If anyone knows insider spots around Toronto, it’s Carla Huhtanen. Originally from Sudbury, Huhtanen lived in Toronto for many years (with a few stopovers in Marseille and Venice along the way), making her home most recently along Queen West in the trendy Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood.
The polyglot soprano who now lives in London finished a run as Fortuna/Melanto in Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria with Opera Atelier in April, and will be singing at the Luminato Festival with Tapestry Opera in June. She let Ludwig Van in on a few of her favourite Toronto spots and believe me, these are insider recommendations to which you’ll want to pay attention.
1: Type Books — Queen West
Anyone who’s seen Carla Huhtanen perform can tell of her sharp intellect and curious nature. She speaks six languages, travels the world with her Catalan-Guatemalan husband and holds a passion for the grotesque, particularly when expressed in the extravagance of the Baroque era, the post-war Viennese music of the 20th century and in the contemporary music of today.
When Huhtanen is looking to learn more about an era, art form or artist, she turns to Type Books on Queen West.
“It’s so well-curated,” the soprano divulges. “I feel wholesome when I shop there because I’ve usually supported a local writer. I find out about readings there, like the ones they have at Tequila Bookworm. If I have an hour, I literally go and pick up every second book and usually buy two.”
Huhtanen admits her literary interests lie mostly in modern American and British classics, such as works by Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Waugh and Faulkner.
“I’m still working my way through Ulysses,” she admits, laughing.
2: Canon Blanc — Queen West
Huhtanen, who often performs with Opera Atelier at the Elgin Theatre at Yonge and Queen, loves to peruse Queen West’s abundance of clothing shops while walking to work. One favourite shop is Canon Blanc, where she’s even struck up a friendship with the owners – a couple from Paris who Huhtanen speaks to in French she perfected while living in Marseille. The store’s unique and thoughtfully chosen pieces never fail to spark the soprano’s sartorial eye.
3: Pinky’s Ca Phe — Little Italy
An off-the-radar restaurant from the masterminds behind Hanmoto and OddSeoul, Huhtanen enjoys this place for its Cantonese-Vietnamese street food and upbeat ambiance.
“It’s this fun sort of tiki bar atmosphere,” she describes. “There’s fun music playing and all kinds of nick-nacks all over the place. It’s like a carnival. A lot of food industry people go there late.”
Tucked unassumingly behind Cafe Diplomatico, this is an insider spot worth checking out.
4: Tennis Courts in Trinity Bellwoods Park
A self-professed non-athlete, Huhtanen finds calm, purpose and release in the tennis lessons she has taken for years (in Italian, no less) at Trinity Bellwoods Park.
“[Tennis] is very Augustinian,” she explains, alluding to the fourth-century monk for whom the religious order takes its name. “[Augustine] talks about the eternal present…. There is only that moment in which you see the ball coming at you. It’s a perpetual loop. You’ve hit the ball, and already you can see your opponent responding. It’s only you on your side of the court.
“That’s often what singing feels like,” she relates of the sport’s similarities to her craft. “It’s only you [on stage] and maybe a pianist or chamber ensemble. It’s often very lonely. Nobody else can have that experience but you. I’ve learned to discover and trust and find myself and the more I do that, the more I can anticipate. If you don’t open up your racket in time, that ball’s going to be whizzing past you. It’s like hitting a note with your onset. I’ve learned to breathe into my shots – a lot like in singing.”
5: Inter Steer Tavern — Roncesvalles
Once known for its authentic jukebox, Huhtanen claims this popular Roncie spot has, “the best interior of any bar I’ve seen in Toronto.” The soprano loves to come here and strike up a conversation with writers at the bar, claiming the bar is a popular spot for the literary-minded.
“It’s always nice to go and not have to talk about music at all. Introverts really bloom and blossom in places like that, especially after a few beers.”
Huhtanen recommends the pierogies.
6: Essence of Life Organics — Kensington Market
When Huhtanen needs to stock up on performance fuel, she turns to the Essence of Life Organics shop in Kensington Market. She finds she can’t eat heavily before a performance and appreciates the wealth of gluten-free options with which the store stocks its aisles.
“I like to eat lighter,” she explains. “Not a lot of gluten before a show. I like my rice crackers, seaweed snacks…”
Huhtanen also recommends Essence of Life for its abundance of natural skin care products, referring to the shop as a “mecca.”
7: La Bettola di Terroni — Victoria St.
One of Huhtanen and her colleagues’ favourite pre- and post-show hangouts when singing with Opera Atelier is La Bettola di Terroni. Huhtanen holds a particularly close relationship with this popular Italian restaurant.
“We had our wedding reception there,” she explains. “Now we’re going to Sicily, inspired by [La Bettola’s] chef.
“They always have wonderful Sicilian food, close to the theatre.”
Those who missed Opera Atelier’s latest show can catch Huhtanen in Tapestry Opera’s Tap:Ex – Tables Turned at the Luminato Festival June 16 to 19. Or, check the Trinity Bellwoods tennis courts on a sunny day. Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of this globetrotting artist breathing into her backhand.