Artist of the Week 38 Qs for Neil Craighead

by | May 29, 2024 | Artist of the Week, Featured, News

The Artist of the Week is Canadian bass-baritone Neil Craighead. Currently in Edmonton, Neil is preparing the role of Wotan in Wagner‘s Das Rheingold for Edmonton Opera‘s upcoming production, running May 28- June 1 (info and tickets here).

A frequent contributor to opera houses across Canada, Neil’s recent performances include Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte with Vancouver Opera, Joseph Tripaldi in Ainadamar with Pacific Opera Victoria, Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Vancouver Opera, Colline in La Boheme with both Calgary Opera and Vancouver Opera, and Scarpia in Tosca with Opera on the Avalon. As an alumni of the Canadian Opera Company‘s Ensemble Studio, he has returned to the COC with featured performances as Ceprano in Rigoletto, Dr. Grenville in La TraviataO’Donoghue and Osler in Louis Riel, Sciarrone in ToscaTruffaldino in Ariadne auf Naxosand the Oracle in Idomeneo. Next season, Neil will be making his role debuts as Masetto & Commendatore in Don Giovanni with Calgary Opera (info and tickets here), and will return to Vancouver Opera in the role of Minskman in Flight by Jonathan Dove (info and tickets here).​

This week Neil took a few moments out of rehearsal to chat with us about the ups and downs of being an opera artist, what role he would love to be singing right now, and what big investment was worth the money. Read on to find out more.

When was your first singing lesson (and with whom)?  
My first singing lesson was with Bev Monro as a boy soprano in the Calgary Boys Choir, probably around age 11.

Drink of choice?
Gin mule. Or original Coca-Cola if I still have rehearsal 😉

Favourite city that you’ve worked in?
I loved working in Quebec City, it feels so European. Victoria is like a second home to me now, I love it there.

Favourite place?
Floating in the middle of a lake on my canoe.

If you weren’t a singer, you’d be?
I’d be a carpenter or a fishing guide.

Top 3 favourite composers?
R. Strauss, Poulenc, Wagner

Top 3 favourite operas?
Pagliacci, Salome, Tosca

What’s your favourite opera house?
I’ve been spoiled to have so many opportunities to sing at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, it is a magnificent acoustic space.

Which opera role do you want to be singing right now?
Golaud. I adore Debussy’s score

Who is a singer you admire that is currently working?
I have always admired Rene Pape’s singing.

Who is a singer you admired from the past?
Ghiaurov, Bastianini, and Pavarotti are a few favourites.

What’s your favourite orchestral instrument? Why?
Cello has the closest range to the human voice and its beautiful sustained tone is enchanting.

What’s your favourite thing about singing with an orchestra?
The feeling of synergy between singer, conductor, and orchestra is indescribable and thrilling. Dozens of people breathing, thinking, and moving as one.

What’s something most people don’t know about opera life?
Hotel life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s lonely and expensive.

Which role do you wish you could sing, but is not in your voice type?
Cavaradossi. “Vittoria, Vittoooooooooooorrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaa!”

Tent or hotel?
Hotel on contract, tent all summer.

What was the first opera you ever saw?
Barber of Seville at Calgary Opera 1998.

What’s your ancestry?
Mostly Scottish with a little Irish.

What’s the downside of being an opera artist?
Time away from family, lack of job security.

What’s the best thing about being an opera artist?
Rehearsing and performing with friends who you admire. There’s a wonderful team spirit in opera and the joy of playing without boundaries in an imagined space is truly unique.

Are you a cat person or dog person?
I’m definitely a cat person. My tuxedo cat named ‘Orion’ is 14 years old now

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Porchetta sandwiches in Sulmona, Italy.

Are you happiest in the country or in the city?

Which album did you listen to last?
The Solti recording of Das Rheingold.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Video games are my guilty pleasure, I’m a particular fan of older RPG and strategy games.

Which TV show did you binge-watch last?
Fallout. It’s based on a favourite game of mine and they did a fantastic job adapting it for the screen.

What’s a big investment for an opera artist, but totally worth it?
I recently switched to an iPad Pro and I love it. So much easier than carrying multiple scores, and I can write and erase music notes and staging easily with my Apple pencil.

Do you enjoy cooking? If yes, what is your best dish?
I love cooking. I make a mean brisket, low and slow for 12 hours.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Take care of yourself, no one else will.

 What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Buy a fishing boat and spend the whole summer fishing for salmon.

What is one very popular thing that you have no interest in?
The Kardashians.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken for a production?
I wore a speedo on stage for a part in Adam Egoyan’s Salome.

Were there any directors in the past that have really inspired you?
Michael Cavanagh (RIP) made an incredible impact on me in our one show together. I’m truly grateful for his insights and laughter.

What is the ultimate goal of opera?
To make the audience feel an emotion, transporting them momentarily from reality to a place of drama.

Does your process change from role to role?
Ideally, I like to prepare roles from the text first then on to music and character work. Some works demand more text work because of languages, other require more music coaching due to complexity, and some require more background work and historical investigation to get to the core of a character.

How long do you spend preparing to get into a character?
Not long on the day, I spend more time prior to and during rehearsals trying to understand and motivate a character. Once I understand the character’s objectives, it’s simple to embody them.

Which of your roles has had the greatest impact on your perspective?
Singing Scarpia was an incredible experience. The hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve done so far in my career.

Are you a perfectionist?
Yes. I take my music, text, diction, and acting very seriously and set a very high standard for myself.


© Sarah Race
Merry Wives of Windsor

© Sarah Race
Merry Wives of Windsor
© Sarah Race

Das Rheingold
Edmonton Opera

May 28 – June 1

CONDUCTOR: Simon Rivard
DIRECTOR: Peter Hinton-Davis
COSTUME DESIGNER: Brianna Kolybaba

HEAD COACH: Frances Armstrong
WOTAN: Neil Craighead
LOGE: Roger Honeywell
ALBERICH: Dion Mazerolle
FRICKA: Catherine Daniel

ERDA: Sydney Frodsham
FASOLT: Vartan Gabrielian
FAFNER:Giles Tomkins 
FREIA: Jaclyn Grossman

WOGLINDE: Mariya Krywaniuk
WELLGUNDE: Madison Montambault
FLOSSHILDE: Renee Fajardo



Wotan as Maestro?  Orchestra on risers instead of the pit?  Opera in the round?  The final production of our 60th season is marked by an unconventional and groundbreaking rendition of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. This version steps away from the conventional Wagnerian grandeur, embracing a daring, contemporary style featuring state of the art projections and avantgarde stagecraft.  

Set in the intimate Maclab Theatre at Citadel, this performance will be an auditory and visual spectacle, directed by Peter Hinton, a celebrated Canadian theatre and opera director. Prepare for an experience that not only revitalizes the classic narrative but also challenges our expectations of what opera can be, ensuring a memorable journey with this timeless work.  This arrangement makes its Canadian premiere in a brand new production. 

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