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 a new 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. We’re kicking off Shop Talk with Canadian star, Jane Archibald:
What’s an onstage memory that you’ll have forever?
“Gah – so many! I could choose from dozens. Hmmm. Singing my first Queen of the Night in Vienna. (I think it was fellow Canuck Michael Schade doing Tamino!) We only ever got a few days of rehearsal, never on stage or in costume. On this occasion, I had to wear enormous platform boots. Like, I think they were at least a foot high. Specially built. They were so tall, I needed multiple assistants to hoist me up into them because I couldn’t have one foot on the ground and the other in the boot. There was an equally huge skirt. (I believe the Queen’s costumes got smaller as the evening went on, maybe showing the Queen’s diminishing power or something?) Anyway, I had a handful of minutes to walk backstage, get lifted into the boots, try not to fall over as they hooked this enormously exaggerated hoop skirt onto my bodice and be done in time for the curtain to go up for my first aria. Just standing there singing that aria is terrifying, but I had to walk down a seriously raked stage (!!) in these insane boots and skirt while singing. ‘O zitt’re nicht’ indeed!
“I was just praying not to fall over. I would have been stuck, there would be no way to get back up with the boots on. To deal with those technical staging challenges during THAT role debut, in THAT house… well, it’s imprinted forever.”
What would you consider a great opera for someone’s first time seeing one?
“So many to choose from! Maybe a Bohème? Hummable melodies, easy-to-enjoy love story. I challenge anyone not to cry at the end – ‘Mimì!! Mimì!!’ Definitely something medium/short, so they get a feel for how sweeping and intense it is but are not overwhelmed on the first go.”
If you could do any other job in opera, which would it be?
“Closest I could come would be stage-manager. I like to be efficient and organized (and can be when I’m not coursing with adrenaline from performing). But I guess I probably found the right niche for me in this biz. ;)”
Who’s on your opera roles bucket list?
“Violetta (I’m a broken record with this one!), Lulu, Manon, Arabella.”
What’s something tricky about singing in English that non-singers might not think of?
“To me, there’s no difference to good diction in English than any other language, except that I’m naturally more exacting in my standards because it’s my mother tongue. But good diction is hard work! And it’s best to address it early in the learning process so that it’s part of your muscle memory for how you sing the role.”
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 email@example.com.
Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera. She also writes for The Globe and Mail and Opera Canada. She’s a pianist and vocal coach, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera.