one stone this year and made my singing debut with Les Violons du Roy in Mozart’s Requiem performing for the first time at the stunning Le Festival de Lanaudière in Quebec. I had heard so many wonderful things about the band and they certainly lived up to their reputation. Lanaudière was also a wonderful surprise. What a gem! It reminded me of Ravinia or Tanglewood in the US and the acoustics were fantastic. The picture, taken on my iPhone, doesn’t really do it justice but some of the audience sits on the grounds behind the blue seats. There were a lot of people with picnics enjoying themselves well before the concert began. We had rehearsals with conductor, Bernard Labadie, in Montreal and then traveled up to Joliette for the performance. The soloists for the concert were Hélène Guilmette, Anita Krause, myself and Tyler Duncan.

The Rogers Cup (Men’s games) was in town at the same time and at the hotel there were tennis players all over the place! I was hoping to run into Federer or Djokovic but to no avail. Not that I’m a huge tennis fanatic but it would have been cool to rub shoulders with those guys...perhaps some of their athleticism would have rubbed off on me?

Westben Festival

One of the best summer festivals in Ontario is the Westben Festival in Cambellford, Ontario. They have a great variety of shows including Britten’s opera Albert Herring, a solo recital by Isabel Bayrakdarian, and Kelli Trottier and the Mushy Peas, just to name a few, all presented in the beautiful barn specifically built for concerts.

The concert I was involved with this year was titled “Send in the Sondheim” - both music and words which were written by him. I’ve never really sung Sondheim’s music but what an experience it was. Ok, so what I didn’t realize about Sondheim’s songs coming into this concert was that there are SO many words. Sondheim is a wonderful lyricist as well as composer who creates not only fantastic melodies but also witty and wonderful words - just so many words! It felt like it was taking forever to get them to stick in my head. We had a fantastic cast for the show: Donna Bennett, Gabrielle Prata, Robert Luongo, Brian Findley (on the piano), and two young artists Samantha Marineau and Mitchell Allanson.

Sondheim was the lyricist for West Side Story and we performed a set of songs. It was a great opportunity to perform a couple of the songs that I’ll be doing when I sing Tony for Vancouver Opera this fall.

Ukrainian CD recording

I was honoured to be asked back to be involved in this year’s recording of Ukrainian Art Songs at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto (see July 4/09). It’s a multi-year project to record all the Ukrainian art songs of various composers and this year, they chose three composers: Січинський (Sichynskyi), Turkevych, and Людкевич (Lyudkevych). The seven songs that I worked on and recorded were wonderful pieces and the poetry was no exception either. I did have two favourites though - Finale and Черемоше, брате мій. You’ll have to wait until the CD is released to hear them. I’ll keep you posted.

Carmina Burana

This was my first time working with the Calgary Philharmonic and what a rockin’ concert it was. This was the closing concert of their season and on the program was Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler Symphony and Orff’s Carmina Burana. We performed the piece twice and on the first night, the Vancouver Canucks were playing the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup. All the players in the orchestra that weren’t needed for the Hindemith, the singers and some chorus members watched anxiously as the game was slowly winding up just as they were calling us to the stage for the second half. What a nail-biter! 0-1 Canucks.

The soloists for the concert were Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, myself, doing the Roasted Swan bit, Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, baritone, and Yoav Talmi, conducting. The great thing about this concert is that I don’t have to use music since it’s only three lines of text repeated. It allows me to play with the character and have some fun up there. Might as well since I’m singing as high as I can possibly sing! I think this was the first time I’ve been to Calgary when it’s been warm. It always seems to be absolutely freezing...serves me right for going there in January.