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SCHMOPERA: Listening to Ileana Montalbetti, Soprano

Originally posted on Schmopera Blog. Read original post here.

Canadian soprano Ileana Montalbetti is on the rise. A graduate of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio Program, she bravely dives into challenging roles like Elettra, Leonore and Antonia. Ileana shone most recently in Canada as Ellen Orford in the COC’s production of Peter Grimes. ”When we start to consider Ileana Montalbetti’s saintly Ellen Orford, we are in the realm of greatness. The heartbreaking emotional openness of her voice and the wealth of feeling she gives every moment mark her as the beating heart of this production.” (The Star) The busy soprano kindly took time to answer a few of my questions about her very neat life as a young and quickly rising opera singer.

Why do you sing?
It is all in the family. Singers, performers and educators are what make up the majority of my family. My mother is a trained singer and Artistic Director of Saskatoon Opera. My father is a trained actor and both he and my mother teach in their respective fields. Most of my aunts, uncles and cousins are trained musicians and educators as well. My uncle, Mel Braun, is head of Voice at the University of Manitoba and has been my teacher since I was 18. In a sense, I did not know other professions were an option!

What’s irresistible about opera?
From a very early age I was drawn to opera. When I was five years old we were living in the apartment attached to my grandparent’s house. I was watching Le nozze di Figaro on French CBC and my grandmother came in to tell me it was time for dinner. I told her I would come to the table once the opera was over. I was drawn to the emotions that the characters expressed through the sublime music they sang. How in one moment the music has us laughing and in the next we are crying or it makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end. How a performance has the ability to stay with us and draws up emotions that we did not know existed. Opera is the only all encompassing performing art form bringing together the forces of hundreds of people to present one piece of drama. It is completely awe-inspiring and every experience is unique. I believe that it is why it is such an addictive experience. One will feel and react differently every time we see an opera, as our state of being will be indicative as to how it moves our souls.

What do you think are the reasons you’ve become successful in the operatic industry?
It is all about hard work. To be successful in any profession one must work hard and I believe opera is no different. I will say, that it takes hard work in all aspects of the career. Obviously, one must work hard at singing and the technique of if but we also must have a working knowledge of multiple languages, be an actor, and be physically fit. There is also the business side to managing one’s career; making and maintaining contacts and all of the secretarial type work of answering emails, arranging travel and accommodation. It is many careers combined in to one!

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PHOTO BY BO HUANG

Do you have any dream roles? Ones that you hope to sing, and ones you know you’ll never touch?
Brünnhilde, Tosca, Turandot – I hope these roles are in my future! When I was younger I always wanted to be a soubrette and to sing Susanna, Zerlina, Despina, etc. It always seemed like those roles would be so much FUN!!

What have your professional highlights been thus far?
Singing Elettra in the Ensemble Studio Performance of Idomeneo in my second year of Ensemble. It was the first time the Ensemble had been given the opportunity to sing a main stage performance and it was a very exciting! Most recently, singing Leonore in Fidelio with Michigan Opera Theatre was a dream come true. I have loved the opera, and role, ever since I saw Adrianne Pieczonka sing it at the COC in my first year of Ensemble. I hope it is a role I have the opportunity to sing many more times. Another highlight has been, of course, returning to the COC to sing Ellen Orford opposite Ben Heppner. What a huge thrill!

If you pursued another profession, what would it be?
To supplement my income between contracts I travel with and nanny for dear friends of mine who are also both opera singers. I love being with kids. They teach us a tremendous amount about being in the moment and enjoying life and being a nanny brings me a lot of joy. I know I would pursue a profession that would involve working with kids, most likely, being an educator.

What’s it like performing an opera in your native language?
It is not as easy as one may think! When one is singing in a foreign language we spend a lot of time preparing our scores; translating each word, creating a poetic translation, taking the time to really sing each vowel and syllable correctly. When singing in our native language we sometimes skip some of these steps so I’ve really had to treat English as a foreign language and work the text as if it was in German or Italian.

What can young singers do to maintain opera’s cultural relevance?
We have to be cheerleaders for our art form and break down the stereotypes that exist. The stories that are told in opera are incredibly relevant, especially in two that the COC produced in 2013. Peter Grimes is a social commentary on being an outsider and feeling bullied and misunderstood. La bohème is about the trials and tribulations surrounding being in love. I think these are both topics most of us deal with on a daily basis.

What do you strive to achieve during a performance?
To communicate the story we are telling to the best of my ability to the audience who has come to experience it. I always have smaller, more technical goals for each performance but overall I want to tell a story.

Guilty pleasure of choice?
Watching Reality TV!

Coffee or tea?
Tea.

What’s next for you?
I moved to Germany right after I finished Peter Grimes at the COC. I will be spending the next year in the country learning the language and auditioning. I have contracts that I will bring me back to North America over the next couple of seasons but Germany will be my home base for the foreseeable future.