Classical Q&A with UWOpera’s Kelsey Vicary

While many consider January a slow month, students at Western’s Don Wright Faculty of Music are in high gear putting the finishing touches on Mozart’s opera buffa, Cossi Fan Tutte.

First performed in Vienna in 1790, the story is a comic tale of mistaken identities, as two officers craft a plot to test their fiancées’ faithfulness.

Kelsey Vicary plays the role of the unsuspecting Fiordilgi in February’s UWOpera production, which is double-cast to give as many students as possible an opportunity to perform.

The 23-year-old took time out from her busy rehearsal schedule to give us a glimpse into the life of an aspiring opera singer.

What program are you in, and who do you study with?
I am in my second year of a Masters in Music (Literature and Performance). I study with Christiane Riel.

Is this your first role with UWOpera?
This is my first full role with UWOpera. 

Last year, I was cast as the understudy of Poppea in L'incoronazione di Poppea. In 2009 I was cast in the Opera Gala performance, which was a concert of staged opera scenes. In 2008 I had a small role in Smokey Joe's Cafe.

This is by far my most substantial and most challenging role at the school. I'm looking forward to my chance to perform it!

When are the auditions held, and how do you prepare for them?
The auditions are held during the first full week of classes in September. All the students prepare one opera aria or musical theatre piece - something they feel represents them best, both vocally and dramatically.

Before auditions, I usually don't sing beforehand during the day. I like to make sure I eat a good meal ideally three or so hours beforehand, and I always do some breathing exercises immediately before walking in the room to centre myself and feel grounded for what I'm about to present!

Do you audition for a specific role?
Generally speaking, no, you don't audition for a specific role. However, knowing which shows UWOpera is casting gives some clues as to which roles might be suitable for you. Some students choose arias/songs from the roles they'd like to be considered for, which might suggest to the panel what you'd like to sing. Ultimately, it's about which roles are available and the types of voices needed to fill those roles.

We've all seen contestants on American Idol struggle to remember the words to a three minute pop song. What goes in to learning an entire operatic role?
I smiled at this question! I would imagine the process is much the same, but preparing a whole operatic role happens at a much larger scale. 

For me, the actual music learning process begins with separating the text from the music, and learning them separately - singing my part as if it's a technical exercise to make sure I'm singing healthily and accurately before adding any meaning or emotion with the text. 

Of course, there's the whole other process of studying the opera as a whole, and learning where your character fits into the plot, what they desire as the story unfolds, and how their relationships with other characters change. It helps to break it down into small chunks, and to have time with it. There's no short-cut I know of!

Can you describe the rehearsal schedule, and how you balance it with your academic studies?
We began coaching on our individual parts very early - in October, I believe. Things started slowly, with maybe one or two hours a week of coaching time.  Around mid-November we began putting the larger numbers together musically, and by December we began staging about four to six hours a week. 

Right before Christmas, we spent a solid three days together putting most of the opera on its feet in the Paul Davenport theatre. In January we'll finish staging and begin working with the conductor and orchestra. 

Each stage of the process is more exciting than the last, so the added time commitment seems easy. The opera program is offered as a full-credit course for music students. Having said that, the time commitment is huge - but it's so worth it to be a part of a show taking shape in performance.

How would you describe your character of Fiordiligi?
Fiordiligi is by far the more conservative of the two sisters. Although in the end both she and Dorabella turn unfaithful to their lovers, it takes Fiordiligi much longer to succumb to her desires. However, she's human, and sometimes we all make choices that turn out to complicate our lives. It's clear to me that she's very proud, but I think she also has a great sense of fun that we see when she's alone with her sister.

Why do you think opera has enjoyed a resurgence, especially among younger audiences, in recent years?
Opera's recent resurgence can be attributed to a couple things. We are able to experience opera in so many different forms these days. There are opera companies of all sizes, companies that mix genres such as cabaret and popular music with opera, new operas being written that are relevant commentaries on our lives (for example, U of T's Rob Ford Opera last year) - we can even go to the movies to watch a live opera!

This art form has really evolved in a way that suits our current culture. And at a performance level, opera has become a kind of musical drama. Singers are no longer able to "park and bark" like the world-famous opera stars of the mid-twentieth century.  Performers and directors are looking for new ways to reach audiences in a way that resonates with people and makes them think and question their environment.  And, of course, sometimes it's just fun!!

If readers have never gone to an opera before, why should they come to this one?
This opera is a classic case of mistaken identities! Two men make a bet, put on their disguises, and hilarity ensues! Over the years, it has been interpreted a thousand different ways. This time, it's set in our very own Western community. Does it get any better than that?

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years?
I hope to be singing professionally, in whichever capacity I can. I'm only at the beginning of this path - the exciting part is figuring out the next turn!

If You Go:
What: UWOpera presents Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte
When: Feb 1, 8, 9 @ 8 pm / Feb 7 @ 7:30 pm / Feb 2, 3 @ 2 pm
Where: Paul Davenport Theatre, Western University, Faculty of Music
www.music.uwo.ca

Nicole Laidler is the editor of The Beat Magazine and a freelance writer and business communicator. Visit her at www.spilledink.ca