It seems like it was only yesterday that baritone Bruno Roy was a finalist in Centre Stage, the 2015 Ensemble Studio competition. The new voice that we had never heard before? He is now about to make his final appearance as a part of the Ensemble’s annual showcase concert, “An Evening with the Ensemble Studio” on Friday May 25th.
Of course I had to ask him a few questions.
Are you more like your father or your mother?
I would say I am a good blend of both of them, although I am a spitting image of my mother (many have called the resemblance uncanny). Both of my parents are French Canadian and my affinity for the French language has always been a core element of my musical identity. My mother is a small business owner so we now share that business acumen and my father is a hard working person who can fix literally anything (I still have much to learn from his mechanical ability, something we unfortunately do not share.)
What is the best or worst thing about being a singer?
I would say that the best part is that I get to do something that I really love as a job, it’s something that makes me feel quite blessed; entering university there was a great uncertainty as to whether I could make a living of this field but I now feel more confident about it. The discipline required is difficult sometimes. Some days it might mean that I need to talk less, or shouldn’t go out to see a movie or help a friend move – when it comes to singing, we need to be kind to our bodies as that is our instrument.
Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I listen to music of all types, from hip hop to post rock and experimental music and I really do think that when it comes to listening, variety is the spice of life and all musical genres can have an influence on my mood and even my musical artistry.If I listen to opera, Gerald Finley is one of my favorite singers, still active today, and his artistry transports and inspires me to be a better artist. I had the opportunity to meet and participate in a masterclass with him a few years ago and I will forever remember it as a highlight of my university career.
What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Like many I think I would like to be able to teleport. In our business and also with the way that our generation is much more mobile travel can really be a chore, especially when the distance also separates us from loved ones. In a more realistic sense being able to know more languages could always prove useful.
When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?
In my time off I love hanging out with friends, going for nature walks with my girlfriend when we can and also staying in and bundling up to watch a movie with a tea and some snacks. I have no shame in saying I am a little bit of a home body at times but reading a book, listening to music and enjoying the company of people who are dear to me is a good time – I guess I’m easy to please!
More questions for Bruno Roy about life in The Ensemble Studio, as we come up to his final appearance as a member in the May 25th Showcase, “An Evening with the Ensemble Studio”.
Now that you’ve come to your last months, please reflect back on the competition & the process of getting into the Ensemble Studio, including any advice you might have for young singers.
The competition was an amazing introduction to the company. It was an opportunity to meet all of the trainers and artistic heads of the company and everyone was very welcoming and supportive. I must admit that stepping onto the Four Seasons stage with orchestra in the pit was pretty intimidating but the support I felt during the callback week definitely helped make me feel confident to take centre stage. Prior to the audition and callback I was fortunate enough to still be in school and having the necessary time to prepare my two arias. I worked double time with my coach Michael McMahon and I think ultimately the repetition and detail work I did on those pieces of music really helped me feel comfortable by the time I arrived in Toronto. As I move forward and find myself splitting between many projects, I think back to how important that preparation had been. Everyone’s path is different but I know that work helped me stay flexible when it came the time to present the arias with the COC orchestra.
Talk about your time in The Ensemble Studio. What was it like?
Being part of the Ensemble Studio was overall a big change for me. I had never moved away from home (Montreal, where I also attended McGill University) and initially the studio was a lot of hard work. When I joined the studio I had to adjust to a new lifestyle and was also developing a new, more critical perspective on my vocal technique. I was becoming much more aware of what I needed to work at to reach the next level and felt an inner push to constantly better myself alongside the multiple assignments. Thankfully I was surrounded by a wonderful group of colleagues who welcomed me to this city and I have loved my time in Toronto. Although it was a lot of hard work there are special moments I will always remember: being on stage as the Jailor in Tosca as Adrianne Pieczonka sings a glorious high C before plunging to her death, feeling the rumble of the COC orchestra from the pit at the beginning of Rigoletto, performing music that my colleagues had written for a concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, getting the opportunity to work one on one with singers like Jane Archibald, Russell Braun and Roland Wood, and so many other moments that sculpted my time at the company.
What does the Ensemble Studio mean to a singer’s future?
The Ensemble studio really helps bridge the gap between school and the profession for young singers. It’s a way of getting our craft out there, both by getting singing opportunities on the Four Seasons Stage and also by getting to audition for various companies and industry leaders that find their way through Toronto. Getting a chance to be in the ensemble was a great experience, it is a special feeling knowing the company respected what I was doing with my craft and wanted to support me in my training. Moving forward I will now have a network of contacts and colleagues that can support me once I leave the studio. Knowing of all the singers that have been through this program and the success that they have had through hard work I felt very inspired and blessed to be able to take part in this program.
Please talk about what you’re going to perform in the Ensemble Showcase May 25th
The Ensemble studio will be performing excerpts from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in addition to the entirety of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. We have been working at this program (which will be presented with full orchestra) for a while now and we are very excited to present something of our own alongside the COC’s regular season. I will be performing Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas; this will be my first time stepping into the shoes of a heroic character and I am definitely thrilled and looking forward to it! I am taking on Don Alfonso for the Cosi scenes and although I may not be quite ready for the full role, Alfonso’s music feels comfortable and he is a fun character to embody! My ensemble studio colleagues have a put in a lot of work into their respective characters, both in their characterization and the ever important diction (with an English opera we want to make sure the audience understands every word) and it has truly been a treat to be able to prepare my final performance at the COC with them.
Can you tell us of anything of your life after the Ensemble Studio ?
I am leaving soon after the Ensemble showcase for Montreal where I will be performing in a chamber opera titled “Nero and the Fall of Lehman Brothers” by American composer Jonathan Dawe with a company called Ballet Opéra Pantomime. It will be my first professional engagement in Montreal since I left for Toronto two years ago. I will also be performing in Haliburton, Ontario with the Highlands Opera Studio as Marcello in their production of La bohème in August; I’m very excited to sink my teeth into that role and make new connections with other singers. In the fall I am also moving to Frankfurt, I will have a lot of free time and am excited to start making new connections in Germany. I will be back in Ontario in the spring of 2019 for concert work and I do intend to try and perform in Canada as much as possible even though I will be settled overseas with my partner.
The singing actor is a curious hybrid creature. Some people come to it via music, some via theatre leading me to ask about your personal equation, and your background as a stage performer.
My way into opera was through singing initially. I performed in a big youth choir throughout elementary and high school and had barely any acting experience by the time I got to university. Although I dabbled with theatre late in high school and we had intro to acting classes in university it was really only when I was assigned my first opera roles that I began thinking of myself as an actor. I’ve always used music and text as my first step into acting, what I could learn from what my character and those interacting we’re saying will always be what I go to first. As opera singers we are fortunate since the composer can sometimes give us a clear picture of the emotion or state of mind of character with the line, rhythm and dynamics indicated in the score. I learn something new about the acting process every time I step into a new role and throughout my time in the studio I have felt these acting instincts grow; for me nothing beats the experience doing, it is how I learn the fastest.
Do you have any stories you could share from your time in the Ensemble Studio?
When I think back on my time in the studio, there are a lot of things that come to mind. Some were stressful in the moment: when we were out on school tour in the Kingston area, some of the wrong costumes had been brought – the cast rallied to make the best of it as we could not get the costumes and that definitely helped us bond; we also delivered on a great show that day! Other times I felt like I was part of something bigger than I was: sharing a drink with visiting artists, feeling an artistic connection and camaraderie with people sometimes twice my age, feeling part of the global opera world. Many of these things I didn’t expect to feel as a young artist and the ensemble studio made me feel like a true professional. There are so many anecdotes, jokes and moments when everything could go wrong on stage and hopefully I will get to share more of those moments with these colleagues again.
What roles do you see yourself undertaking?
I do see a lot of French opera roles in my future. Because of my background and high placed baritone I feel like I have an affinity for this repertoire and thankfully I also love it! Pelléas from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande is definitely a dream part. I am also fascinated by grand opera, be it the French operas of Rossini and Verdi as well as those of Bizet and Gounod; I do hope that one day I may find my way to this repertoire. Interestingly though I know that I will learn to love most of the repertoire that comes my way and I may even find a new dream role by exploring other repertoire.
Who is your favourite composer, AND (not necessarily the same question)whose music do you think sounds best in your voice?
As I mentioned earlier, the music of the French composers really suits my voice. Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc’s music has always been an easy fit and the language seems to bring out a natural quality in my voice quite well suited for this repertoire. On the other hand, Verdi is one of my favorite composers and I think the way he managed to tie beautiful music in with the drama has always fascinated me. I think everyone would agree that the man knew how to write a tune! After singing in Rigoletto this season at the COC, I am excited about the next time I can dive into Verdi’s world; luckily he even has a few French operas!
Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
My teacher Winston Purdy, who passed away last fall, was one of my biggest influences. I will always remember his love and passion for the song repertoire and his grounded, relaxed teaching. I am reminded of his wisdom every day and he is definitely one of the main reasons I keep pushing myself to explore and discover my musical identity.
Bruno Roy joins his colleagues for one last time as part of An Evening with the Ensemble Studio,7:30 p.m. on Friday May 25th at the Four Seasons Centre.