Opera singers from across Canada travel to Saint Andrews

·4 min read

SAINT ANDREWS • You might want to stand close to hear the soft-spoken Alex Hetherington talk, but the opera singer in her requires no mic to reach the very last ear in a hall full of hundreds.

Hetherington has travelled from Toronto to Saint Andrews to attend soprano Wendy Nielsen's opera workshop, just like many other students from different parts of the country. Along with two junior pianists, Hetherington will be one of 12 singers performing at the benefit concert on Sunday at the KIRA Amphitheatre in Saint Andrews. Show time is 4:30 p.m.

"I am very excited, it's a new venue," Hetherington said. "People are very friendly here."

These young singers, who are participating in the annual week-long opera workshop, are putting on a benefit concert as a means of thanking the community for hosting them and their faculty. It's also meant to support the program.

The opera workshop is meant to bridge the gap "between voice student and young professional as faculty guide vocalists towards being a more polished and free artist in a non-competitive atmosphere," said Jackie Guthrie, president of the St. Andrews Arts Council, in an email.

Participating singers receive individual voice lessons and group master classes, movement workshops, individual acting coaching, formal stage direction on scenes, and life skills classes for performing artists. There is also a vocal techniques workshop, designed to dovetail into the opera workshop, for the undergraduate vocalists.

Hetherington first attended the workshop as an undergraduate student. She was also a student of Nielsen, the workshop's program director, when she studied at the University of Toronto.

"I followed her here," Hetherington said.

"Everyone wants to study with Wendy. She's just marvellous."

Nielsen, who is from New Brunswick, has been teaching the workshop in Saint Andrews for 27 years and has taught at the University of Toronto for the last decade. She was a renowned opera singer for 25 years.

She said the teaching experience has changed post-pandemic, but she has been able to find a way around it as she taught at the University of Toronto when masks were mandatory.

"Opera singing requires a lot of projection and with projection comes a lot of things being expelled," she said. "It's actually one of the more dangerous things to do during COVID, just to be in the room with an opera singer."

She said the concert did not happen for two years, but now "we've got different precautions in place for sure."

Time to smell the joy of singing

Hetherington, who attended the University of Toronto for a bachelor of voice performance and a master’s degree in opera, will be performing in high spirits at Sunday's concert with Kevin Stolz on the piano.

Stolz, who is a vocal coach, has worked with the singers individually and is looking forward to the concert day.

"As pianists, we listen very attentively and we adjust, and we go with whatever happens and there can be some very beautiful moments that come out of that," he said.

When asked if there was any nervousness, Stolz answered, "One of our teacher says, it's not nervousness, it's life force – vitality."

Tom Diamond, who is an opera acting coach for the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio and the Atelier Lyrique (Opera de Montreal), has been teaching at the Saint Andrews opera workshop for about 23 years now.

"I teach singers how to take the drama of what they are singing and make it come alive," he said.

Diamond said the Saint Andrews workshop has a national profile and there is a lot of competition to find a spot here, with more applicants than seats.

"Maybe 10 years from now you'll see someone on TV in an opera," he said. "You'll go, 'I saw that person sing at the amphitheatre in Saint Andrews 10 years ago, and look at [them] now, they are a big star.'"

Performers will be singing popular songs like Broadway tunes, along with some opera selections in solo and duet performances, at Sunday's concert.

"Through COVID with our inability to kind of sing in public, the joy of singing in public will be in such abundance that you'll be able to smell it off the stage at the amphitheatre," Diamond added.

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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