At the glittering Millennium Opera Gala at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, a 21-year-old full-throated soprano came on stage, every inch a diva, and brought the house down with the famous aria “Ebben Ne, Andrò Lontana” from Catalani’s La Wally. Now just turning 24, Measha Brueggergosman (BMus 1999) is on the threshold of international stardom, and the citizens of Fredericton, New Brunswick, are wreathed in smiles. After all, it is they who, recognizing the immense talent of their native daughter, contributed money to help fund her studies at the University of Toronto. Each year that she was at U of T, Brueggergosman performed a concert for the people of Fredericton, and the proceeds, after expenses, helped pay for her education.
The young singer came to national attention in the title role of the new Canadian opera Beatrice Chancy when she was just 20, but Brüeggergosman wants to develop her big voice slowly and carefully. Her U of T singing teacher, Mary Morrison, and German-based Canadian soprano Edith Wiens, with whom Brueggergosman studies in a master’s program, have both been cautious in guiding the young singer, and Brueggergosman herself recognizes the need to develop consistency. “Your body changes every day, and I want to learn to adapt my voice to those changes,” she says. “Getting a good grounding in both French and German, and in lieder and oratorio singing is also important, which is why I’ll go on for my doctorate. I’m still young, so I’m taking my time in building a career.” Although besieged with offers, she is careful about what engagements she chooses.
Brueggergosman often ends her recitals with spirituals she has arranged herself. “My voice is a gift entrusted to me by God,” she says. “I want people to be moved and changed when they hear me.”
As hard as it is to believe, internationally acclaimed baritone Russell Braun was torn between majoring in piano or voice at U of T. “I decided to study voice because I come from a family of singers,” he says. “I wanted to see how far I could go.” His talent proved so prodigious that a year after graduating in 1991, he was performing the lead role in The Barber of Seville with the Canadian Opera Company (COC). But when The Metropolitan Opera called a few hours after Braun auditioned and hired him for its 1995-6 season, “I knew then,” he says, “that my life would change forever.” Today, the 35-year-old star appears at the greatest opera houses in the world, and he recently sang the title role in the COC production of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd.
German-born Braun, now living in Georgetown, Ontario, is the son of Canadian opera royalty: his father, Victor, was also a world-class baritone. Through the U of T opera school (formerly part of the Royal Conservatory), where both father and son studied, Russell and his sister, Adreana Braun, are establishing a memorial scholarship in Victor’s name. “The opera school was instrumental in my success,” says the younger Braun. “I was given choice roles, particularly in the French repertoire that has been a cornerstone of my career.” Braun maintains a steady recital schedule, usually accompanied by his wife, pianist and U of T grad Carolyn Maule (BMus 1990). “I guess I found out I could succeed as a singer.”
Whether meeting with Leonard Cohen in Los Angeles to discuss release strategies for his new album, or shepherding superstar Ricky Martin through a media feeding frenzy in Toronto, Amber Meredith, 29, director of artist marketing at Sony Music Canada, is at the centre of pop, rock, country and dance action. At U of T Meredith was an English major, but her passion for music led her to writing concert reviews. She later became The Varsity‘s music editor, and after graduation, got a job with Chart magazine. “The publicist at Sony was leaving and suggested that I apply for her job,” she recalls. “I’d never thought about publicity, but upon reflection, I could see that my skills as a journalist could be transferable.” From press and publicity manager in 1996, to director of media relations in 1999, to her present position in which she oversees five departments and heads a staff of 15, Meredith’s career at Sony has been meteoric. “The perks of the job are fabulous,” she says. “I travel a lot, I love the lifestyle and I work with the best artists in the world. My product is living, breathing people who share my love of music.”
He auditioned for entrance to U of T’s Faculty of Music as a classical trumpet player, but it was music composition that ultimately intrigued Ottawa-born James Rolfe. “I had scarcely written a note when I arrived at university,” he says, “but because I was exposed to music I hadn’t known existed, my creativity found an outlet and I found a profession.”
Rolfe, 39, is now one of Canada’s most successful composers, and his works, both instrumental and vocal, have been performed all over the world. His wildly successful 1999 two-act opera, Beatrice Chancy, has been produced in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Toronto and Edmonton, and was filmed by CBC-TV. He is currently collaborating with acclaimed filmmaker Jeremy Podeswa on a new opera based on the life of Jewish-German artist Charlotte Salomon.
Rolfe began as an instrumental composer, but winning second prize in the 1990 CBC Young Composers’ Competition for his “Four Songs” set to poetry by Walt Whitman convinced him that he could write for voice. Opera became his next obvious challenge. Long a fan of the poetry of East Coast writer and U of T English professor George Elliott Clarke, Rolfe says he contacted Clarke about a collaboration. They created the opera Beatrice Chancy, inspired by the true story of a young woman who was beheaded in 1599 for killing her father. The opera also involved other U of T alumni, including co-artistic producer John Hess (BMus 1976); violinist Mark Fewer (BMus 1995); and singers Measha Brueggergosman, Lori Klassen (BMus 1990), Gregory Dahl (Dip Op Perf 1998) and Lisa Lindo (BMus 1992)
“Composers are generally stubborn loners,” he says. “Writing opera is good for me because it drags me out of seclusion.”
Patricia O’Callaghan once thought she would be a nun. Or maybe a rock star. So how did she end up as a hugely successful cabaret singer? O’Callaghan, 30, says the pivotal point was her experience as a Grade 11 exchange student in Mexico. “The folk music got into my blood, and convinced me to become a singer.”
Having begun serious voice study the year before, at age 16, O’Callaghan, who grew up in a series of northern Ontario towns where her father was a pulp and paper engineer, had her first epiphany in Timmins. Through her singing teacher, she fell in love with choral music and became interested in opera. “It was listening to Teresa Stratas perform La Traviata and Kurt Weill that inspired me to study voice at university,” she says. “I realized that with a trained voice, I’d have the skills to sing anything.”
Classically trained as a soprano at U of T, she did further studies at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, and in Austria and Germany, before settling in Toronto. It took almost two years, but between waitressing gigs, O’Callaghan (with her parents’ financial help) made her own demo, Youkali, which brought her to the attention of Canadian record company Marquis Classics. The company released Youkali in 1997, and Slow Fox in 1999. The singer is now firmly established on the concert circuit, and a 1999 deal signed by Marquis with Teldec Classics, based in Hamburg, will give her huge international exposure. Her current CD, Real Emotional Girl, was released in 2000. “Cabaret songs,” says the chanteuse, “whether Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, Arnold Schoenberg or Weill, have simplicity, accessibility and the ability to touch people profoundly through their social and political message. It’s high art meeting low art.”
Composer and music producer Adam Goddard, 28, has become known for his imaginative radio documentaries that use real voices woven into musical compositions. By playing with technology – manipulating the music, or placing words within a rhythmic structure – Goddard creates brilliant tapestries of musical storytelling. His “music documentaries,” as he calls them, are considered by many to be works of art.
In 1999, The Change in Farming, a collaboration between Goddard and CBC producer Steve Wadhams, won the Prix Italia for Radio Documentary. In his latest work, More About Henry, made for CBC-Radio’s Ideas, he juxtaposes his grandfather’s voice with an original sound design.
Born in Grimsby, Ontario, Goddard learned to play piano by ear, and at 13 was playing keyboard in a pop band. At U of T, he studied composition and found a mentor in Professor Christos Hatzis. Now, Goddard’s own innovative documentaries are being used as university lecture material.
His company, Sonic Boom, provides customized music for clients such as CIBC and Chrysler Canada. “Whether I’m working on my own projects or for others, I keep the creative element alive,” he says. “It’s the stuff that makes you grow.”