This is the continuation of a new series of Q&As with the artists of Canada’s opera scene. After our “Quarantine Questions” from the spring/summer of 2020, we’re checking in once again with these artists as they share new perspectives on mid-pandemic opera. Next up is soprano Lauren Margison:
After nearly a year away from a “normal” performance calendar, what perspective have you gained about the worlds of opera and classical music? What is its importance to you, and how does this compare to this time last year?
“My perspective on the relevance and beauty of the operatic artform has not diminished or changed. My perspective on people in this business, however, has augmented. I have witnessed more compassion, advocacy, creativity, and ingenuity from my friends, colleagues, and employers in the last year which has left me feeling humbled and awestruck. When everything came to a grinding halt last March, the [COC Ensemble] quickly moved online and handled the navigation of uncharted waters with aplomb. Then my parents (Valerie Kuinka and Richard Margison) hosted Highlands Opera Studio online, and it ended up being one of the most fulfilling summers of my professional life. People are so exquisitely adaptable, and this past year I have had the privilege to witness it firsthand.”
What do you miss the most about giving and hearing live performances?
“I miss the electricity that comes from a group of people performing together and the reciprocal give and take of a supportive and engaged audience. There is nothing I have experienced that comes close to the thrill of live performance, which is why I am so eager for its return. In the meantime, I am excited to take part in a new concert initiative from Highlands Opera Studio, giving past and current participants the opportunity to pitch a short concert idea, film it in a safe way, and have it presented through the Highlands Opera Studio social media accounts for a performance fee. Simona Genga, Vlad Soloviev and I have proposed a couple of programs that we are extremely excited about which we hope to record in early April. It is exciting to have the chance to make music again in a more controlled setting, while we wait for the uninhibited live experience to return.”
What activities or pursuits have you taken up since last March? Do you have any new interests or passions you can tell us about?
“I have always been quite an avid reader, but this time has afforded me the ability to delve deeper into all of the unread books on my shelf. Along the same vein, I have enjoyed exploring creative writing, as well as some poetry and have written an album of folk/pop songs inspired by summertime in Ontario. Hikes with my mother in and around York Region and the Haliburton Highlands have also been a real comfort, and it has been an immense privilege to get to see Ontario’s beautiful landscape under each season.”
What advice do you have for your fellow artists, for staying motivated and engaged during such a difficult time?
“Listen to your body and your mind. If you need to rest, rest. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t always the picture of productivity. We are all experiencing this phenomenon for the first time, and acceptance of a situation isn’t linear. Some days will be wonderful, others not so much. The best advice I could give is to try and accept that resting is necessary for productivity, and you’re not really resting if you’re racked with guilt over your perceived lack of productivity. Guilting oneself into motivation doesn’t ever make for a positive outcome in my experience, however, when I am mentally and physically rested, I seem to manifest an alacrity for creating and pushing my boundaries with kindness and assiduousness.”
When performances can resume, what do you think opera can or should say with its output? What sort of platform will it have, post-COVID?
“I believe the future of opera is being modified and expanded for the better. The antiquated notions of what is and isn’t opera are being dismantled, and are now being slowly rebuilt with a more inclusive vision in mind. It is high time this beautiful artform that we all love so much, adapts and grows. The voices of its future, (both sung and spoken) appear to be strong and clear. No matter the personal perspective or approach opera remains a mirror of the human experience. As that experience changes and shifts, so must the reflection. There is still a place for grand opera, as it is the grandparent of all that has come afterwards, but I am hoping that the future will see many grandchildren at the table. There are many stories to be told, and I feel a sense of excitement for the future.”