Every so often MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers.
Canadian-British soprano Alexandra Smither is a relatively new but important voice, particularly in the world of contemporary music. Shortly after graduating from the prestigious Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, she made waves taking the top prize at the 2017 voice edition of the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition. She has appeared in opera productions by Opera York, Music Academy of the West, Metro Youth Opera, and Opera 5. An avid chamber collaborator, she is a member of the Houston-based contemporary music ensemble Loop38, and co-founder of the new music ensemble Hear&Now. Her most recent collaboration is with violinist Timothy Steeves in a chamber duo called, NORTH/SOUTH. Smither will be touring a program of contemporary music across Canada in November of 2017.
Readers can get a taste of Smither’s voice this June as she steps into the role of Mrs. Waters in The Boatswain’s Mate by Ethel Smyth for the Canadian premiere with Opera 5. She will also be performing at the Canadian Music Centre with her violin voice duo NORTH/SOUTH on Monday, May 29 at noon.
What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?
The people, the food, kayaking out to Toronto Island
What are three things that Toronto doesn’t have but should?
Texas weather in the winter, more taco trucks, a good beach.
Name the musical equivalent to junk food.
Top 40. Can’t resist a good Pitbull beat.
Default drink/cocktail of choice?
A (good) gin gimlet!
Name your favourite concert hall/venue in Toronto
Canadian Music Centre’s little hall! Great rates, beautiful space, and the staff are all amazing!
Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere
I would die to sing in the new Elbphilharmonie
Your role models?
All the strong women in my family.
Your favourite sound?
I love squeaky sounds. Is that weird? Probably, but I don’t care.
Your least favourite sound?
Scratchy or scraping sounds
Your favourite smells?
Curry, garlic and onions, salt air, the way you smell right out of the shower.
Your least favourite smells?
Burning/exploded eggs. I used to try to multitask and boil my eggs while showering, so I know this smell really well. Big apologies to all my old roommates.
First thing that comes to your mind when you think about Toronto
Third year of my undergrad. We had way too much fun.
The historical personalities, both good and bad, that fascinate you the most?
Off the top of my head? Catherine the Great, Louise de Vilmorin, Franz Schubert, Simone de Beauvoir, Arnold Schoenberg, Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair?
Take so long to cut it all off!
Your first three record store purchases
I think they were Nicole Cabell’s debut recording with the London Phil, a Simon & Garfunkel CD, and whatever MuchMusic compilation that had the “Hamster Dance” song on it.
If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?
The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?
The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir), The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross), Letters to a Young Poet (Rilke). Still reading all three.
Whose musical style do you covet?
Barbara Hannigan. Inspired. Obsessed.
Where was the last place you traveled to for work or pleasure?
Brandon, Manitoba! For singing, but it was very pleasurable.
Where did you go to school?
University of Toronto (BMus 2014) and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University (MMus 2016)!
What did you major in as an undergraduate?
Voice Performance! But I was so lucky to be able to take some great lit, history, and women’s studies courses through the rest of the University.
The cliché that you overuse?
“Happy as a clam”. The original is actually “Happy as a clam at high tide”, because they couldn’t be eaten then.
The strangest talent that you possess?
I have very dextrous toes.
Shoe of choice?
Love a comfortable, white, sneaker.
The different career path that you could have gone on?
The original plan was to be a lawyer.
My Mother is Goan (from India) but was born in Kenya. My Father was born in the UK. Both immigrated to Canada and met here.
Your three favourite films?
Legally Blonde, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Casino Royale. Not even ashamed a bit.
Television show that you could tolerate re-runs of?
The West Wing, always.
Your major character flaw?
The character flaw in others that you can’t abide?
Lack of kindness or empathy. Being rude to your waiter or not tipping well is also a cardinal sin in my books.
How do you know when you can trust someone?
Listen to your gut, but sometimes you have to take a gamble!
What was the luckiest moment in your life?
When a family member’s surgery went well. But that wasn’t luck, that was having the combo of a great surgeon and healthcare system.
What was the unluckiest moment in your life?
Getting T-Boned last fall right before audition season. Not ideal.
What are you the most proud of?
The people I have in my life. I regularly look around in amazement that I get to live with such brilliant, loving, and inspiring people.
What are you the least proud of?
Not prioritizing the right things and/or people at certain moments of my life.
The biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Not trusting myself or others.
What is the best thing about your work?
The incredible people I get to work with and the repertoire I get to explore with them.
What is the worst thing about your work?
Being away from friends and family who I love tied with constantly trying to stay healthy.
The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in?
My friends would probably say the rainbow running shoes I wear preeetty frequently.
The talent that you wish you possessed?
Whistling. The amount of scores that call for whistling is STARTLINGLY FREQUENT and I cannot do it for love nor money.
What are you listening to as you answer these questions?
What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?
The bassoon! A friend of mine plays a ton of contemporary bassoon rep and I’m obsessed with all the sounds it can make.
What sport did you give up and why?
Soccer. Couldn’t do both choir and soccer after school, so choir won.
What is the one animal that scares you the most?
Hippos. Squishy, but so savage.
If you had a motto, what would it be?
“Luck is when hard work meets opportunity” is a big one. Most importantly, to quote my Mum, “Just be kind”.
Have you ever fired a gun? If so, what were the circumstances?
Never, even though I’ve lived in Texas for three years! I have a deep antipathy towards guns.
Your favourite word?
Your least favourite word?
Your favourite curse word?
My parents would be fucking mortified if I told you that.
The thing that makes you the happiest?
Seeing other people joyful and content.
The thing that makes you the angriest?
Someone being rude or unkind.
Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die?
I just have two: my Dad’s book of Wordsworth poems and photos of my family.
Your first memory?
Eating purple popsicles with my Grandmother
The first album that made you love music?
Disc of Schubert Lieder by Graham Johnson and Dame Felicity Lott. Changed my whole world.
Three pieces, songs, or arias that you could listen to on repeat for an hour?
Anne Trulove’s aria from The Rake’s Progress, Brahm’s Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op34: I. Allegro non troppo, Schubert’s “Im Frühling”.
The first three things that you do every morning?
Check my cords, chug some water, take my plethora of allergy medications. Very glam.
The best way to die?
Surrounded by loved ones and lots of sunlight. Or… maybe la mort d’amour. Either would be acceptable.
Read another Q&A, HERE.
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