Mireille Lebel is reliving that classic Canadian phenomenon, a singer missed at home while she’s off in Europe making a name for herself, most recently at Theater Erfurt, Theater Basel and Opéra Théatre de Metz, adding role after important role in the mezzo repertoire including Cenerentola, Cherubino, Sesto, Idamante, Nerone and Carmen.
This year, Lebel makes débuts at the Prague State Opera as Carmen, at Festival d’Aix en Provence in Svadba and returns to Opera Atelier in her role début as Orphée in the Berlioz version of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice. On the concert platform she will sing Handel’s Messiah with The McGill Chamber Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony and L’orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières as well as take part in a Bach Cantatas project with Les Violons du Roy.
After an impressive debut at Opera Atelier as Annio in La Clemenza di Tito (for example the video!), Lebel returns to OA next month in the title role of Gluck’s Orfée et Eurydice, the occasion for asking her ten questions: five about herself and five about her portrayal of Orfée.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
Publicly like my mother and privately like my father. My Mom has this unbelievable intensity and let’s things fly in a totally uncensored and sometimes outrageous manner. I feel she missed her calling as an actress! I think it is her way of always showing her hand that taught me to be so open and go no holds barred onstage. My Papa is a deeply reflective and introspective person. A listener, an observer. And when I am not onstage, I flip into this mode.
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a singer?
Well, the lack of routine is wonderful! I love that. For me this is not really a job, it’s a passion and it totally dictates how I live my life. There is always that thing (the voice) requiring constant attention. It is exciting to keep working on the voice, and feel it grow and change. But there are sacrifices too. During a contract I basically foreswear the little pleasure of life – which for me are big pleasures! Talking on the phone, talking in general, espresso in the afternoon, eating past 7, drinking martinis are all out. The good thing is, when I finish a project, be it an opera or a series of concerts, I try to plan some time before the next thing. Then you are a free bird. You can sleep until noon, you can meet friends and caffeinate yourself to high heaven, talk loudly in a bar until 2 am. Whatever you want. Your time is your own.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I am alone A LOT so I have tons of time for this kind of thing! I scour Goodreads for book ideas and always have several on the go. Right now Do no Harm (the memoirs of a neurosurgeon) and The White Tiger. The television series playing right now are
RIDICULOUSLY good. I love Game of Thrones, The Affair, The Good Wife, The Fall, Fargo, The Americans, House of Cards (Too many to name!) When I am sad, when times are hard, when I want to feel good, I listen to Bach, to Handel, to Britten, to Piazzolla… I am always discovering a new piece music that brings out intense emotions! I was jogging to Dolly Parton this fall and I do Youtube the bejesus out of my favorite singers (who shall remain nameless because I don’t want any singers I don’t name to be jealous).
…Ok, twist my rubber arm I will name “Christmas Greatest songs” from Analekta with Lyne Fortin and the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal. I listen to that disc year round and always send a slightly tipsy message to Lyne at the beginning of December telling her she made my Christmas. I’ve been doing this to her since 2009.
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
The ability to keep things to myself.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Well, I relax a lot even when working because I have so much time alone, but the things I like to do when I don’t have to maintain such a strict discipline are meet with family or friends in restaurants or bars and laugh a lot and talk loud!!!!!! I also like going to the beach or park or on a hike with a picnic and some wine. And I love to start drinking that wine a little after noon in the hot sun and then take a dip!
Five more concerning Opera Atelier’s upcoming production of Orfée et Euridice
1-What are the challenges in the role of Orfée?
With Orphée it is a question of concentration and coordination. I don’t know how it would feel to play him in another production… In this production , there is extremely tight, detailed, and intense choreography which in itself requires a lot of focus. Within that structure I have to find the naturalness of the emotions. And then I have to sing! So, it’s about having enough brain space and coordination to be playing on these three levels.
2- Your work as Annio in La Clemenza di Tito a few years ago with Opera Atelier was one of the most impressive portrayals of its kind I have ever seen. And here we go again with another trouser part. Could you talk about how you approach playing a male, both singing & acting?
Thank you! I love trouser parts. They feel amazing. When I started my career I had to think about male body language a great deal. I studied the way men moved, the way teenage boys moved. I did a workshop where I actually prowled the streets of Berlin as a man, which was terrifying as I thought I was going to be beaten up (didn’t happen!) All that helped me develop a vocabulary. My goal is never to convince the public I am a man but rather to draw on the masculine energy that is already inside me and just let it out. In this production there is not going to be any butch strutting! It is a subtle masculinity.
3- Opera Atelier are known for historically informed performance. Please talk about what it’s like working with Marshall Pynkoski, David Fallis and the Opera Atelier team.
Oh God, those guys?! (Eye roll) Ha ha. It’s actually kind of amazing to work with people who care so much about the piece and the public. Marshall is a fascinating personality and artist. He is extremely precise in his casting and puts endless thought into the personalities of each artist and the results of them coming together onstage. (Not to mention endless thought into the whole production.) David is such an intelligent, versatile musician and writes us twiddles (that is the official name for them-I swear!) and always has interesting suggestions for phrasing or tempi.
Yes, it is historically informed, and yet it feels like we are working on a premiere. The incredibly talented Peggy Kriha-Dye (Euridice) and Meghan Lindsay (Amour) work with the company regularly and along with Marshall, David, and the wonderful people behind the scenes, it is a tight knit and supportive team. I feel supported, I feel like I can take risks, I feel very luck actually!
4-Please put your feelings about opera and the preservation of classical culture into context for us.
Music is my religion. Nothing arouses such emotion in me. I don’t want anyone with a heart and brain and soul to miss out on the feelings classical music provokes. It would be SUCH a great loss.
5-Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Wow. So many. I will name four incredible teachers who I worked with intensely, my teacher in Vancouver, Gillian Hunt, my teacher at the University of Toronto, Jean MacPhail, my teacher at the Université de Montréal, Catherine Sévigny and my current teacher, Scottish soprano Marie McLaughlin. I find inspiration in so many singers, directors and conductors working today. There is a lot of talent out there and some amazing things happening!
Opera Atelier’s production of Orfée et Euridice opens April 9th at the Elgin Theatre, running until April 18th. (click for further information)