Breakthrough year for up-and-coming soprano
She has a voice that thunders, a voice that penetrates your bones.
Yet with a rather petite build, Sarah Vardy is happy not to fit the stereotype of the operatic diva.
The 32-year-old Langford resident and opera singer has a feature role as Mercedes in this Sunday’s performance of Carmen in Victoria, put on by the Vancouver Concert Opera Co-Operative.
For Vardy, playing Mercedes offers her a compelling chance to play an alter ego – a free-wheeling gypsy, thief and seductress and a partner in crime with the manipulative Carmen. The role is also part of Vardy’s breakout year as a working opera singer, a driving goal that’s taken half her life to achieve.
“Since I was 16 I’ve wanted to do opera. I’ve spent that entire time honing my voice to move into a professional career,” she says. “I’m fortunate. Some never get there. Ideally I’d be a working musician, travelling all over the world.”
Performed in French with English narration, Georges Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most popular and often performed operas in history. Like most tales in the genre, it touches on passions and jealousies of love, in this case a Spanish corporal and a toreador vying for the heart of Carmen.
Despite often being performed in German, Italian, Russian or French, Vardy says anyone can engage with themes and storylines presented in opera – it’s an art form that is a larger-than-life expression of the human experience.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about opera. This company really tries to break down the barriers,” she says. “The show is all about the music. You can pick out what is going on, and you know when she dies in the end.
“People often think of Bugs Bunny with a 300-pound woman with horns on her head. Once people listen to opera, they realize they can connect.”
Vardy, who studied music at the Vancouver Academy of Music and the Victoria Conservatory of Music, has focused on developing her notably big voice. She has performed with Pacific Opera Victoria in smaller roles and in a number of venues across Canada, but 2011 is proving to be a key season.
After Carmen, the soprano is performing as the regal countess in The Marriage of Figaro in Oregon and Vancouver, before hitting auditions across Europe and taking the stage in Germany. Add that to teaching at the Brentwood School of Music.
Arriving at the point of performing internationally is a long haul, with no guarantees of success. Opera singers need natural ability to underwrite the art of fine-tuning a voice – techniques in breathing, projection and language skills are the entry points.
A singer since age 4, Vardy chose opera due to its emotional and technical complexity and historical legacy.
“To be an opera singer you can’t walk in off the street, it does take a lot of time and work. The way you hold your mouth, the way you tilt your head, affects the sound. Add emotion layered on reading and singing it, the whole thing can be mind-boggling.
“Mozart wrote operas in the 1700s, but what he wrote about is still happening today,” she says. “In opera it’s about love and loss. Humans still go through all these things. I love opera. It’s such a challenge. There is something so powerful about it.”
Carmen plays Sunday (May 22), at 4:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Douglas at Broughton streets. For tickets, visit www.vancococ.ca.
Prices at the door are $25, or $21 students, seniors.