Anyone who thinks opera singers’ lives are all glamour, champagne and limousines should spend a day in Toronto with world-famous Canadian soprano, Jane Archibald.
This Nova Scotia native, who this season has spent half the year living in Toronto on account of her artist-in-residence position with the Canadian Opera Company, lists spots ranging from the more upscale Cluny Restaurant in the Distillery to the omnipresent Dollarama as favourite places to recharge.
Her favourite Toronto hangouts also offer insight into the physical, emotional and practical demands that come with being a globetrotting opera singer.
First stop: David Crombie Park
One major feature in an opera singer’s life is balancing the realities of childcare with a very on-the-go, travelling lifestyle.
When Archibald is singing in Toronto, she will often take her four-year-old daughter to David Crombie Park on the Esplanade. Located right by the COC’s Front Street offices and rehearsal studios, this park is a favourite for Archibald’s daughter, Audrey, who usually travels with Archibald when the soprano is on a contract. Part of the appeal of the park is its proximity to a free Resource Centre run by the Toronto District School Board and aimed at preschoolers.
Archibald described the appeal of the centre, “because we don’t live here and have an easy network of friends to play with during the day. Our nanny would often take her there, and they have crafts, circle time, and she had friends and a routine.”
Second stop: Shopping Spree at Dollarama
Archibald’s eyes light up when we discuss Dollarama. “I love Dollarama – it’s like my favourite store,” she gushes. A lover of the Parisian sales when she’s in Paris for work, Archibald similarly finds joy in shopping at Dollarama, where you can shop to your heart’s content without breaking the bank. She describes how handy having a place to stock up on everyday items can be for a travelling singer.
“Dollar stores are singers’ best friends on the road,” she relates. “You can equip your apartment without investing in it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to an apartment and they don’t have a waste paper basket, or places to hang your coat, so you can buy some of those damage free stick-on hooks. You want to feel comfortable when you’re moving in somewhere for two months.”
Archibald also loves the creative potential that can come out of Dollarama.
“I’m sort of a MacGyver,” she tells me. “I like to do little projects. I’m always thinking, I wish this product existed, so I’ll try to make it.”
Third stop: Manicures at Nailing Inc.
As a diva, you do sometimes have to play the part. Archibald loves getting a manicure – a chance to both recharge and to glam up.
“Especially with Shellac, which stands up to the horrible way I treat my hands,” she explains, “it’s an easy way – with a good pair of sunglasses and all black [clothing] – that you can pretend you’re a very glamorous diva even if you haven’t spent much time.”
Fourth stop: Delicious Eats in the Distillery – Soma and Cluny
A lover of good food (what singer isn’t?), Archibald enjoys visiting Cluny in the Distillery when she wants a nice meal.
“I love the ambience at Cluny,” she tells me. “I love going into that space. I find it the perfect mix of classiness and comfort – you don’t have to be dressed up to go there. Their fries are to die for. Sometimes they have little birds up [in the restaurant’s atrium]… I’ve just always had good service and good food.”
Another favourite Distillery location is the upscale chocolate shop, Soma.
“I’m a chocoholic,” she confesses. “I adore Soma. It’s tempting to go more than I should… their sea salt caramels.”
Archibald finds herself drawn to the Distillery for its uniquely North American flare (as well as its proximity to the COC’s Front Street offices!).
“It’s really interesting and North American to take this older space and reinvent it,” she explains. “I love popping in and out of all the shops. You find really unique things.”
Fifth stop: Massage at Trilogy Physiotherapy
The demands of an opera career are intensely physical, and Archibald turns to massage to help cope with her rehearsal/performance lifestyle.
“Especially with each passing year, I’ve become aware and notice any little injury or aches and pains from the demands of staging,” she relates. “I think the audience would be surprised. A good example is in Abduction from the Seraglio, which we just did at the COC. We were brought in and flung down on the floor in front of Pasha Selim and had to do the whole scene there. You’re on your knees, which starts to hurt very quickly, or you’re on your feet trying to find a comfortable position, but you also want to look decent because maybe the costume is clingy and you don’t want to be in an unflattering position. Then there’s this added thing of tension and readiness in the body. Doing that in rehearsal and then night after night in performance, you start to get weird knots in your shoulders.”
Archibald recommends Jordan at Trilogy Physiotherapy, who she turns to regularly when she’s on contract in Toronto.
Sixth stop: Quiet Time at Tundra at Hilton Toronto
A self-proclaimed introvert, Archibald recommends an unexpected source of calm when travelling in busy cities.
“I often seek out a hotel bar or restaurant when I’m in a city,” she relates. “I find them quiet. Unlike other restaurants, they cater specifically to a slightly different clientele. You might be tired or in a rush… there’s somehow extra care taken when you walk into a space. The Tundra [at the Hilton] is right by the COC, and they have discounts if you show your card. They have awesome sliders.”
Those looking for another taste of Archibald’s mellifluous, virtuosic singing won’t have to wait long, as she opens in the title role of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale at the Canadian Opera Company this Friday. Who knows, you might even catch her grabbing a slider after the show if you’re lucky.