What is your musical background?
I began piano lessons with my great-aunt at the age of six. I received a Bachelor of Music from the Université de Moncton, followed by a Masters degree at the University of Ottawa. I then spent a few years working and studying in Montreal, after which I moved to London to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I stayed to continue my career.
Who or what do you think encouraged you start playing as a child?
My mother enrolled me in piano lessons after reading that learning music from a young age can develop the scientific side of a child's brain.
When did you know you wanted to become a musician?
I was always active in my high school's musical life. I have also always been an avid reader. When choosing my University course, I was torn between music and literature. I finally decided on piano. It was when I heard a vocal student during my first year at University that I realised that, by pursuing a career in piano accompaniment, I could work with both music and words.
What are your pre-show rituals?
I wouldn't say I really have rituals. I mainly just need to make sure I eat enough to keep me energised throughout the performance. Maybe I just love a good excuse to consume chocolate.
What's your favourite OperaUpClose anecdote?
We did have a really special moment early on during the Carmen staging rehearsals. I was playing on a keyboard, which I was unaware had a transposition setting. We got about half way through the 'card trio' before the ladies agreed it felt really high. It turns out we were a tone and a half higher than the written key. Oops. I still thought they all sounded great!
How do you go about learning all the repertoire you have to learn? How much practice do you need to do on a weekly basis?
I try to sightread through any repertoire I need to learn as soon as I can, so I can assess the level of difficulty and decide how long it would take to properly learn. If the songs or opera are in a language I don't speak, I translate everything before learning notes. I try to keep mental tabs on what needs to be learnt by which date, write lists, and leave myself notes in my diary to keep what I need to learn in check.
How much I practice fluctuates from week to week. I will do up to five hours in a day, but I often have weeks during which I hardly have time to practice.
What do you find most challenging as a performer?
Time-management is a major challenge when working as a freelance musician. Being able to fit everything into a week, while avoiding schedule conflicts, requires a lot of careful planning.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what would be your 7 tracks and why?
Francis Poulenc - La Dame de Monte Carlo: Poulenc has been my favourite composer for as long as I can remember. Additionally, I've performed this a few times with a close friend, so it reminds of memorable rehearsals and performances.
Leonard Bernstein - Make our Garden Grow, from Candide: I think Bernstein was brilliant, as a composer, conductor, pianist and educator. His enthusiasm and love of music are inspiring. Plus, the sheer volume at the end of this piece gives me chills every time.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - final scene, from Eugene Onegin: After participating in performances of The Nutcracker for many years when I was younger, I was convinced I would never be able to listen to Tchaikovsky again. When I was living in Ottawa, a friend convinced me to come see Eugene Onegin. I loved it so much, I returned the following night. It's also the first opera I saw at the Royal Opera House after moving to London.
Gustav Mahler - Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: I could listen to both Mahler and Fischer-Dieskau, all day, every day. Besides, if I were stuck on a desert island, it makes total sense to have a song about talking to fish.
Steppenwolf - Magic Carpet Ride: I listened to a lot of classic rock with my father when I was growing up. This particular cassette tape spent a lot of time in the car tape player as I was driven to piano lessons or dance class.
Queen - Killer Queen: Listening to Queen never fails to put in a good mood.
1755 - Maudite guerre: 1755 is band from Moncton, New Brunswick, very close to where I grew up. There's nothing quite like hearing people sing with my own regional French Canadian accent.
How do you think opera could diversify?
I think it's important for those currently working in opera to allow productions to be created outside the confines of tradition. Just because the music and words have been created centuries ago does not mean the staging and casting has to live in that century. We can learn so much by telling a story from a new angle. I also believe staging new works and commissions can help to showcase stories, perspectives and groups of people who aren't traditionally associated to opera.
As one of our resident Canadians, can give us an insight into the Canadian classical music and opera scene?
The country does have a few wonderful opera companies, orchestras and music schools in the larger cities, such as Toronto and Montreal. However, the opportunities aren't quite as numerous as the quantity of talented musicians in the countries, so it's often necessary to either actively seek out one's own performance opportunities, or to spend a lot of time working outside of Canada. There are Canadians excelling throughout the entire world. For example, Montreal native Yannick Nézet-Séguin will be the next Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera!
If opera and music hadn't come into your life, what do you imagine would have been your passion?
I think I would have ended up in the arts in one way or another. I grew up dancing, have always been interested in literature, and dabbled in acting and visual arts while at school. I also would have no problem being paid to eat.
If you had to give advice to someone wanting to get into opera, what would you say?
Throw out all your pre-conceived notions about opera. Opera is not scary, nor is it reserved to the elite. Opera can make you laugh, it can make you cry, and it can be simply entertaining. And the best way to get started is to go see a live performance, rather than listening to recordings. There are so many ways of seeing opera these days. There are always the big opera houses, which can be awe-inducing in themselves. Smaller companies are now often seeking out non-traditional venues, such as pubs, to bring opera closer to everyday life. Go!