(photo credit: Scott Gorman)F@*! I'm in the Wrong Fach
by Gregory Finney
“Move to Toronto: you’ll have no trouble finding work,” was the advice given when I asked for feedback after an audition. “Any other advice?” I asked, “Work on your singing.” Ouch!
To sing this intensely beautiful piece on that stage and receive a standing ovation was one thing: to shake the hands of the holocaust survivors in the audience afterwards is something I’ll never forget.
After studying as a Bass-Baritone, I had recently started billing myself as a tenor. I went out and auditioned for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I walked in and sang a passable “If with all your heart” from Mendelssohn’s ELIJAH. After I finished singing in a small office at Roy Thomson Hall into a Styrofoam ceiling, Mr. Noel Edison looked at me and said “Well… You’re a tenor and you can walk, you’re in!” Good enough for me! So I joined the ranks of choir as well as its chamber ensemble the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers. In two days I was singing through Beethoven’s 9th and receiving my copy of the score for the Mozart edition of Handel’s Messiah to start working on right away. That season saw us tour to Carnegie Hall in New York City for the New York premiere of Ruth Fazal’s ORATORIO TEREZIN. Its piece comprised of texts that were Hebrew scriptures, and poems and verses found in Terezinstadt written by young children as they waited to be carted off to death camps during WWII. To sing this intensely beautiful piece on that stage and receive a standing ovation was one thing: to shake the hands of the holocaust survivors in the audience afterwards is something I’ll never forget.
Then my voice took over. It got bigger, fuller, and warmer. It got to the point where when I was playing Rev. Shaw Moore in FOOTLOOSE: The Musical, my microphone would be cut in big ensembles as it’s the only way the sound technician could fit me into the mix. Part of me was super proud to be “the loudest thing on two legs” but the rest of me was like, “I’m more than JUST volume here guys.” Then everything changed.
Now let’s remember, I’d been singing quite a bit, but it had been a while since I’d spent any time in a studio with a teacher. So I sang my “Un Aura Amorosa” from COSI FAN TUTTE, which as it turns out is one of the hardest arias in the lyric tenor canon. I didn’t know that, nor did I care. I sang it. Only passably; but I sang it.
While working on a production of PIRATES OF PENZANCE with TOT, I got a random Facebook message from my friend Miriam Khalil. We’d done a couple of shows together (THE BIRDSELLER, KAMOURASKA) and she had been talking to her husband Joel Ivany who recently founded a company called Against The Grain Theatre about me. He was mounting a production of LA BOHÈME in a bar here in Toronto with a new libretto that set the story and characters in 21st Century Toronto. They were looking for a Benoit/Alcindoro. Joel wanted to cast them a little differently from the convention and Miriam went to bat for me over and over. I joined the cast in the Bass Baritone roles – and it ended up being a revelation for me.
Now here I sit with an upcoming Papageno in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE and Il Conte in NOZZE DI FIGARO. People are talking to me about GIANNI SCHICCHI, Verdi’s MACBETH, and other projects. So in closing I’d like to pass on some advice to the younger singers coming up, fresh out of Undergrads and Artist’s Diplomas.
Thirdly, I love voice teachers and coaches, but don’t set all three thousand percent of your artistry in their hands. There’s one opinion you do need to take into account and it’s the most important one. Your body’s. Listen to it. Know it intimately. Treat it well and if something hurts, even a little bit, stop doing it. Test your limits, try new things, but if it hurts: STOP.