Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy has a voice that invites sensuous adjectives. Radiant? Dusky? Sumptuous? You be the judge.
In the past year I wrote about her participation in two very different productions by the same composer, namely Händel:
- Hercules semi-staged by Tafelmusik in January 2012: https://barczablog.com/2012/01/20/herculean/
- Semele with the Canadian Opera Company
Don’t let the Handelian concentration fool you however. McHardy sings more recent repertoire as well, such as Peter Bengston’s The Maids.
In the coming season McHardy will be heard in Händel’s Giulio Cesare (Michigan Opera Theatre), Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (Opéra de Montréal), Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher , in recital with pianist Stephen Ralls at the Glenn Gould Studio, and later this month in Messiah with Tafelmusik.
McHardy’s recordings include the JUNO and ADISQ nominated La Conversione di Clodoveo, Re di Francia by Caldara (ATMA), Bellini’s Norma with the Warsaw Philharmonic, Serinette and A Midwinter Night’s Dream by Harry Somers (Centrediscs). A recording of her recent performance of Händel’s Orlando with will be released on ATMA in 2014.
I ask McHardy ten questions: five about herself, and five about singing Messiah this month with Tafelmusik.
1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?
I wouldn’t say I strongly resemble one parent over another. I would say I’ve inherited my Mom’s sensitivity (the good kind) and my Dad’s sense of humour.
My musical legacy comes mainly from my grandparents on my Dad’s side. Visits to my grand-parents’ house were where I felt the most in my musical element. When I was a child I thought anyone who had a piano in their house was rich.
Although they lived in a modest house in middle class neighbourhood to me, that was Grandma and Grandpa McHardy. They had a big old upright that both my Grandpa and Uncle Sandy would play. Usually Scottish folk music or other popular music. Neither of them read music. They would just sit down and play for what seemed an endless amount of time. The music would just keep coming. I liked to sing and dance around the living room with my brother and cousins. Sometimes Sandy would get out the fiddle while Grandpa played piano. That was a real treat, again all by ear. My Grandparents bought a piano for our family when I was about eight years old. That was a very exciting day. They felt strongly that music was something that should be in our house too.
2) What is the best thing / worst thing about being a singer?
The best thing about being a singer is singing. As difficult as some days on the road are, when I start singing it all fades away. There are many other wonderful things about being a singer. I love being in interesting cities, I love the freedom that this career affords me, I love that I am always learning new music and exploring new characters. I am so grateful for all the wonderful colleagues I’ve met, and I am especially grateful for all the adventures on the road I have been able to share with my husband and daughter.
The worst thing about being a singer is when I have to be away from my family. As I said, I love BEING in interesting cities. I don’t always love getting to those interesting cities.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Händel. Anytime, anywhere. I’m not just saying that because I’m singing Messiah.
I really don’t listen to opera or other vocal repertoire unless it’s for work purposes. Listening to an opera CD I find, well, difficult, frustrating. I’d much rather go to a live performance or be singing it myself. If I were to pick my favourite mezzos, Simionato, Borodina and our very own Maureen Forrester. She was truly one of the most beautiful lyric singers.
I love listening to Leonard Cohen, Lhasa de Sela, Simon and Garfunkel, Billie Holiday and the Beatles. My days are often full of music and sound. Silence can be very satisfying too at the end of a long day!
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I knew how to drive a standard transmission. This would come in very handy when renting cars in Europe! Especially at this time of year, I wish I knew how to carve a turkey really well. I also need to work on my gravy. I’d really like to become a more skilled knitter.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
My relaxation is spending time with family and friends, knitting, reading and most definitely cooking. One of my favourite things to do with my 5 year old daughter is bake. We have a list of recipes we like to make including Grandma McHardy’s famous oatmeal cookies. Eating well is such a challenge on the road. When I get home the first thing I want to do is get in the kitchen. It’s very much the centre of our home. The time I spend with my family is the kitchen is equally as nourishing to me as the food we make.
Five more about the Tafelmusik Messiah:
1) How does singing the mezzo part in Messiah challenge you?
Messiah‘s challenge is keeping the text alive. Everyone knows Messiah. We’ve heard the words so many times it’s very easy to take them for granted. When I say “But who may abide the day of his coming” in my first aria what am I really asking? For me it’s not a rhetorical question.
2) What do you love about Messiah
Everything. Messiah never grows old for me. When I hear the overture start it’s like the skies open up. Handel kinda does that to me in general.
3) Do you have a favourite moment in Messiah?
I have many favourite moments in Messiah. The soprano “there were shepherds abiding in the fields” recit I love. The chorus “Surely he hath borne our griefs”, the tenor recit “Thy rebuke hath broken his heart” just about reduces me to tears every time i hear it. But my most treasured moment is the Pastorale Symphony. I’ve always loved this piece. It sets the scene so beautifully for the announcement of the birth of Jesus. The calm before this incredible event. It may have been a bit of hubris on our part but my husband and I chose it to be the processional at our wedding. We were married at Christmas time at the Toronto’s historical Enoch Turner Schoolhouse in the classroom. There was barely room for all our guests let alone an orchestra so we had it played on guitar. It was wonderful.
4) How do you relate to Messiah as a modern woman?
The Messiah experience for me has so many layers. It’s hard to separate the singer/musician from the woman. What I would love to know is how someone who hears it for the first time responds. I think then we would find how a modern woman relates to it. I would hope that after having seen and heard it, it becomes apparent the value of coming together to hear a live performance of a work that has stood the test of time. I love my ipod as much as anyone but the most satisfying, powerful and lasting musical experiences are the ones we share.
5) Is there a teacher or an influential recording you’d care to name whose work you especially admire?
I’ve had many wonderful people help me along through my career.
I’ve worked with my voice teacher Neil Semer for many years now. The first lesson I had with him was when I was in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble I knew his technique was something I had to follow. He never ceases to challenge me and I know he is 100% in my corner.
Allyson McHardy appears in the Tafelmusik presentation of Händel’s Messiah Wed. Dec 19, Thurs. Dec 20, Fri. Dec 21 and Sat. Dec 22 at 7:30pm, plus the singalong Sunday Dec. 23rd at 2:00 pm: at Koerner Hall.