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INTERVIEW | Why Ann Summers Dossena Refuses To Let Your Music Career Down

By Sara Schabas on October 21, 2017

Ann Summers Dossena

It’s hard to find someone with more knowledge about making it in the classical music business than Ann Summers Dossena.

“When you’re out of school and starting a career, is when you need help the most,” imparts Dossena, a former artists’ manager and concert presenter, as well as the founder of the International Resource Centre for the Performing Arts (IRCPA). “That’s why we started [the IRCPA] long ago now. Next year will be our 35th year.”

On November 6th, the IRCPA will present the second annual instalment of Singing Stars: The Next Generation. Named for a previously famed series on the CBC in the 1940s and 1950s, the Singing Stars program invites young singers from around Canada to take part in a day-long Encounter with various esteemed singers, as well as to perform a concert of the arias they have worked on. After the Encounter and Concert, one or two singers are chosen for the Career Blueprint Award, where that singer is invited to the Opera America Centre in New York City for three days of professional development workshops.

This year’s Encounter’s teaching artist, Brett Polegato, echoes Dossena’s sentiments about the difficulties of being a young singer in between young artist life and professional life.

“There’s a lot of people vying to give you their opinions — trust me, I know,” he said in a feedback session with this year’s Encounter participants. “The hardest time for a young singer is when you’re not in a young artist program, or just out of one. But I believe in the benefit of these Encounters.”

Many of the singers who have participated in these Encounters are in the midst of burgeoning careers as solo artists. The Encounters present an opportunity to work with someone with years of experience in the business, working on style, technique, acting and presentation in preparation for auditions and productions.

“You have to keep your skills sharpened,” Dossena elaborates. “I’ve listened to people who are very good in here, and they still make wrong notes!”

Ann Summers Dossena founded the IRCPA in 1983, after experiences in Italy, Israel, and New York City, along with help from the Metropolitan Opera’s prompter, Joan Dornemann, conductor Edoardo Müller and famed singer, translator of libretti and dialect coach, Nico Castel. Over the years, the IRCPA has helped singers including Isabel Bayrakdarian, Measha Brueggergosman, Adrianne Piezoncka and Colin Ainsworth, to name a few.

Encounter with Sondra Radvanovsky 2016 (Photo: courtesy of the IRCPA)
(Photo: courtesy of the IRCPA)

Ever forward-looking, the IRCPA now strives to develop a community hub, similar to the Opera America Center and the Di Menna Center for Classical Music, both in New York City. The IRCPA is currently working towards a building of their own in Toronto, complete with audition, rehearsal and performance venues, shared office space and equipment, a library, practise rooms, a cafe, a retail shop, and exhibits honouring Canadian musicians of the past and present.

“Part of our mandate is to honour our Canadian heritage,” Dossena explains of the centre’s need for a heritage centre. Each scholarship offered to young singers is named for a famed Canadian operatic professional, such as Stuart Hamilton, Jon Vickers, and Canadian-American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who presented last year’s Encounter.  “Many of the singers will not know who the scholarships are named for.”

Dossena also hopes to offer mentoring, feedback sessions and workshops for young Canadian instrumentalists.

“We hope to be able financially to do [Encounters] for instrumentalists and especially for ensembles,” she cites of the scope of the centre. “We also help conductors learn opera scores. Nobody can hire an orchestra, so Joan [Dornemann, of the Metropolitan Opera] will spend a day with conductors. Joan explains where the action is or where somebody is on a high note and needs a moment.”

Encounters like the one being undergone with Brett Polegato are just the first step in Dossena’s plan for the IRCPA.

“You’re all very talented. I hope what we worked on today will help make you even more talented,” Brett Polegato jokingly imparted at the end of his day of sessions with the singers.

In such a competitive field, the generosity and vision of people like Ann Summers Dossena are certainly appreciated by young artists. Let’s hope the IRCPA community hub dream comes to fruition soon!


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Sara Schabas
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