PerformerUpClose: Juliane Gallant

Juliane Gallant

Juliane Gallant

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!

Music Oft Hath Such a Charm , Broadgate Circle Photo by Charlotte King

Music Oft Hath Such a Charm, Broadgate Circle
Photo by Charlotte King

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!

PerformerUpClose: James Harrison

PerformerUpClose interview, 17 March 2016

James Harrison Baritone
OperaUpClose performer credits: Escamillo in Carmen,Germont in La Traviata, Scarpia in Tosca

How did your career in opera start?
I was at university doing the first year of a law degree when a friend asked if I wanted to audition for the chorus of New Zealand Opera. I'd always sung in choirs, including the New Zealand Youth Choir, and the audition went well. The first opera I experienced from start to finish was Turandot and I was singing in the chorus. The minute the curtain came down I knew it was what I wanted to do. 

Did you always know you wanted to become an opera singer?
I always knew I wanted to be a performer. I went missing in the supermarket at the age of three and when my mother (and several members of staff!) eventually found me I was out at the front of the shop singing with a busker, who asked if I could stay as he was making a fortune. I've always loved sharing music with an audience but my love of opera came later. 

As a singer, what would be your all-time favourite role to perform? Have you been lucky enough to perform this role already?
One of my dream roles was Scarpia in Tosca, which was first role with OperaUpClose. I still have people approach me after other shows and say they remember being scared of me which is a huge compliment. As for other roles, I'd really like to sing Don Giovanni and Sharpless in Madam Butterfly

If you could swap voice type, what would you be and why?
I think all baritones have secretly longed to be a tenor for a day or two. Not permanently, just for long enough to be the hero a bit more often rather than the best friend, the father or the third tree on the left. 

What are you up to this season?
I'm about to rejoin Opera Holland Park, where I'm singing Alcindoro in their production of La Bohème. After that I'm off to Norway for the first time to sing Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro. 

If you weren't a singer, what would you be doing instead?
I already do quite a lot of teaching so I would guess I'd be doing more of that. I currently work with a lot of teenage singers. I help them to find their voices and then be brave enough to use them. It is something I really love doing and find hugely rewarding.  

What's the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you on stage?
I was playing Jesus in a staged Passion while at college and during the scourging scene the act of removing my robe proved a little troublesome! In most of the performances the robe caught on the carefully constructed loincloth showing a little more of the Son of Man than either the director or myself intended....

Bellini or Britten?
Britten. I love music but I also love text and few composers combine the two as effectively or as beautifully as Britten. There are wonderful tunes in Bellini but after a while even the most exquisite tune can be a bit empty if it's not saying anything. 

What's the most obscure thing a director has asked you to do in your career?
I had to learn the choreography for Michael Jackson's Thriller to perform during the party scene of Die Fledermaus. It was so much fun but well and truly outside of my comfort zone. The improvised contemporary dance while dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl and singing 'Three Little Maids from School' was fairly out-there too!

PerformerUpClose: Philip Lee

Philip Lee, Tenor
OperaUpClose credits include: Remendado Carmen, Alfredo La Traviata, Nemorino The Elixir of Love, Rodolfo La Boheme, Arnalta The Coronation of Poppea, and the Marquis of Bath The Barber of Seville.

This interview was taken in July 2014. 

 What's your favourite part of your job? 
My favourite part of the job has always been the variety and, when it works in my favour, the unpredictability. I love visiting places that I may not normally travel to or learning material that I would not have previously considered. This past year I have variously found myself in Norway, Rome, and Beirut and performing lost Sondheim works to AA Milne via Verdi operas. I love the possibility of 'anything and anywhere' that this job offers more than any other and the sheer joyful unpredictability of what might be next.

And your least favourite?
Possibly the same answer! It can be tough not knowing where or when the next job will materialise from and the unpredictability can easily tip from excitement to frustration. But being self employed is tough in any profession and it is always weighed up by the joy of doing what you love for a living. 

How did you get into theatre/opera? 
I came into Opera through a less traditional route, I trained as an actor first before turning my hand at everything and anything as a graduate and slowly finding my way into opera which I love and which has been a great new learning and working experience for me. I always loved performing from a young age and was always passionate about music but making the step into turning it into an actual profession is a brave one but one I am always glad I took!

What is the best / most exciting/ inspiring theatre production you’ve ever seen? 
I saw Mark Rylance in Jerusalem a few years ago and that performance has stayed with me since. For sheer stamina and commitment it was astonishing, I have never seen anyone immerse themselves so fully in a role and with such electrifying effect. It was exhausting to watch and it was a weekday matinee. It was a masterclass in stamina and commitment that certainly put some singers schedules in the shade. I loved it.

What is your dream role? 
Apart from 'How do you learn your lines?' this is the question I am genuinely most often asked about my job and I have to say I never have a ready answer. I have roles I have loved and ones I would like to learn but none that fix in my mind as an actual ambition! As a performer I have no control of which shows are produced or how they will be cast and I much prefer to wait and see who or what I might be. Who knows what might end up becoming my dream role? I always like to think this is a better question for the end of my career, now there are far too many possible surprises and unknown roles for me to answer. But...as it stands Rodolfo is still by far the most satisfying role I have played and if I HAD to pick one for the future, for the beautiful score and the sheer eye rolling fun of playing it I'd love to have a go at Paggliachi... 

What is the most embarrassing / funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage? 
You'd have to go a long way to beat Figaro's trousers falling down during our act one duet in The Barber of Seville (I have to confirm it WAS an OperaUpClose show!). We had mikes that were cutting out, wide eyed kids who'd optimistically misunderstood the 'festival' part of Arts Festival and Figaro's replacement pair of trousers fell down again in act two. It was a chapter of accidents but we pulled it round and the audience were on their feet by the end. The Barber of Seville has possibly never been so hilarious.