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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Interview: Angela Meade a soprano on a mission in Toronto début with Ontario Philharmonic

By John Terauds on January 25, 2013

Soprano Angela Meade makes her Toronro-area début with the Ontario Philharmonic (Dario Acosta photo).
American soprano Angela Meade makes her Toronro-area début with the Ontario Philharmonic (Dario Acosta photo).

Rising young soprano Angela Meade is making her Toronto début performing Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with the Ontario Philharmonic at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa on Saturday and at Koerner Hall on Tuesday.

Meade is one of several significant younger voices in the American opera world. Two weeks ago, she stepped in for Patricia Racette to sing Leonora in the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcast of Verdi’s Il trovatore, with excellent results.

The there’s something of the old-school prima donna assoluta in the way her voice commands all it surveys.

Although the Washington-state native with an easy laugh comes across as approachable and down-to-earth, it quickly becomes clear in an interview that Meade is a woman on a mission — and has been like that since girlhood.

Like so many great artists, she is in perpetual competition with herself.

Meade was a competitive swimmer in high school — something that inadvertently laid the groundwork for her remarkable breath control.

“So, how can I make myself faster as a swimmer,” realls Meade of her mindset at the time. “Well, if I can swim the entire length of the pool without taking a breath, I’ll go faster.” She chuckles. “I always tried to push myself like that.”

She still likes spending time in the water — and still uses that time to work on her breathing, which is at the very core of a singer’s ability to do their job properly.

Before her recent professional breakthrough, the Thornton School graduate participated in, by her count, 57 competitions, most of which yielded some sort of prize. In Canada, she won the Montreal International Voice Competition in 2009.

That is a staggering figure, by any count. And it was all part of Meade’s plan.

Entering so many competitions, “allowed me to prove to myself that I can do this,” she explains. “It also provided me with the funds to continue doing this. It’s an expensive business. Once I started doing well in them, I saw this as a strategy to allow me to keep on studying without having to take out student loans.”

Competitions were, for Meade, the ultimate in what used be known as finishing school.

“It’s a great way to get known in the business – meet people, make connections and work on your package, what makes you special and figure out what you don’t do as well,” she explains. “It makes you a better communicator because you have to go out there and put it all out on the line so often.”

The soprano says that, while growing up, her father kept reminding her that she could do anything she set her mind to. “He told me to make a list and start checking off items and keep going until you get to the end of the list.”

That list has opera as it No. 1 priority, but Meade has done quite a bit of concert work with orchestras and is eager to try her hand at the art song recital format.

Her Montreal International Voice Competition win came with an album deal with Montreal’s Analekta label. But they wanted a recital programme with piano. Meade felt she wasn’t ready to do something like that, and there wasn’t enough money available to record something with orchestra.

Although nearly four years have gone by, the singer is hopeful that the project is not completely dead.

Meade presented her first professional recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in November. “This was about what I really loved and how I wanted to be known as a recitalist,” she recalls. “It was an interesting and fun project” that included song as well as arias — “A Diva Old School recital,” she laughs.

The programme included songs by Richard Strauss.

“Strauss is one of my favourite composers for song because he’s very operatic in nature. There is something visceral and touching and human in the way that he writes. It fits me really well emotionally, personality-wise and vocally,” the soprano explains.

She admits that her wish list includes Strauss opera, as well. “But I’m not sure anyone thinks of me that way,” Meade says of the casting people who now associate her with bel canto and Verdi. “But I would love to sing a Marschallin or an Arabella or a Daphne – one of the big, beautiful Strauss pieces.”

The Four Last Songs are a way to explore the most operatic side of Strauss’s Lieder. Meade admits that she hasn’t sung them since her mother died in July, an emotional trauma that will likely leave its stamp her Ontario Philharmonic performances. “The cycle talks of life and death, so it’s so much more full of meaning this time,” she says.

Strauss’ music can be big and melodramatic, but Meade is, in conversation, someone with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

“I try to take it all in stride,” she says of her steadily rising stock in the vocal world. “This is what I do, and I really love what I do.

“I just want to convey how much the music means to me and how I internalize it.”

+++

For more details on the Ontario Philharmonic concerts, which also include Symphony No. 4 by Anton Bruckner, click here.

You’ll find Angela Meade’s website here.

And here is the soprano in last year’s Met production of Verdi’s Ernani:

John Terauds

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