Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
By his own admission, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure is “slightly crazy.” Is this because he’s an operatic tenor whose star is rising fast? Or because he belted out one too many Nylons tunes on family road trips from his hometown of Kitchener to Montreal? It’s hard to say, yet it’s certain that, despite the eccentricities he imagines for himself, he’s got skill to spare.
On the verge of finishing his 2-year residency at the Canadian Opera Company‘s (COC) coveted Ensemble Studio (Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals), his future looks bright. He was selected in the Ensemble Studio Competition, which features singers from the final round of auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio. These finalists perform from the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre, in front of a live audience and accompanied by the COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. The cash prizes awarded to winners range from $1,500 to $5,000.
The fact that Mr Fortier-Lazure ranked second among the best aspiring opera singers in Canada is almost incidental to the “big prize” of impressing the adjudicators who determine which of the nine will be offered 2-year apprenticeships with the Ensemble Studio. Successful entrants into the Ensemble receive advanced instruction combined with performing experience, along with practical career-development skills. On completion this year, he will join the fine company of fellow Studio graduates, like Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, and Krisztina Szabó, now all established professionals.
But his success so far doesn’t stop with the Ensemble Studio. Mr Fortier-Lazure is also a recipient of the Governor General Performing Arts Mentorship Award and has enjoyed the tutelage of acclaimed Canadian opera singer Joseph Rouleau, who has himself has performed with legends like Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Maria Callas. The two first met four years ago when they performed together in the opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Mr. Rouleau worked intensively with the young tenor to prepare him to perform Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville.
And to think, that with his natural flair for languages, he had originally been training for a career in translation! Clearly, there is now no need to fall back on this plan. So far, Mr Fortier-Lazure has appeared as Giuseppe in the COC’s La Traviata and Chevalier de la Force in Dialogues des Carmélites (AO); Beppe in Pagliacci, Guard in Manon and Prince of Persia in Turandot (Opera Lyra); Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and Mr. Gobineau in The Medium (University of Ottawa Opera Productions). Oh yes, he also enjoyed a delightful turn as one of the superheroes in the COC’s new interactive family opera Operation Superpower, which toured schools across Ontario last fall.
His upcoming roles at the COC include Don Curzio in the COC’s The Marriage of Figaro and Don Basilio in the Ensemble-Studio performance of the opera, as well as Remendado in Carmen this spring. He will also sing in several recitals within the COC’s Free Concert Series.
Soon afterward, he will be married. All this already, at the mere age of 25 years.
So far, the thing that seems truly crazy is his schedule. Still, in the midst of this busy-ness, Mr Fortier-Lazure made time for an affable Q and A to discuss his COC experiences, his thoughts at this juncture and the music that moves him.
This is likely one of my favorite parts of this craft, having the opportunity to put my views and opinions into the characters that I create. Of course, I am strongly influenced by the artists that have performed these roles in the past, but it’s also quite interesting to get to read through the libretto, and make discoveries and decisions on my own without listening to someone else’s interpretations.
With the input and concept of the director, the picture of my character then become more fully formed and then it’s a matter of repeating and making sure that what I’m trying to say or convey makes its way across to the audience. I must admit that certain roles are very difficult to completely forget the sound or look that others have given them, but ultimately, I will need to figure out how to do it my way, or else it just doesn’t feel honest.
In my opinion, both operas are very accessible because many of the tunes have been heard on TV and in movies for a long time. For example, in Figaro, there is a duet called “sull’aria” which has been famously played during the prison riot in the movie Shawshank Redemption.
This being said if I’m going to see an opera that I’ve never seen or know little about, I often go and have a read-through of Wikipedia page on the opera before I go. I like to have an idea about the story line, and who the characters are. I find this allows me to sit back a little and if I miss a few lines, I’m not completely lost! Sometimes, I find that I get so overwhelmed by the beauty of the music that I forget to read the subtitles or concentrate on what they’re saying. If I have an idea of the plot I can always find my way back!
Well, this is a very tough question to answer. I have to say that I have been thinking about this a great deal over the last little while. I have been so fortunate in my career that people have taken an interest in helping me grow as an artist. I’m looking forward to discovering where my voice, my instrument, can take me – and how my career will develop. For me, I think the most important thing above all is that I continue to improve vocally, allowing me to express whatever it is that I want, at any given moment.
Like anyone on the edge of a major change in their life, I am slightly apprehensive but truthfully, I’m excited. As the head of the ensemble Liz Upchurch likes to remind me, I have been in an educational institution of one kind or another since Kindergarten! I have been given tools to help me navigate this art form, but it’s now up to me to make the choices, mistakes and successes to learn from and grow!
Think back to the first time you stepped out onto the stage of the Four Seasons. What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Well, the first time that I stepped on stage at the Four Season Centre was for the Ensemble Studio Competition in which I won second place. Other than all the technical things I’ve learned and solidified? I think that my naiveté in this respect may actually have been more helpful. I couldn’t talk myself out of doing the performance that I did which allowed me to be in the program I have enjoyed over the last 2 years!
“How are you doing?” Ha! You could ask this, but you may not get the answer you’re expecting! We’re all slightly crazy!
This [selecting 5 songs that have impacted and influenced] is a very difficult choice to make because I really love a wide variety of music. I love different genres, and it’s certainly hard to place one above the other! It all depends on my mood…
I went on tour with the Men and Boys Choir of Christ Church Cathedral a few years ago and was able to sing this work in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. It was one of those experiences, unforgettable, moving… on top of this, the Men and Boys have actually agreed to sing it as the entrance music for our wedding this coming June! Janelle – my fiancée – feels the same way about this piece as I do. Incredibly moving music
This final scene is one of the most exciting musical moments and certainly a personal favorite. I first heard a live recording of this sung by Jonas Kaufmann (perhaps one of my favorite tenors) and Anna Caterina Antonacci in the iconic Royal Covent Garden production of 2007, a recording I found so exciting because of the incredible acting and vocal ability of both artists, and this thrilling music by Bizet. Watch the trailer here.
This is perhaps one of the most grandiose works I have ever had the chance to sing in. While I was in university, I was asked to join the chorus for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and sang this alongside approximately 200 other people. The music is just sublime, certainly over the top, but why not!
This is probably one of my favorite jazz standards of all time, and her voice…
When I was young, my parents loved to listen to The Nylons — I think we had every single album at home… Most of our family are in Quebec, and so at least a few times a year we’d drive from Kitchener, all the way to Montreal and Quebec City. We couldn’t leave for a trip like this without a few good Nylons albums to sing/scream along to. I could say that the album we listened to the most would be the “Best of the Nylons” from 1993. I can just imagine what we looked like to passing cars, singing away like fools. Talk about making the best of a long drive!
News You Can Use
Who: Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, tenor
What: Upcoming performances:
♦ On stage until February 27, 2016 * Ensemble Studio performance: Monday, February 22, 2016
Where: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W. Toronto, ON
For information and tickets: www.coc.ca/PerformancesAndTickets/1516Season.aspx
© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya