Entertainment

Soprano sings opera – minus the horns

Up and coming Victoria-based opera singer Sarah Vardy is performing in Don Giovanni at the University of Victoria next week. The busy 33-year-old soprano will be auditioning in Germany, touring China and competing in Italy this year.  - Edward Hill/News staff
Up and coming Victoria-based opera singer Sarah Vardy is performing in Don Giovanni at the University of Victoria next week. The busy 33-year-old soprano will be auditioning in Germany, touring China and competing in Italy this year.
— image credit: Edward Hill/News staff

Sarah Vardy has a couple of hours to study her music at home before hopping a ferry to Vancouver to perform in the Marriage of Figaro. Between managing auditions around the world, refining her voice and actual performances, Victoria’s rising opera star has little time to catch her breath.

The 33-year-old soprano who lives in Langford has her year set out before her. She’s earned the right to study under Canadian tenor Richard Margison in Hamilton, Ont., for August. In September, she’s been invited to a vocal competition in Palermo, Italy, followed by a three-week opera concert tour of China over Christmas.

Somehow she’ll squeeze in auditions in German opera houses this fall and winter after being invited back, based on a three-month tour earlier this year.

In the meantime, Vardy is fine-tuning her thunderous voice under American vocal coach Luke Housner, who is leading the Marriage of Figaro this week in Vancouver, followed by Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the University of Victoria next week.

Becoming an opera singer is a childhood dream of Vardy’s, but it’s a relentless schedule of performance and practice just to get a chance to audition for a job.

“Competition is fierce, especially being a soprano. Everybody is a soprano,” Vardy says. “You’ve got to look to your strengths and what you bring to the table that is different.”

For Vardy, that would be her deep, penetrating voice that can cut through a full orchestra. It’s the kind of classic voice people associate with opera.

“I sing a more dramatic repertoire. Verdi, Puccini, any Romantic repertoire,” Vardy says. “Anything that that involves death and destruction. It’s definitely a stereotype ... what I sing is the stereotype of opera, minus the horns.”

The Don Giovanni public performances are the products of week-long opera workshops for young up-and-coming performers. Like any instrument, Vardy’s voice needs tuning and crafting to make sure her vowels are perfectly formed and her Italian, French or German hits the right dialect. She likens it to golf – even Tiger Woods never stops working on his swing.

“You never arrive at a point in opera singing where you say, ‘Now I’m done,’” Vardy says. “Your voice changes, you have different roles and repertoires. Now I’m working on half-screw turns ... it’s a little tweaking all the time, every day.”

In Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Vardy has the role of Donna Anna, who spends most of the opera trying to solve and then avenge the death of her father. Performed in Italian with English subtitles, Vardy says Mozart writes operas that are accessible and easy to follow, and has familiar music scores that have filtered into popular culture.

Shifting gears to Donna Anna from her recent Countess role in Figaro is a welcome challenge that takes Vardy out of her comfort zone.

“This role is high note after high note. (Donna Anna) is melodramatic. She comes across as agitated,” she says. “It’s a challenge, but a good challenge.”

The Vivace production of Don Giovanni is July 31, Aug. 1-2, 7 p.m. at the University of Victoria MacLaurin Building, Music Wing room B037. Tickets are $10.

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