Written in Quebec City
I can not imagine a better start to my 2014/15 season. I am in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, singing Missia Palmieri (La veuve joyeuse) a role I absolutely adore. So it seems appropriate that a season filled with French repertoire should begin in a city filled with French elegance and charm.
I think the word Francophile is an apt description of me. I fell in love with the French language and Quebecois people when I moved to Montreal in 2003 to study with a voice teacher named Marie Daveluy. We had met at the Centre d’Arts d’Orford during a production of Don Giovanni and my instinct told me that I needed to absorb what Marie had to offer. That decision soon led me to Marie’s house on rue Henri-Julien three times a week. We divided the working sessions into half-hour technical workouts and one hour repertoire sessions with a pianist. I had the pleasure of running into some of the most exquisite voices in the country in this studio: Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Kimy McLaren, Karina Gauvin to name a few. It was heaven.
Marie shaped me, not just technically, but aesthetically. In Marie’s studio, the singing voice was sacred, it was an expression of your inner soul, your passion, your yearning. It was NOT about “production of sound”, or “doing well”. I struggled at first with this mindset, the workaholic A-student in me had to make a fundamental shift from “doing” to “being.” This transition took many reminders from Marie who’s famous phrase seemed created for me; “Leslie, le mieux est l’enemi du bien.” After hearing this phrase for the hundredth time, I realized that I needed to stop trying to produce what I thought was right or good and start finding out what was authentically mine to offer. This was such a gift of wisdom from Marie and I continue to use it everyday.
When I wasn’t busy studying, Montreal offered me endless adventure. I was determined to fit into my new environment, so I created a game for myself called, “Pretend you are French”. The object of this game was to see how far I could get without anyone discovering that I really didn’t speak the language yet and was very much a foreigner. It was a “fake it till you make it” way of challenging myself to learn and grow. A typical scenario would be to go out and discover a new word or phrase each day, all the while feigning complete mastery of composure and fluency. For example, a trip to the local bakery Premiere Moisson, where I ordered my first loaf of bread in French and the server asked, “Tranché?” I had no idea what she meant but since it was a game of discovery I replied with my most authoritative, “merci!” and lo and behold I received my bread sliced. Not only had I learned a word, I had fun doing it.
Looking back on that time, I am so grateful for all of the gifts and the lessons that came my way. I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone and ended up growing into a fuller, stronger version of myself. When I left Montreal in 2009, I took with me my love of curiosity, adventure and possibility and a facility of language and communication. I also realized that it was better to be an authentic me, for as much fun as I had trying to fit in and disguise myself in a cloak of French aura and mystique, the truth of the matter is this: I am an earthy Anglophone who happens to adore French music, culture and people.
It is in this spirit that I am entering this season which brings me my debut with L’opéra de Québec, L’orchestre symphonique de Montréal as well returning to Opera in Concert to sing the title role in Charpentiers Louise. Let the adventures begin!