Jonelle Sills
Canadian soprano Jonelle Sills.

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 Toronto-based soprano, Jonelle Sills.

What do the recent announcements of cancelled 2020/21 opera seasons mean for your professional future?

“Currently, for my professional future the announcement of cancelled 2020/21 seasons has postponed scheduled contracts. Also as an emerging artist that still auditions frequently, I feel like I have had to re-route where and how I look for opportunities.

“With the cancellation and postponement of the 2020/21 seasons, it has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate what I want. Nothing is ever guaranteed in an opera career, and I knew this even before the pandemic. I have fallen sometimes into the narrative that my goals as a singer need to be associated with an institution or company. As I saw the news of everything shutting down to stop the spread of COVID-19, it reminded me that moving forward my goals need to be rooted in something more. In many training institutions we are fed this narrative: ‘Work really hard and one day you can sing at (insert famous opera company here).’ But they’re all closed now…do I stop singing? For me the answer is no.

“The pandemic has reminded me that there has to be a bigger purpose for my singing. I am shifting to centre my goals around my community, my faith and my family. They don’t pay as much, but they definitely give me the strength and hope to keep singing until the institutions that we love open again.”

How much time have you spent considering a new career?

“None. Since I graduated from grad school I have been juggling multiple careers. Depending on my schedule I ebb and flow between the two (or three). As most contracts have been cancelled or postponed I have flowed into spending more time in other areas of interest. I am a certified teacher and I teach ESL (English as a Second Language). It’s something I love and with this extra time I am looking at how I can teach more. When singing opportunities open up again I’ll teach less. In whatever capacity I still want to continue to pursue and grow my career as a singer and teacher.”

What plans, singing or otherwise, do you have for the coming season?

“Recently, I participated in my first live performance since the physical distancing started with Jamii Esplanade and Canadian Stage to celebrate Multicultural Day. Jamii (Swahili for ‘community’) is an arts organization with the desire to build community in the Esplanade area.

“For Multicultural Day they presented ‘The Stories the Wind Carries’, an exhibition of multi-layered portraits of members in the community. Myself and Jeremiah Sparks (composer and actor) composed a song two days before the performance based off of one of the portraits. I will be working with them again on the same project on July 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th. I will continue to have lessons with my teacher and slowly learn some new arias.

Outside of singing I want to continue to spend quality time with the people that I love.”

Jonelle Sills

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