Every summer Bard is delighted to team up with the talented folks at UBC Opera for some spellbinding thrills and trills. We caught up with UBC Opera Ensemble’s Director, Nancy Hermiston to find out more about her love of opera, special guest stars and the hard work it takes to become a great opera singer.
How did you fall in love with opera?
It was at the Banff Centre when I was 18 years old. I was doing the Summer Workshop there and went because I won a scholarship. I had wanted to go to the Musical Theatre program but the professor who gave me the scholarship said “No! You have to be in the Opera!” To be honest I thought that I hated opera. I had only heard it occasionally on the Ed Sullivan Show.
After a day at Banff I was so awestruck by opera that I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that is exactly what I have done. They were doing many excerpts that year and a full production of Hansel and Gretel. I started my operatic life as a Gingerbread Cookie. Then I sang Papagena in The Magic Flute and fell in love with it too. I was also charged with putting the blood on Cavaradossi, the tenor lead in Tosca, after he gets beaten up. I went to every rehearsal as the music and the drama were so incredible! I had never heard anything like that. I fell in love with it. I am so delighted that the Vancouver Opera Association is doing Tosca – the second act is my desert island opera! But really, I have been in the business for over 30 years and I love it all!
Tell us a little about the costumes in Opera and Arias.
This time all the girls are wearing their own gowns. Sometimes they wear gowns from our stock which have been donated by professional singers or donors, or people interested in helping young singers out – we are always very grateful for these donations. I heard that nine of the girls in Opera and Arias went shopping together, led by mezzo-soprano Francesca Corrado, and they got wonderful deals on their beautiful frocks at the end of the summer sales. Part of their training is to survive on a singer’s income and still look and feel great!
Do you have any famous graduates?
Yes! Quite a few are making a good living and are singing in many good opera houses. Simone Osborne, Justin Welsh, Neil Craighead, Teiya Kasahara, Rhoslyn Jones, Teresa Sedlmair, Philippe Castagner, Aaron Durand, Rachel Fenlon, Sylvia Szadowski, Jeremy Bowes and many more. Many are combining singing with teaching or other arts related careers.
Do you have guest stars that perform with UBC Opera?
Yes. Judith Forst has been with us frequently and it is such a wonderful benefit for the students to appear on stage with her. John Avey has also been with us, two of our voice teachers Roelof Oostwoud and Peter Barcza and of course in Opera and Arias – Rhoslyn Jones and our current graduate student Weilong Tao, who has had an extensive career in Europe. We have had many talented conductors as well including David Agler, Neil Varon, Norbert Baxa, Robert Tweton and we work regularly at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra with Bramwell Tovey.
What can we look forward to in your coming season?
Lots of fun! The Tales of Hoffmann, which has not been presented here for years. Nino Rota’s wonderful comedy: The Florentine Straw Hat – an opera that has never been produced in Canada before. Rota is known for writing the music for The Godfather. Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen – an incredible opera and a true masterpiece of the Czech repertoire. Then we have our Opera Teas and our Opera Ball where Dal Richards and his orchestra join us for dining, and dancing and entertainment at the Chan Centre. We are also in performance with the Vancouver Symphony throughout the year and join the Vancouver Opera for their production of Don Carlo.
Tell us about one of your favourite moments with UBC Opera.
My favourite moment is when I see those ‘kids’ of mine – I call them my kids – thrill the audiences with their talent, their energy and their love of opera and of being on stage. I love to see the audience be caught up in that great joy of performing. It makes everything worthwhile.
Can you offer any advice for aspiring opera singers?
It takes discipline and hard work! Really listen to what people say when you work with them and sort it out for yourself after. See as many opera, theatre, dance, recitals, oratorios, symphony and chamber concerts as possible. Have patience and keep your passion for what you do. Respect the composers and the librettists and represent their work to the best of your ability. Never let anyone discourage you if you know that opera is your life’s work. It is possible.
I came from a town of 700 people and only heard my first opera when I was 18. It is possible if you work hard enough and want it bad enough. Practice and work harder than you ever thought possible. Good enough is not good enough – keep striving for better!