Ambur Braid may have a catchy name, but the reason you remember it is because of what she does with her opportunities.
The voice gets mentioned almost in passing (a secure dramatic coloratura that allows her to undertake challenging roles such as Semele and the Queen of the Night), because of the extras Braid brings to everything she does, an actor of remarkable depth. I think I missed it at first (the acting) because I was so carried away with her visual impact whenever i saw her onstage.
My first review–with the Canadian Opera Company–almost sounds resentful, because I literally couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
If success can be understood as the greatest applause for the briefest appearance, then Ambur Braid was champ as the Queen of the Night, earning huge applause for both of her arias. She brought a seductive presence to the stage with every entrance, always the focus whenever she appeared.
Later that season, the COC presented Robert Carsen’s production of Orfeo ed Euridice in May 2011, a reading that was much deeper than what I might have expected. I was somewhat perplexed by what I saw, and again, Braid was at its centre. With hindsight I realize now that underlying this was the subtlety of Braid’s portrayal of a character with two different genders, as first the male then female version of Love.
I am still trying to decode an interesting approach to Amore from Carsen/Hoheisel. Love is both God and Goddess, changeable and all-powerful in this world. Ambur Braid’s portrayal of Love first appears in an apparently male aspect in the first act, reappearing in a female guise in the last act. I am not sure I understand the rationale; perhaps Love has no gender, or is a shape-shifter able to do anything?
This past autumn I saw her most impressive recent performance, as Adele in Die Fledermaus.
In the first scene Tamara Wilson & Ambur Braid are instantly real, their German dialogue compelling as we’re instantly plunged into their dramas. Although the stage will fill with personnel and imagery, we never really lose our interest in them. While there will be diversions throughout, it’s their show through and through.
I wasn’t at all surprised by the excellence Tamara Wilson brought to Rosalinde, a young woman with a wonderful voice that can be powerful or delicate, and with a genuine flair for comedy. But Wilson was matched by her maid Adele as portrayed by Ambur Braid. I’d been expecting to enjoy this portrayal, but was not prepared for how fully she inhabited the maid- who- becomes –Olga. While I’d seen the photos in the publicity, I was unprepared for the power (and comedy) of her transformation from the ugly duckling of Act I into the seductive Olga in Act II Her rendition of the laughing song had a delightfully angry edge to it.
Graduate of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music and San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Braid is in her last season with the COC ensemble. I am sorry I missed her epic Vitellia in Clemenza di Tito just a few weeks ago, a production hit by flu indispositions (although the virus didn’t stop her). Next season Braid sings Konstanze in Die entfuhrung aus dem Serail for Opera Atelier.
Rehearsals have just begun for Opera Atelier’s Magic Flute, with Braid singing the Queen of the Night. I ask her Ten questions: five about herself and five about her role in the Mozart opera.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
Both of my parents have a brilliant work ethic and I am so thankful to have had such great role models to learn from. They loved travelling, and would take my brothers and me on fantastic trips!
I would say that I am a bit more like my father in that he’s very goal oriented, and driven to be successful in the business ventures he undertakes. I may also get my love of food and wine from him.
My mother is a social worker and thanks to her, I met and hung out with people with mental and physical disabilities as a child and teenager, and I am so grateful to have had those experiences. It is pretty amazing to have a job where you make peoples lives better!
2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being a singer?
The amazing part about being a singer is that the work is never done. (That phrase is beginning to be a bit of a mantra for me.) Things are never going to be “perfect”, despite all one’s attempts in practice.
You get to work with people who push you emotionally, mentally, and physically.
You will never know a score well enough.
Your voice will never be flawless on a show day.
You don’t know where the next contract is going to come from.
You don’t know where you are going to live next.
I love all of those things because I love a challenge!
It is pretty annoying to not know when you’re going to see your family
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I adore watching Wes Anderson movies and Formula 1 auto races. Most of the people I spend my days with remind me of Wes Anderson characters; dry, sarcastic, quirky, sensitive, dark, and overly-educated. There are many movie nights in my apartment watching films by Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola and David Fincher. A couple of years ago I went through a Hitchcock and Fellini phase, and ended up dressing like the women in those films. I should do that again!
If I’m learning a role, I like to watch every film related to the character as I can, and potentially use other movie characters as my touchstone. For Adele, I channeled Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, Margot Tanenbaum in The Royal Tanenbaums,…
…Lulu in Pandoras Box, and switched up accents impersonating Sarah Bernhardt. For Vitellia, I thought of Lolita and Justine in Melancholia. These days I’m watching (and reading) everything on the Tudors and Elisabeth I of England. This part of my job is really fun for me!
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Being a mermaid would be pretty great.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite
thing to do?
I am a neat freak, so I tend to clean and organize my apartment to relax and decompress. The excitement that I get from cleaning products is probably not sane, but it is so satisfying!
Being on the water is ideal. If there is a beach, a boat, sunshine, bubbly and loved ones involved – I’m blissfully happy!
Five more about portraying the Queen of the Night in Opera Atelier’s
production of The Magic Flute.
1) How does portraying the role of the Queen of the Night for Opera
Atelier challenge you?
Singing anything at Opera Atelier is interesting because Marshall has such a clear, focused vision of the production, and the choreography is quite stylized. Today in rehearsal, Marshall was holding my hips and making sure that my balance was directed on the proper foot at the right time. Do you know how hard it is to control my 6 foot wing-span in a controlled, danceresque and beautifully stylized (but angry!) manner while singing the most famous coloratura of all time?
Yeah, that’s what challenges me.
The amazing part of this choreographed business is that I can FINALLY be aware of my long limbs! Relaxing into it all is the tough part.
This production is also in English, which is brilliant for the audience but makes me feel silly sometimes. Things seem so much more profound and beautifully ambiguous in foreign languages…
Technically speaking, singing the Queen of the Night is like Tennis; there is a HUGE mental component. It is quite the mind game singing two arias where all anyone cares about are the high F’s. The second aria is so well known, and sung by so many coloratura sopranos, that people expect it to be a certain way, and always have something to say about what the singer did or did not do. My challenge is to stay focused, just relax, and have fun with it. I have things that most other coloraturas don’t have (you’ll have to see and hear it to find out what) but that throws some people off because they don’t understand what’s happening and I’m not a “robot”. The vocal range of the role doesn’t concern me, but I do not like singing staccati notes.
Character-wise, she’s a delightful character to portray. She’s me before my espresso in the morning: “Stay back!”
2) What do you love about The Queen of the Night?
It is always more fun to play the villain, and it seems to come pretty naturally to me. Sigh. My stature helps as it seems to give people the idea that I’m confident (even when I’m not) and this works onstage as well. I don’t believe that the Queen is evil, (obviously she does not), but I do think that she loves herself a bit too much. Yes, her disregard for anyone but herself borders on sociopathic, and she seduces young men, but that’s why she’s fun!
She is just a seductive lady with a bit of a temper trying to get ahead.
3) Do you have a favourite moment in the opera?
My favorite part of any opera is the overture. You have no idea how amped I get backstage and it is just the most fun! This is often the time where I am dancing in the dressing room, or in the wings with some other members of the cast.
Oh the memories…
Musically, The Magic Flute can blow your mind. I love all of Sarastro’s music, including the hymn his guards sing.
4) How do you relate to the Queen of the Night as a modern woman?
The Queen of the Night is so modern it hurts. She might enter on a flying mechanic cloud, but she has pain, anger, career goals and a weakness for tenors. She uses her feminine charm and seductive manner (high notes) to get people to do her bidding and when things don’t go her way, she has a bit of a tantrum. A very, very famous tantrum.
5) Is there a teacher, singer, actor or an influence that you especially admire?
It is part of my job to be influenced by as many things as possible, and that is one of the things I love about this business. The work is never done. Anybody in the theatre business should experience as many things, in all forms, as possible in order to create something interesting onstage. I’ve lived a VERY full life in my (almost) thirty years, and am so thankful to draw on those experiences and all of the incredible people that I have met. It is incredibly therapeutic, and I know that some people get a kick out of seeing bits of themselves in the characters that I create.
Ambur Braid will be onstage with Opera Atelier in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Elgin Theatre April 6- 13th.
The Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street
Saturday, April 6, 2013, 7:30 PM
Sunday, April 7, 2013, 3:00 PM
Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 7:30 PM
Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 7:30 PM
Friday, April 12, 2013, 7:30 PM
Saturday, April 13, 2013, 7:30 PM