Each week at Embrace Disruption we introduce you to an influential person in the digital, blogger, arts, culture, film, or media world! Every Thursday, you can check back at EDPR to find out who we think is particularly amazing at ‘embracing disruption’ within their respective industries.
This week, we’d like to introduce you to the incredibly talented rising star of the Canadian Opera Company ensemble, Charlotte Burrage!
What’s your official job title and where did you go to school?
I am an Opera singer, specifically a Mezzo- soprano (FYI a mezzo-soprano is lower than a soprano.) I am one of the newest Ensemble members of the Canadian Opera Company. I have been studying music since I was 8 years old, participating in private piano, voice and theory lessons, as well as several professional choirs. I went to the University of Toronto for 6 years completing an Opera Undergrad and a Masters in Voice Performance. I continued at the University of British Columbia and got a Diploma in Opera. Even with 8 years of University some of my best education happened with a glass of wine and a great recording or watching a life changing performance.
Describe yourself in a nutshell (or sea shell, or any shell for that matter).
I am a classical singer who loves languages, philosophy, travelling and Sons of Anarchy. I think Opera is alive and learning to thrive in a new habitat. I am thrilled by edgy new companies that are bringing opera into the 21st century but I feel like if people just took the time to understand Opera, they would realize they can already relate. I feel the same way about sports as most people feel about music. I like sports that offer instant gratification, like basketball but please don’t make me watch soccer (I don’t understand the different plays and strategies of the sport so I get bored watching them run back and forth even if they are incredibly sexy looking). I am passionate about people following their passions and consider myself an advocate for Opera in my everyday life. I love cooking and hosting dinner parties. Wine and cheese nights with my girlfriends is a favorite past time. I love any water related sport, specifically rowing. I enjoy reading and I am a frequent visitor of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Breakfast is my favorite meal and I love eating it for dinner. That is me in a nutshell.
Why did you pursue what you’re doing now? What was the inspiration?
I have been studying classical music most of my life. I don’t know if I have always loved it or if I grew to love it but once I understood why I was spending so many hours practicing I couldn’t imagine spending that much time doing anything else. Most of our lives are spent working or thinking about work and I cannot imagine caring about something more than opera.
What is the best part of your day-to-day?
The best part of my day is that I get to do what I love. I never wish time away and I am always surrounded by people with passion. Every day is different and I always feel challenged. I recently did 40 shows of Cosi fan tutte by Mozart and I never got sick of it. When the overture starts every performance is exciting, you never know what is going to happen on stage because there are so many elements and variables in constant motion. As magical and mysterious as the stage is, the process of preparing a show is the real reward. There are many things to consider when tackling a new opera that include both musical and non-musical component s; language and libretto (usually Italian, French, German or English), which are often associated with an era, a country and its history and politics, which usually effects the musical nuances, style and orchestration. Keeping all of that in mind you must also grasp the composer’s interpretation of the poet’s text, the conductor’s interpretation of the composer’s music and the director’s overall vision that he creates through sets, lighting and costumes. After all of that, you still need to apply good vocal technique (operas are long; if you sing poorly you will never make it to the end of the show, let alone a run), musicality, and your own personal inspiration to develop your character. Opera is a complex web of philosophy, history, exoticism, nationalism, politics, make-believe, passion, tragedy, love and anything else humans experience. It involves dance, art, fashion, theatre, acting and all the eccentric people that go with it. How could you not LOVE it!?!?! What was the question again?
What’s the most challenging?
The most challenging part of being an opera singer is “the unknown.” Opera singers for the most part work on a contract basis. It is impossible to see the future and there are no guarantees. You have to travel a lot and live out of suitcase, often missing important family events and experiencing amazing moments and milestones alone. There is also the obvious stress of reviews and critics. You cannot make everyone happy; the only way you can survive is by staying true to yourself. Oh and presumably you have vocal chords of steel and you never get sick.
If you took a look in the cliché crystal ball, what do you see for yourself?
The crystal ball shows me a two year contract with the Canadian Opera Company, wine gums, wine, cheese, and the rolling hills of the country side because those are the things I can’t live without for long. Other than that your guess is as good as mine.
How do you embrace disruption in your work and personal life?
An opera career is one big disruption and I embrace it by loving what I do. I live in the moment and never let my ipod stray too far from my side. You never know when you might need to tune out the world and tune into Patsy Cline (my go- to stress reliever). Sometimes the best thing to do is check out altogether and have a “Fast and the Furious” marathon; keep doing your thing Justin Lin!
What is the most memorable moment in your career?
Singing in the COC ensemble competition in November was a surreal experience. Performing at the new Four Seasons Centre, for the best Opera Company in Canada, in front of some of the most important people in my profession was a dream come true. It was life changing. It justified all of my hard work and validated that I have something to say, or rather to sing. The result of the competition was a position in one of the most prestigious young artist programs in North America. I will never forget that night and how it changed the course of my future.
Do you support any initiatives or charities?
I have been involved in several ‘Opera in School’ programs, which promote Opera to young people all over Canada. Giving young people the opportunity to experience something new and different has been a highlight in my career. At the end of the Opera all of the singers stay on stage and answer their questions. Music in school is absolutely necessary, whether it is classical or not. Opera is not readily accessible in most parts of our country, so touring companies are crucial for Opera awareness. I am an advocate for Opera and for following your dreams in the arts. I am currently getting involved with a new mentoring program at the University of Toronto. There is no right way of starting a career in the arts. I was really lucky because I have always received an abundance of support from friends and family. As someone who has experienced the good and the bad of following your dreams I want to be there as a guide for the next generation. It can be a lonely road even when you have a support system.
Tell us what you see yourself doing at 65 years old.
When I am 65 I imagine I will have stopped singing professionally, although Judith Forst is still killing it on stage (one of the perks of being a well-trained mezzo soprano is vocal longevity). I have always said that the organ would be my retirement hobby. I will still be engrossed in music, attending operas and concerts as much as I can (in better seats though, I hope). There are so many different ways of being involved in the opera world that even when my voice finally retires I will look for new opportunities like, teaching, directing, researching new music or specializing in a particular musical style.
Just for fun: if you had to pick one app in the whole APPVERSE, what would it be?
I am a “renaissance woman” so a lot of technology gets lost on me. I am sure there are many amazing apps that I have not discovered, however, there are two that make my life significantly easier; the voice memo app (which involves the uncomfortable task of listening to myself sing but it is an amazing tool for lessons and rehearsals) and the Google Maps App with GPS because I travel a lot and I actually don’t know how people got around before the iPhone.
Be sure to watch for Charlotte hitting the COC stage later this year, and follow this rising star on Twitter.