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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

INTERVIEW | The Royal Voice Of Soprano Karina Gauvin

By Joseph So on March 21, 2017

Soprano Karina Gauvin
Soprano Karina Gauvin

Every time soprano Karina Gauvin sings in Toronto, it’s an occasion. For the voice connoisseur, Gauvin is famous for having one of the most beautiful voices in the business, one that seems to have no rough edges, pearly and seamless, with astounding agility. It’s a voice that’s ideal in the Baroque and Classical repertoires. I first interviewed Gauvin way back in 2002, early in her international career, for a feature in Opera Canada. I noted at the time the purity and seamless quality of her tone. Now, fifteen years later, the Gauvin instrument is as beautiful as ever. It has also increased in volume but maintaining its whole spectrum of tone colours. No wonder the soprano has gone on to a spectacular career, wowing audiences in many important opera houses and concert halls. She’s also Canada’s most prolific recording artist, with a huge discography of over thirty titles, virtually unheard of these days given the contraction of the recording industry.

This week, Gauvin is making a welcome return to Toronto, this time as soloist with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under the guest direction of violinist Rodolfo Richter, in The Baroque Diva, a program of Handel, Telemann, and Vivaldi. The soprano is no stranger to Tafelmusik audiences, having appeared here on numerous occasions. In the late ‘90s and early ‘2000s, she toured with Tafelmusik to Quebec, Maritimes, and Bermuda. In Toronto, she was guest soloists in several Mozart and Handel oratorios, not to mention arias concerts. I recall her appearing as soloist in a Messiah about five years ago, which was recorded for release on the Tafelmusik Media label.

Elsewhere in Toronto, who can forget her luminous Pamina in that concert Die Zauberflöte with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Quebec maestro Bernard Labadie? I think the last time I heard her locally was as soloist in Bravissimo! the New Year’s Eve Opera Gala back in 2015. I vividly recall her “Mi tradi,” Donna Elvira’s aria, the first time I’ve heard her sing it.  The undisputed “Canadian Queen of Baroque,” Gauvin is back for a program appropriately called The Baroque Diva, in which she sings Handel arias and a motet by Vivaldi. I took this opportunity to ask Karina a few questions about this concert and her career in general:

JS: Welcome back to Toronto.  It’s been awhile since we last heard you. For myself, the last time was your appearance in Bravissimo! New Year’s Eve Opera Gala.  Now you’re back for more Handel and Vivaldi. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming program? I understand you’ve recorded all of these arias already? 

KG: Yes, I have recorded all the arias, but it will be fun to sing them again live. Live performance is always so exciting. There is nothing like being in front of an audience to get all revved up to sing this music. Live performance is where I can play with nuances, colours, and to ornament on the spot. It really is like performing without a safety net.

JS: Do you create your own ornamentations? Or do you do only what is written by the composer?

KG: Yes, I sing my own ornaments, and I sometimes invent them on the spot. Like when organists improvise. It’s the same principle. This adds an element of surprise and innovation and makes every performance unique. Not many ornaments written by composers have survived and were not written directly in the scores.  This was left to the performer’s creativity.  I have also had ornaments written especially for me, like when I performed with Alan Curtis. We also collaborated together to compose the best ornaments to suit my voice.

JS: Have you worked with Rodolfo Richter before?  Can you tell us about working with Maestro Richter?

KG: I worked with Rodolfo once in London when he was first violin in the orchestra and then again last fall where he was doing double duty as first violin and conductor. Rodolfo is very easy going and happy to help his singers along. This makes for a very comfortable work environment, always welcome with our busy and hectic schedules and lives.

JS:  Of the many conductors you’ve worked with, who do you enjoy working with the most? You can name as many as you’d like.

KG: I have enjoyed working with many conductors, but I will not name any. I would not like to forget or offend anyone!

JS: Okay, you’re so diplomatic! I noticed that you have done a lot of work with the late maestro Alan Curtis, including one of the pieces you are singing with Tafelmusik.  Can you say a little about working with him?

KG: Alan was an incredible musicologist and scholar. They don’t make them like him anymore. I learned so much from him. I was part of one of the most prolific recording decades of his life. In 2005, Alan took me under his wing, and we worked on so many interesting projects together. In the last decade of his life, I was practically working exclusively with him. There was so much he wanted to do. He had such a zest for life and music. It seemed there were not enough hours in the day to do all the things he wanted to accomplish. He found in me what he believed was the ideal Handelian heroine. In his opinion, I had the right amount of agility, sensitivity, vocal colour and also vocal heft to tackle the difficult soprano heroines. It was a very rich time in my life, and I will never forget what he gave me. He was not only a wonderful musical guide but also a comforting father figure. When he died, I was crushed. I have truly lost one of the great mentors in my life.

JS:  Yes, it was a great loss, but you’ll carry on his tradition of excellence I’m sure. By the way, congratulations on the many triumphs you have had in the last few years. What stands out in your mind as your career highlights in recent seasons?  Alcina and Vitellia in Madrid?  Venus in Dardanus perhaps?  Do you have a favourite role?

KG: Of course, singing Alcina is wonderfully stimulating and rewarding. She has so many sides, and one can do so much with the score. Vitellia is a different cup of tea. She is really a horrible woman.  It’s a difficult role to sing and one of the most ingrate tessituras in the repertoire. But a wonderful gift comes at the end of last act, and that’s having the opportunity to sing “non piu di fiori,” an aria you can really sink your teeth into. But Vitellia never finds comfort for herself and in the audience members.  I must say that singing Armide by Gluck was also quite challenging but extremely satisfying. It was a vocal mountain to climb but so rewarding.

JS: Do you have any dream roles, that you would love to sing in the future?

KG: It would be nice to sing the Countess (in Le nozze di Figaro) at some point.

JS: Toi toi toi. Karina, for your upcoming The Baroque Diva.  I look forward to hearing you at the second performance.

#LUDWIGVAN

Joseph So

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