This week’s Artist of the Week is Canadian soprano Jonelle Sills — she’s also featured in our upcoming winter print issue! Currently in Toronto, she is rehearsing with Toronto Operetta Theatre for their upcoming production of Lehár‘s The Merry Widow, running Dec 29 – Jan 2 (tickets and info here).
Jonelle is a graduate of Vancouver Opera‘s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program, a 2022-2023 Rebanks Fellow with the Glenn Gould School’s The Rebanks Family Fellowship and International Performance Residency Program, and was named as one of CBC‘s “30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30” in 2020. Most recently, she had an exciting jump-in debut as the ill fated lover Mimì in the Canadian Opera Company‘s production of La bohème. Later this season she will be performing Donna Anna in Mozart‘s Don Giovanni with Edmonton Opera (Feb 1 – 3, 2024; tickets and info here) as well as Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen with Vancouver Opera (Apr 27 – May 5, 2024; tickets and info here).
We sat down to talk about the ups and downs of the industry, her favourite non-classical music, and what she would do if she won the lottery (don’t we all wish for that!?). Read on to find out more!
Heels or flats?
Flats all day! If I could get away with it I would wear sneakers and docs all the time.
Favourite city that you’ve worked in?
I love Vancouver, I fell in love with the city when I was a member of the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program. I love the constant view of the mountains and the easy access to nature.
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What’s your favourite orchestral instrument? Why?
Oboe! It often doubles the voice and the piercingly beautiful tone goes straight to the heart. Its timbre is distinct and when singing with an orchestra it’s so clear to hear and rely on!
What’s something most people don’t know about opera life?
We spend a lot of our time alone. The 2 to 3 hours we spend on stage is probably a representation of maybe 300 + hours of preparation. It’s a lot … but I think we are all a little addicted to what we do or why would we put ourselves through all of this.
What’s your favourite mind-calming practice?
I have a variety of breathing techniques and listen to other genres of music. Sometimes use a variety of techniques from Whimhoff to others related to sequence of numbers. I like to listen to Maverick City Music and find it grounds me.
What’s your favourite non-classical band?
James Blake! I fell in love with his music at first listen. I’ve seen him perform live over 10 times and every Time he is better than the last.
What’s the downside of being an opera artist?
Although travelling to new places to work with new people is very exciting, it can feel disorienting when you come back to your base community. In 2022, I was away from home and travelling the most for work and when I would come back home I felt like an outsider and disconnected from community spaces that I had spent 25 + years in. This is just my personal experience.
What’s the best thing about being an opera artist?
All the amazing artists that you meet and constantly being inspired by the people that you work with.
Are you happiest in the country or in the city?
I am a city person – I especially love a walkable city (I don’t drive) but I do love the solitude that the country offers.
What nickname do your friends call you and why?
My oldest friends call me is “Yoyo” and my sister and Mom call me “yun”. There is no specific reason for the names honestly – most of them are a play off the fact that the J in my name is pronounced like a Y.
What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Allow my parents to retire, buy my own home in the city and a little cottage in the country and go on a vacation for a month.
The music industry is tough, and filled with rejection. How do you cope? Does it get easier?
I cope by staying connected to my faith and my family. I think even though things become hard to do especially when travelling I still try my best because I noticed how things can be harder if I isolate myself and become consumed by the demands of being a singer.
As a performer, have you achieved everything you wanted to achieve?
No not at all – the thing about singing is that it keeps you humble. I think I will always be striving to achieve more!
When was the first time you cried at the opera?
Probably during La bohème when Mimì dies. I am a cry baby and I am always crying – especially now that I know all the work that it takes to be on stage and share a story with an audience.
LEARN MORE ABOUT JONELLE SILLS
VISIT HER WEBSITE
© Stuart Lowe
Highland’s Opera Studio’s Eugene Onegin
The Merry Widow
Toronto Operetta Theatre
December 29-January 2
CONDUCTOR Derek Bate
DIRECTOR Guillermo Silva-Marin
BARON ZETA Gregory Finney
HANNA GLAWARI Jonelle Sills
CAMILLE Matt Chittick
COUNT DANILO Nathan Keoughan
VALENCIENNE Olivia Morton
THE PIRATE KING/ NJEGUS Sebastien Belcourt
The Greatest Operetta Work by Franz Lehár, The Merry Widow dances into our hearts with its beautiful melodies and witty storyline.
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