Shop Talk: Barbara Hannigan: “Help English become a lyrical language”

by | Sep 30, 2021 | Featured, Interviews, News

Readers, if you’re like the folks on our Opera Canada team, you have a running list of questions that you’d love to ask your favourite Canadian operatic artists. So, we’re asking. In our series of interviews, called Shop Talk, we’re checking in with Canada’s singers, directors, conductors, and more, to ask them some of our most pressing curiosities. Next up: Shop Talk with award-winning Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan.

What’s an onstage memory that you’ll have forever?

Pelléas et Mélisande in Aix en Provence, 2016, my arms around my Pelleas (Stéphane Degout) as he sang his last Pelleas ever. An incredible singer and colleague, and an honour to feel his voice resonating in this way.”

Shop Talk Barbara Hannigan

Soprano Barbara Hannigan (Mélisande) in Aix-en-Provence Festival’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Photo: Courtesy of Barbara Hannigan

If you could do any other job in opera – singer, conductor, director, stage manager, designer, etc. – which would it be?

Stage management because its such an important job to manage the team and also lead in a sympathetic psychological way. Or (in Europe) to be a prompter hidden in the little box under the stage. Only seen by the singers, the prompter is like a SUPERHERO, saving everyone left right and centre!”

What would you consider a great opera for someone’s first time seeing one?

Written on Skin by George Benjamin, in Katie Mitchell’s staging… it is a thrilling piece of music and theatre!”

Barbara Hannigan ROH Written on Skin

L-R: Barbara Hannigan (Agnès) and lestyn Davies (The Boy) in Royal Opera House’s Written On Skin. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

Who’s on your opera roles bucket list?

“Hmmm…I have to say I’ve ticked all the boxes: Melisande, Lulu, Die Soldaten, La Voix Humaine….plus some wonderful contemporary creations. Maybe the Angel in Saint François d’Assise?”

What’s something tricky about singing in English that non-singers might not think of?

“I would say, its very important to help English become a lyrical language. I was very fortunate to work with an amazing English diction coach, Kathryn LaBouff, early on in my career, who really set the level for how a singer can maintain lyricism and clarity while singing in English.”

Readers, which Canadian artists do you want to see featured in our Shop Talk interview series? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch at

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Angie Bell

Angela Bell is Opera Canada’s Digital Media Specialist. She has held digital and PR roles with various businesses including the Walt Disney Company, Sullivan Entertainment and Toronto International Film Festival.