Artist of the Week 34 Qs for Hillary Tufford

by | Jun 20, 2024 | Artist of the Week, Featured, News

The Artist of the Week is Canadian mezzo soprano Hillary Tufford. Currently in Toronto, Hillary is in rehearsals for Toronto City Opera‘s upcoming production of Bizet’s Carmen, where she will be performing the titular role, running June 19-23 (info and tickets here)

This emerging talent has already made a big impact through her successful performances as Hermia in Vancouver Opera‘s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Highlands Opera Studios production of Eugene Onegin as Olga, and as a Yulanda M. Farris Emerging Artist with Vancouver Opera she performed Hebe in their 2022 production of HMS Pinafore, and as Lola in their concert performance of Cavalleria Rusticana. Hillary is also busy collection prizes and is the recipient of bursaries from Les Jeunes ambassadeurs lyriques, as well as receiving grants from the RBC Emerging Artist Project and the Hazel Crydermann-Wees Foundation.

In between her busy rehearsal schedule, Hillary found time to chat with us about who first inspired her to sing, what roles she would like to be singing in 10 years, and how she values the moments of difficulty in life that allow her to grow and learn. Read on to find out more.

What/who inspired you to sing?
My late uncle, Al Tufford, worked at the Stratford Festival. He often got free tickets, so we were spoiled as kids and got to see a lot of shows. I loved feeling the change of energy in the theatre – sad, happy, elated, awe. It was really inspiring to me. I heard an operatic sound for the first time at Stratford when Theodore (Ted) Baerg performed in South Pacific. His singing was (and still is) absolutely stunning and so powerful. At the time, I didn’t even know what opera was, but I knew that I wanted to perform in shows and develop vocal power like Ted. My high-school singing teacher, Jody Macdonald-Groulx encouraged me to audition for classical university programs, because she thought that my voice had a quality suited to opera and classical concert repertoire. I ended up going to Western University. At Western I worked with Ted Baerg in several opera productions at the university, which was an incredible learning opportunity. After my formal studies, I was a finalist in the IRCPA competition and they gave me the “Theodore Baerg” award. It felt like a full circle moment for me, just as I was ready to embark on the world as a working artist. I’m really lucky to do some of my performance work in the theatre and it always reminds me of my uncle Al, our childhood trips to Stratford, and the wild journey that got me here.

Heels or flats?
If I can choose, flats! I frequently have to perform in heels though. Some people are very dogmatic that heels are superior footwear for women, stating that they will align your posture, resulting in better singing. Once upon a time, people also thought that corsets were necessary for women to stand up straight too, so… I think allowing for personal preference is the best! We all have very unique bodies and postural balances, requiring different footwear.

Top 3 favourite composers?
Bach and Mahler are in first place and I love too many other composers to choose only one person for second place.

Top 3 favourite operas?
L’incoronazione di poppea (Monteverdi), Salome (Strauss), Macbeth (Verdi)

Which opera role do you want to be singing right now?
Carmen, Octavian, Lucretia, Baba, Hansel…so many.

Which opera role do you want to be singing in 10 years?
10 years ago I was singing light soprano repertoire (it felt terrible!). Now I’m on a path where I am in tune with what my instrument wants and I’m singing Carmen, which feels so much easier. I will just keep working away and let my voice tell me what fits in ten years time. Maybe I will be surprised!

Who is a singer you admire that is currently working?
I admire Nathalie Stutzmann’s impeccable and inspiring artistry. I really love Corinne Winter’s technical approach, because it is so clear, but strong.

Who is a singer you admired from the past?
Fedora Barbieri, Rosa Ponselle, Bruna Castagna, Christa Ludwig, Teresa Stratas, Birgit Nilsson, Cristina Deutekom

What’s your favourite orchestral instrument? Why?
Oboe- it has such a unique, pure sound. Also, oboists look like their head is going to explode while they play, so that’s a fun touch too!

Which role do you wish you could sing, but is not in your voice type?
Queen of the night, Leporello, Tatiana, Violetta

Coffee or tea?

What was the first opera you ever saw?
Die Fledermaus at UWO. Andrea Nunez sang Adele and she blew my mind with her talent.

What’s your favourite mind-calming practice?
I’m like a high strung dog; a run (or hard workout) and a couple of walks are necessary everyday. I meditate before performances and I am trying to integrate meditation into my daily routine.

What’s your favourite non-classical band?
Hard to choose, but maybe Pink Floyd.

Where’s your favourite coffee shop?
Locomotive in London, ON. Fridays they have doughnuts!

What’s the luckiest thing that has ever happened to you?
Funny enough, when I think about this, I feel really lucky for the unlucky, tough times where it felt like I fell flat on my face in a pile of quagmire. I have grown a lot and I have become very strong and resilient because of these times. I am also very lucky for the relationships that I have developed with my closest people.

What’s the downside of being an opera artist?
Always hunting for jobs, the stress of instability.

What’s the best thing about being an opera artist?
Singing incredible music and meeting incredible people who share that love.

Are you a cat person or dog person?
Both. I have a cat named Farley. He is the sweetest (except when he is hungry!). I hope to have a dog in the future – maybe a high strung one that will go for runs with me 😜

What was your childhood dream job?
Politician (this really is funny to me now…), actor.

Are you happiest in the country or in the city?
A mix of both keeps me happy.

Which album did you listen to last?
Acid Rap (Chance the Rapper).

What’s your guilty pleasure?
I can do a number on corn chips and queso.

Which TV show did you binge-watch last?
We are watching Game of Thrones right now and The Voice Season 25.

Which actress would be cast as you in a film about your life?
When I did a photoshoot with Jessica Osber, as part of the Opera America Career Blueprint, while she was snapping shots she yelled “YAS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER!” So, I guess Michelle Pfeiffer, haha!

Do you believe in ghosts?
I wouldn’t say they don’t exist…

What’s a big investment for an opera artist, but totally worth it?
Taking care of your body and mind. Voice lessons and coachings.

Do you enjoy cooking? If yes, what is your best dish?
Nope! I cook out of necessity unfortunately. I really hope that I develop this as a passion soon though, because boy do I love good food! I use the wild west approach in the kitchen and I never follow a recipe. It mostly turns out well, but there have been some doozies 🤢

The music industry is tough, and filled with rejection. How do you cope? Does it get easier?
The reality is there are more music grads than ever, fewer jobs, and fewer dollars to be made within those jobs – keeping this in mind can be helpful, or depressing, when facing rejection. There are likely so many factors in choosing a person for a job. I don’t profess to know what they are though! I just try to just do my own thing and see what sticks. I’ve definitely formed a thicker skin over the years and developing a healthier sense of my self-worth has helped me a lot. Sometimes certain rejections (or a string of rejections) sting more than others though. The last time I felt this way I let myself feel sad for a bit, then I played an extremely aggressive game of spikeball with my partner, then we ate chocolate crêpes, and then I refocused my energy into an upcoming project. This seemed to be an excellent combination of activities to give me the right happy cocktail of chemicals in my brain to move forward again ☺️

Do you think singers and performers have a more powerful inner life?
I don’t know about that…every person I’ve ever met is pretty interesting. Part of the work of being a performer, however, is getting in touch with that inner world and using what works to help serve the art. Maybe that makes us, as a group, simply more comfortable sharing our inner life with others?

Does singing help keep you young?
Maybe! Apparently it has some pretty amazing effects physiologically! Aside from that, performance is an act of play, so I think a lot of singers are deeply in-touch with their inner child.

How long do you spend preparing to get into a character?
It depends – sometimes you find out about things with short notice, others well in advance. I love having a long time, so that I can slowly percolate, build, and layer, but being thrown into something and learning like rapid fire forces you to make quicker, and perhaps, more instinctive decisions.

What is happiness for you?
Animals, laughing with my favourite people, good food, jumping in waves, spending time in nature, and getting my heart rate up.

Are you a perfectionist?
Blegh. A recovering one.

Favourite social media platform?
I secretly, or maybe not so secretly, dislike social media. If it wasn’t an important tool for my business, as an opera singer I wouldn’t have social media accounts. It can be a fun way to share and keep in touch with people, but I’d just rather be doing other things or seeing people in person!

©Tim Matheson
Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten, Vancouver Opera

©Brenden Friesen
Olga in Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky – Highlands Opera,
©Bob Hatcher
Flora in La Traviata, Verdi, Brott Opera

Toronto City Opera

June 19 – 23

DIRECTOR: Stephen Carr
LIGHTING DESIGNER:Logan Raju Cracknell
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER: Dana Burmaster/Erin Woodward
PRODUCTION: Gabriel Graziano 

CARMEN: Hillary Tufford
DON JOSÉ: Romulo Delgado
MICAELA: Jocelyn Fralick
ESCAMILLO: Andrey Andreychik
DANCAÏRO: Sebastien Belcourt
REMENDADO: Mike Fan 范祖铭
FRASQUITA: Camille Labonté
 MORALES: Austin Larusson
MERCEDES: Maria Milenic
ZUNIGA: Gabriel Sanchez-Ortega
COVER DON JOSÉ: Brent MacKenzie
COVER MICAELA: Angela Maria Sanchez


Set in the dusty, white-hot countryside of Seville, Spain, Carmen has been a perennial favorite of opera audiences for over a century. With a seductive, atmospheric score as irresistible as Carmen herself, Bizet’s final and most celebrated opera features the iconic melodies of the “Habanera” and “Toreador Song.” It is the story of Don José, a man perpetually running from his demons, and Carmen, the free-spirited woman whose heart he will never possess.

Our all-new production returns to the original novella in which Carmen first appeared for its inspiration. This Carmen is no victim of her own freedom and independence, but a woman whose fate is sealed the day she finds herself caught in the toxic gaze of Don José – a man who abandons both the church and the military. Quick and lethal as the flash of a bullfighter’s red cape, José’s passion for Carmen soon turns to jealousy and obsession. From the first notes of its iconic overture to its jaw-dropping final scene, this is a Carmen not to be missed!

Fully staged performances with piano accompaniment.

Carmen will be set in the original 1820s to 1850s period and sung in the original French with English supertitles.

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