10 Questions for Tamara Wilson

Tamara Wilson

Soprano Tamara Wilson

Tamara Wilson is a soprano who’s going places, a major talent with the voice to be a star.

An alumna of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, Wilson’s awards include the George London Award from the George London Foundation, as well as both a career grant in 2011 and study grant in 2008 from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation.  Wilson had the honor of being Washington National Opera’s 2011 Singer of the Year.

We’ve been fortunate to hear Wilson at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, first as Amelia Grimaldi in Simon Boccanegra in 2009, and as Elettra in Idomeneo in 2010.  I reviewed Elettra this way in 2010:

Tamara Wilson, on the other hand, injected a campy levity into every moment she was on stage as Elettra.  Wilson easily stole the show, whether chewing the scenery in over-the-top displays of jealousy suitable for an old-fashioned diva, or channelling the 18th century version of the Material Girl in her fantasies of a happy future complete with matching luggage.  But perhaps that’s inevitable when everyone else is serious, and poor rejected Elettra is so much fun, especially in her raging coloratura. 

In the meantime, Wilson has been busy (and I won’t even mention concert appearances).

Last season?

  • Miss Jessel in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at Los Angeles Opera
  • Her German debut at Oper Frankfurt in concert performances of Wagner’s early opera ‘Die Feen’ as Ada, to be commercially released by Oehms Classics.

The 2011 – 2012 season?

  • Aida at Teatro Municipal de Santiago in Chile
  • Elisabeth de Valois in the five-act French version of  Don Carlos at Houston Grand Opera 
  • debut at Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse as Leonora in a new production of Il trovatore

And needless to say, I’ve been eagerly awaiting her return to Toronto in the new COC production of Die Fledermaus, which is now happily upon us. Fledermaus opens October 4th at the Four Seasons Centre.

I ask Wilson 10 questions: five about her, and fivemore about her portrayal as Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus.  

1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?

Tamara Wilson

Soprano Tamara Wilson

I am a pretty even mix of the two. I definitely have my father’s face and hair color. I have my mother’s ears and eyes. My eyes change from green to blue to grey.

We’ve been working on our family history so I can tell you that I am mostly French, Irish, Scottish (Wilson from my Dad), English, and German (Miller or Müller from my Mom). You know, the countries with all the super pale people. My nickname at home is Casper. Fun fact, I have played Miss Jessel in Turn of the Screw in two different productions. Both times they had to give me makeup darker than my actual skin, to play a GHOST. Sad.

In doing our family history we found that we are related to Martha Washington, George Washington’s wife. We are also related to Napoleon through marriage. There are some pretty powerful women in my bloodline. We’ve traced our family lines all the way back to Charlemagne.

2) What is the best thing / worst thing about being an opera singer?

The best thing I would have to say is the travel but it’s a double-edged sword. It can be both awesome and tiresome. Singers basically get paid vacations in cities all over the world. We get the chance to see all walks of life from many varied cultures, which fascinates me. The problem with that is we are away from home most of the time. I think from August of this year till next June I’m away for around 224 days. I have started feeling more at home living out of suitcases. If I’m anywhere longer than three months I start to get antsy. It can be lonely at times but on the bright side our opera community is so small that we work with the same people a lot of the time. They then become a sort of quasi-family. Let me tell you, Skype is the best technological advancement for stabilizing the sanity of the travelling opera singer.

Worst thing is that if we get sick we don’t get paid. It’s not like a day job where you get a paycheck every week or month. Opera singers aren’t afforded the luxury of sick days. If you’re sick on a performance night you forfeit that paycheck. If you only have five performances that’s 20% of your fee gone. Only in very rare cases will a singer receive their fee. This is why some singers are constantly wearing scarves, drinking tea and acting crazy. We have to work wisely and be smart enough with our budget that we can afford those times when one just can’t sing.

3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?

I will give you two categories for this. Classical and What I actually listen to everyday.

My first ever classical cd was Cecilia Bartoli’s Chants d’amour. That sort of hooked me on classical vocal music. I love how unique and expressive her voice is. My other favorite singers are Montserrat Caballé, Anita Cerquetti, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Anna Di Stasio, Serena Farnocchia, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, and the lovely Joyce DiDonato. All of these ladies have a technique that is amazing and musicality beyond compare.

My ipod is awash in various artists and genres. I love bluegrass, indie, 80’s pop, jazz, acid rock, heavy metal, R&B, rap, orchestral. My all time favorite band is the Foo Fighters and anything that Dave Grohl is involved in like, Them Crooked Vultures. This band has Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. This is essentially a recipe for awesomeness. Their live show from Roskilde 2010 is simply amazing. I highly recommend it.  Here’s the youtube link.

Other favorites include Grizzly Bear, Muse, Band of Skulls, The Staves, St. Vincent, and Local Natives. There’s so much good popular music out there right now you just have to sift through the stuff they play on the radio.

There is one thing you’ll never see on my ipod and that’s reggae. I can’t stand it. I think it’s because it all sounds the same to me.

4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

I wish I had the ability to download languages into my head. The day they invent that computer chip I will be the first one in line. I have a basic understanding of French, German and Italian but it would be nice to be fluent in all languages.

Oh and not being a klutz. I FALL DOWN. A. LOT.

5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?

I like to paint in my spare time. I have always loved drawing and painting. It’s another artistic outlet that I don’t have to be judged on. I can just do it for fun.

I do like home improvement as well. I like building things and working with my hands. I helped my folks remodel their basement. Put up wall studs and dry wall, put stone up in the wine cellar. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something productive.

I love to read as well. I finally broke down and got a kindle (mostly because it was a gift). I love the feel and smell of books but it’s hard to pack light with them. I just finished reading, How the Universe Got It’s Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space, by Janna Levin. I love anything having to deal with science. If I weren’t a singer I would totally go back to school to be a science teacher.

Five more about appearing in the COC production of Die Fledermaus:

1) How does singing the role of Rosalinde challenge you?

This will be my fourth role in German. I have over a dozen in Italian. So doing this operetta with all of the dialogue is a bit of a challenge. However I love the fact that you get to act more in these types of scenes. I really miss doing plays. I used to think memorizing lines in English was hard but learning them in German is a whole other level.

On the vocal side of things I think she’s a really great fit. She has everything, a little coloratura, high notes galore and long legato phrases.

2) What do you love about Rosalinde: both the role & your part in the intrigues of the production?

I LOVE the fact that I get to be funny for a change. Most of the Verdi roles I sing don’t have even a glimpse of levity to them. It’s nice to not be suffering for once.

Christopher Alden

Director of the COC Die Fledermaus, Christopher Alden

I really enjoy the acting aspect of Opera. This production is very thoughtfully constructed. Our director, Christopher Alden, did not want to do a rehashing of what everyone else has done with this piece. It is a bit of a different type of comedy. Ambur Braid, one of our Adeles and I think it’s more like a Wes Anderson film. A dryer comedy than the usual screwball versions associated with this piece. I always like to try things that are different from the norm. It makes things far more interesting.

3) Do you have a favourite moment in Die Fledermaus?

Musically speaking, I love the slow Duidu waltz in the party scene. I think it’s some of the most gorgeous music. This score in general is built on great tune after great tune. It’s easily one of those shows you go home from humming.

We’ve just started our staging this week and the Rosalinde/Alfred scene in Act I might be my favorite so far. Alfred comes in wearing a Caruso-esque Shakespearean costume and promptly does a strip tease. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty amazing.

4) How do you relate to Rosalinde as a modern woman?

In most of the productions I’ve seen Rosalinde is not a very likable character right away. She’s mean to her maid. She’s either taking pills or drinking to fill the void her husband creates in their relationship. Then she has a gentleman caller who she doesn’t really do anything with but probably wants to. At the end of the opera it’s a little hard to swallow that her husband treated her unfairly. Both of them flirt with others. They are both guilty.

This production is trying to show that Rosalinde and Eisenstein do love each other, but the passion has run out. Now they’re just trying to get it back. A situation like this is universal. Every marriage/relationship has this period where things aren’t as easy and fun as they used to be. It gets to the point where you actually have to work on the relationship to make it successful. Rosalinde feels neglected while Eisenstein feels smothered and wants to be on the prowl again. I think that today there are many women that deal with this all the time.

Back in Rosalinde’s time it was sort of expected that a man would be able to have a little on the side. A woman’s place would be in the home, period. Nowadays women can be man’s sexual equals. Everyone is free to cheat equally. Women have sexual desires so why should men have all the fun?

Maybe I would regulate a teensy bit more self control than Rosalinde does. Plus I don’t think disguising myself at a party to trick my husband would be such a great relationship builder.

5) Is there a teacher or an influential recording you’d care to name whose work you especially admire?

Barbara Honn

Barbara Honn

I have known my voice teacher, Barbara Honn, since I was 17 years old. I am now 30 and I still go to see her (when I’m actually in the country). She was the one who taught me not only how to sing but how to teach, be a better human being, and learn how deal with our business. She has been a true mentor. Plus she makes sure you don’t get away with anything. I sang Don Carlos in Houston last year. After the performance she said, “I have a few exercises that will help you not sing that in your neck. It was ok but it could be better.” That, my friends is the mark of a true teacher.


Constance Hoffman's design

One of Constance Hoffman’s costume designs for the COC production of Die Fledermaus

The Canadian Opera Company production of Die Fledermaus, starring Tamara Wilson runs October 4th – November 3rd at the Four Seasons Centre.  Find out more here.

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2 Responses to 10 Questions for Tamara Wilson

  1. Fabulous interview Leslie – many thanks. Her singing in Simon Boccanegra is one of my best COC memories without a doubt! Also, a most pleasant, fun and down-to-earth person.

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