Mezzo-soprano, Allyson McHardy, sits down with Village Living to talk opera, her globetrotting career and what she would have done different
[/dropcap]ow often do we slow down to take the time to get to know the people in our community, let alone the people on our street? Do you imagine what kind of life your next door neighbour has? Would World renowned Opera Singer crack your top ten list? Probably not, but mezzo soprano, Allyson McHardy lives among us. I met her at the offices of the Canadian Opera Company
, where we sat at an impossibly long conference table, in a room whose dark walls were adorned with photos of past performers who implacably ignored us. Allyson, a counterpoint to the decor, was delightfully down to earth and warm hearted. Wearing reliable winter boots, a large coffee mug in front of her and the scorebook of Roberto Devereux conspicuously on the table, she greeted me. My mom would’ve observed that she comes from “Good Scottish Stock” – practical and hard working.
Allyson is quick to break into a smile. Haling from Oshawa, where church choir became her vehicle and compass to a globe trotting career, she talks about her debut in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, at the Four Seasons Theater on April 25th. She portrays Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham, confidente to Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth (played by soprano, Sondra Radvanovski) has placed her in an arranged marriage with The Duke (baritone, Russell Braun ), but Sara’s heart belongs to Roberto (tenor, Giuseppe Filianoti). Behave as a faithful wife and subject to the Queen, or follow her heart and face the consequences of the Tudor wrath.
“A wonderful story, sung in Italian”, set in 15th century London, Allyson elaborates, “I’ve played a lot of Rossini and Handel, but it’s a stylistic, new country for me which I’m enjoying. It’s super dramatic singing.” She continues on about playing Sara. “She’s fabulous. She’s stuck in such a difficult position. And she’s so strong too.” Allyson stops for a moment. “It’s hard to talk about characters. You get overwhelmed. Wow – such suffering! And I get a great duet with a tenor and as a mezzo, you so rarely have intense emotional duets together. I get to rip it up with the tenor and then have another with the baritone! I get to take on everybody, except Elizabeth.”
Allyson attended Sir Wilfred Laurier. I asked her, if knowing what she knows now, how would she have done it differently. “I would have worked on languages pretty intensely. I would’ve spent summers going to places instead of taking more voice lessons. Because (understanding the languages, the text) is half the battle. The words existed before the music did. People cared enough about the text to write the music. And I would have studied conducting. Because then I would’ve known sooner what they need, and have been able to understand them, way down there (in the pit) with an entire orchestra.” She takes a breath, “I wish I had thought more practically, it would have taken the anxiety away, as to what’s going on. This is what he’s trying to do, and it’s got nothing to do with me, there are other forces that he (the conductor) needs to rally and I just need to be ready.” Take note, future opera students, this is great advice.
Allyson talked about the energy of different audiences. “The French are great! I sang at the Opera Comique and that was very cool. That was the first place I sang the title role in Carmen.” One of the few mezzo soprano leads in opera, Carmen premiered at the Opera Comique in 1875. “You’re walking on the steps where the first woman sang this, and my foot is on the same step. I’m on the same stage! In Canada, we have these huge theatres, but the Comique is not. The audience is right there. There’s no hiding.” Allyson was sick for the dress rehearsal. “They know their opera. I thought I was going to be booed!” She recouped for opening night and was regaled with rhythmic clapping. “It was like Sally Fields at the Oscars. Like ‘Wow, you really like me!‘ It was wonderful.” She hit the Continent, “German audiences compared to the French, are really quiet. It’s like, is there anyone out there? And at the end, they just erupt.”
How about Home Turf? “Montreal audiences are willing to hang out forever.” She breaks into a huge smile. Here in Toronto, she’d like people to know that opera “isn’t elitist. You can’t get affordable hockey tickets, but Richard Bradshaw (the former General Director), when he was alive, he wanted any night that the Opera was on, anyone could walk in and get a ticket.” She continues, “The productions coming in with Alexander (Neef, the present General Director), ‘cause he’s, you know, amazing, are interesting. They’re not people walking around in big skirts and crazy wigs. It’s accessible to everyone.” She pauses, “Opera may require a little more work than going to a movie, but if you read the synopsis, you get an idea of what you’re going to see. And the surtitles (translation of the text above the stage) help! But the real reward is when someone goes back to see a show again and again!”
Roberto Devereux is open at the Four Season Centre (145 Queen Street West) on May 3rd, 10th, 15th and 21st.
Joy Tanner hails from Pittsford, New York. Graduating with honours with a double major in English and Theatre from SUNY Potsdam, she also holds a diploma from the British American Drama Academy (London/Oxford). She moved to Canada in the early 90′s, and has been acting professionally on both the big and small screens for over 20 years. She is best know for her roles in Cold Squad, Life With Derek and
DeGrassi The Next Generation. Recent film credits include The Phantoms, The House At The End Of The Street and Neverlake.
Photo Credit: Bo Huang