Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Aspiring opera singers take note: a life on the stage requires legwork. Lots of it.
And Karine Boucher, member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, positively revels in it. How else could she take on the role of Micaëla in the COC’s current production of Carmen, one of the world’s most popular and oft-performed operas–yet make it uniquely her own?
On first receiving the score, and before singing the first note, she read through the entire text and researched the foundation of the story of Carmen. “I made sure I understood the relationship among all of the characters in each scene,” she explains. “In the case of this specific opera, it was pretty simple for me because Carmen is in my own language (French), but usually, I need to go through the whole score and translate everything – not only MY part. This helps me develop my character and adds more layers to my acting.”
After gaining a solid understanding of plot and characterization, she turns to the technical process: learning the notes and the rhythms, according to the composer’s dynamic. “Being specific in terms of style and musicality is important in the first stage of rehearsing,” she elaborates.”Then, when you have rehearsals with your colleagues and the Maestro, you must be flexible and open–but your foundation must be strong.”
Ms Boucher came by her focused work ethic from an early age. Born in Quebec City to a “nonmusical family,” she discovered her love of classical music in girlhood. “They knew nothing about opera,” she recalls of her parents, “so for them it was kind of strange that I had a strong passion for it at that age, but they encouraged me all my life. My parents did not have a lot of money…and my mom was often taking the last bit of extra money she had to pay for my weekly lesson because she knew how much I cared about singing.”
Clearly, this parental investment paid off: Ms Boucher was accepted at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec at the age of 13, where she studied singing with her “first mentor” Jacqueline Martel Cistellini, and concentrated on her art full-time. “Jacqueline shared with me such a beautiful passion for her art that I had no choice but to love it more and more,” she says, smiling at the memory. While there, her parents encouraged her to see operas, concerts and chamber-music recitals to complement her studies. “I must say,” she marvels, “the more you listen to music, the more you develop your critical sense. The key (for me) is to stay open to what other people do…sometimes it can inspire me in my own work.”
She garnered the prestigious Prix du Conservatoire in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. She has since also won First Prize and the Audience Choice Award in the Third Annual COC Ensemble Studio Competition in 2013 and First Prize at the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards in February 2015. Her recent COC appearances include Susanna in the Ensemble-Studio performance of The Marriage of Figaro, Berta in The Barber of Seville and Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. Among her credits at the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal are Miss Pinkerton in The Old Maid and the Thief and Micaëla in Carmen. She has also portrayed Annina in La Traviata, Inez in Il Trovatore and Damon in Acis and Galatea (Arte Music) as well as Mimi in La Bohème (Jeunesses Musicales).
And she’s just getting started. (So whatever you do, don’t ask her when she’s retiring. Clearly, it isn’t anytime soon.) In the meantime, she’d like to clear up the common misperception that opera is a dying art form. “IT IS NOT,” she categorically denies. “Only the people who don’t come to opera say that… To those people, I would say, ‘COME! Give it a try!’ They will leave the opera house with another opinion.”
Whether you consider yourself an opera-phile, an opera-novice or a member of the opera-curious, seeing Ms Boucher in COC’s current production of Carmen presents a golden opportunity to “give it a try.” Carmen is an operatic staple with infectiously catchy songs and a plot that is “quite straightforward and clear. It is all about human emotion. Love, confusion, passion, strength…That is the beauty of Bizet.”
Ms Boucher’s mini-playlist of arias
News You Can Use
What: Carmen by Georges Bizet, directed by Joel Ivany
Who: Audiences 12 years of age and up
When: On stage until May 15, 2016
Where: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street W., Toronto, ON
For information and tickets: coc.ca/PerformancesAndTickets/1516Season/Carmen.aspx
© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya