As Canada’s artists ready themselves for far-reaching cancellations in the 2020-21 opera season, Opera Canada is checking in. What is the ripple effect of an opera-free season? How many Canadians will call themselves professional artists in a year’s time? How bad has it gotten for freelancing individuals? And are there silver linings? We look for answers in our new series of Q&As, “What’s next?” Next up is tenor Jean-Philippe Lazure:
What do the recent announcements of cancelled 2020/21 opera seasons mean for your professional future?
“This season’s chaos has brought disappointment, worry and frustration. Through this uncertainty, however, I have also found joy in many rewarding experiences, and I’ve had time to analyze my career and life goals. It has helped me grow and push myself in ways I never imagined. This pandemic has forced me to question many choices in my life, but it’s also fueled new artistic dreams and reinforced my love for what I do.
“I began 2020 filled with joy for the upcoming year and my engagements in both Canada and Europe. I was so looking forward to debuts with companies I had never worked with before, learning new roles and concert repertoire I was thrilled to sing, and visiting lots of new places along the way! Personally, I was starting to feel like all the hard work of the last few years was starting to bear fruit. My wife Janelle and I had decided to move to Berlin in 2019 to pursue opportunities and make connections in Europe. We were so excited to continue this journey, both feeling like things were settling into place, and that we were carving our paths, together. The border closures hit us like a ton of bricks. At the time, I was in Winnipeg rehearsing as Remendado in Manitoba Opera‘s production of Carmen and she was in Berlin preparing for auditions in various cities across Europe. Almost overnight, all of Janelle’s auditions were cancelled, the US closed their border to the EU, and Manitoba Opera was forced to halt all rehearsals and performances of Carmen. Janelle flew back to Canada, and we were both extremely fortunate to have our parents welcome us with open arms (and lots of hand sanitizer) and help us through this crisis. Since then, all of our engagements in 2020 have slowly vanished. I will admit that for a while, this was a very scary ordeal to live through – and I still find myself shocked at how quickly everything changed – however, this void was slowly filled by other very positive things.”
How much time have you spent considering a new career?
“I began working on projects I had neglected for much too long – finally finishing my website, updating my social media, and determining the better ways to improve my visibility online, highlight my strengths. In the practice room, I’ve so enjoyed the luxury of having time to slow down and really focus on my singing. My practice schedule is much less rigorous, and I’m exploring repertoire for my own fulfillment. In contrast, my physical training has been much more consistent. I started working out and running on opposite days, and feel I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. As a family, we planted a garden and it’s been wonderful to learn how to grow delicious vegetables! As a bonus, while living in Sudbury, I’ve played more golf than ever before – not to say that I’m not still sending my ball for a swim from time to time…
“One consistent question that I’ve had since the beginning of the pandemic has been whether or not I’m making the right career choice. I know this question is not new to artists, but it has certainly been more visceral than ever before. I decided early on that I would view this forced hiatus as ‘bonus’ time, a period to explore things I have always been curious about. My father spent his entire life working as a Project Manager, and I have always been interested in understanding his world. During my career in music, I have often noticed how different opera companies and orchestras operate, and it puzzled me how some engagements were so smooth and easy, while others more problematic, less organized. Much of this related to how the projects were prepared and managed. I spent a lot of time with my father comparing how certain things are done on ‘his side’ of the world and asking questions about how I should organize my own business. I figured that with all this bonus time, I’d dedicate a part of my day to learning about project management – leading me to take a course with the Project Management Institute. I’ve found this experience particularly gratifying. I never imagined I would explore a subject so far removed from my craft without leaving my career as a musician. I don’t honestly know what will happen over the next months, or when I’ll be able to step back on a stage; but I know that this experience will enrich my understanding of the business needs of the organizations I work for, perhaps offer me new opportunities, and help me better understand my career.”
What plans, singing or otherwise, do you have for the coming season?
“I continue to be enthusiastic about these new opportunities, and hopeful the cancellation notices are all in the past! I’m optimistic that I will be able to return to the Canadian Opera Company next January to reprise my role as Remendado in Carmen and cover the role of Váňa Kudrjaš in Kát’a Kabanová – an opera I love working on. This is also my first experience with the Czech language, and I’m adoring it. I’m grateful to have this goal to be working toward and am hopeful for the 2021 season.
“I continue to be thankful for every chance I get to use my craft. It’s been great fun working on new projects designed for online consumption with my agent, Kathy Domoney, who is creating some exciting projects for her artists, as well as the short opera scenes with my friend Neil Craighead and his new venture Pixel Opera Media. Although this has been one of the most challenging years of my life, I am so very thankful for all the support and love I have felt from my friends and family, and the positive change it has brought to my life. I’m proud of how I’ve coped with this crazy time, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the story goes!”