Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Sunday Read: First Person: A Week In The Life of Soprano Simone Osborne

Simone Osborne as Gilda in the COC production of 
Rigoletto (2011) (photo credit: Chris Hutchison)

From Gounod to Verdi to Mozart 
...and dealing with the realities of winter...
by Simone Osborne

What a wonderful start to the new year. I arrived in Toronto after an orchestra concert on the west last week and headed straight to work at the Canadian Opera Company. As my three year tenure as a young artist with the company comes to a close, I lovingly call this place home. It was such a luxury to spend a full week putting the finishing touches on the Mozart Requiem I was about to sing the the Toronto Symphony.  This was to be my first time singing the piece and my debut with the TSO. Over the three years I have lived in Toronto, I have attended countless performances at Roy Thomson Hall and couldn't wait to get up on that glorious stage myself.


Simone Osborne (seated) as Pamina with Ambur Braid as Queen of The Night in
the COC Ensemble Studio production of Magic Flute (photo credit: Michael Cooper)

The Mozart Requiem Reunion

We began rehearsals on Monday evening with a quick meet and greet in Maestro Peter Oundjian's office backstage at the hall. It was a lovely reunion for many of us (Tenor soloist Frederic Antoun and I had just performed Tamino and Pamina in 'The Magic Flute' with the COC last season, Tyler Duncan, the bass soloist, and I are about to tour Atlantic Canada together in recital with Debut Atlantic and Peter Oundjian and we hadn't seen one another since he heard me sing a concert of opera scenes in the States two years prior). The three of us Canadian soloists didn't know American Mezzo Kelley O'Connor yet, but that was quickly remedied as we exchanged the names and stories of mutual friends and performance venues.   It became clear quite quickly that this group would get along like a house on fire.

After a brief  chat all together, Maestro suggested we take a look at the piece before our upcoming orchestra rehearsal. The four of us huddled together as Pat (who played the organ for the performances and graciously joined us to play piano for this rehearsal) and Peter started in on this incredible score. We worked though the piece, discussing tempi, style, and approach, all while getting a feel for each other's instruments and beginning to blend together as a group. By the time we hit the stage about 90 minutes later, we were already beginning to think and sing like a quartet.

Drinking in the Moment

As our three hour rehearsal got underway, and the first sounds emanated from this incredible orchestra seated behind me, I found myself stopping to drink in the moment. It is almost impossible not to do so in this incredible masterpiece, the last that Mozart composed (so late in fact, that he passed away before completing the work). But as I sat in front of concert master Jonathan Crow (another BC native!) and the first violin section, they took these notes off the page and conjured them up in such a compelling, effortless and graceful manner, that I couldn't help but smile. If you had told me just a few years ago, that I would be sitting in front of this unbelievable group of musicians, singing one of the most thrilling pieces of music, as I looked out into the 2,000 seats that make up Roy Thomson Hall, I would have laughed at you and headed back to the practice room. A lot of these seemingly unreachable dreams are coming true these days and I am forcing myself to take stock, and really enjoy these moments before moving on to the next thing. It was lovely to take a second and allow my gratitude to wash over me, but there was work to be done. We had a wonderfully productive  rehearsal and were back the following evening at the same time, to do it all again. Another three hours of concentrated work together and we were ready for our first performance, which just so happened to be the next evening.  As I headed home post rehearsal though, I felt a little tickle in the back of my throat...

The relentless tickle...

We did four performances of the Requiem; Wednesday evening, Thursday afternoon , Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at the Toronto Centre for the Performing  Arts in North York. Each show felt tighter in terms of ensemble between us soloists and more expansive as a group. The choirs, members of the Mendelssohn choir and the Amadeus choir, were sensational each and every time, never seeming to tire of voice or spirit.  Unfortunately, that little tickle that I had noticed at the beginning of the week had now become a full blown sinus infection. I fought it off all week long, sleeping as much as I could, hydrating and resting my voice while off the stage. I survived all of the performances, the Sunday show being particularly harrowing as I wasn't quite sure what was going to come out sometimes, and was grateful for adrenaline kicking in and making the seemingly impossible, possible. As I walked offstage on Sunday afternoon, my speaking voice went right out from under me and I sounded like a frog for the entire drive home. These are not ideal circumstances for any performance, but in this business, you need to learn to roll with the punches when a bug gets the better of you. I was just grateful that this particular one waited until I walked offstage to completely take over. 

Simone Osborne as Gilda and Lester Lynch as Rigoletto in the COC's Rigoletto, 2011. (Photo: John Currid)
The suitcases come back out

The administration, the maestro and the soloists shared a celebratory drink after the final concert (me opting for a hot toddy) and bid our farewells. It was the perfect close to a wonderful week of music making. The staff at the TSO made the whole experience incredibly enjoyable. It is rare to find such a talented, supportive and likable team. I crawled into bed that night, sorry it was over, but excited to start the next project.

I spent Monday running around the city, running errands, tying up loose ends, bidding adieu to some of my closest friends and returning home to a load of laundry and two large suitcases that needed filling.  Tuesday morning before 8am, I was headed to Pearson airport en route to LAX. 

Over 12 hours later, thanks to a delayed flight from Philly to LAX, I slipped my (faux) fur hooded parka in one of my suitcases as I headed out into the 20 something degree California air. I would be spending the next 2 weeks in the golden state preparing recital music, an upcoming opera role, two new audition arias and working with a trusted coach. Then it was on to New York for three weeks, Halifax to begin a two week recital tour and back to Toronto mid March to begin rehearsals of Gianni Schicchi with the COC.

That explains the two suitcases.

Thanks to the Charlebois Post for the chance to share a week in the life with this Canadian soprano and for spreading the word about so many worthwhile performances, people and happenings in the world of Canadian performing arts! 

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Ms Osborne will be doing a maritime recital tour in March and performing in the COC's Gianni Schicchi in April (see dates at her site)

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