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REMOTE | Mireille Lebel ‘There Is Something Wild And Exciting In All This’

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on July 29, 2020

Mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel
Mireille Lebel (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Welcome to the 25th episode of REMOTE! Hard to believe it’s almost been four months since we started having these conversations with artists to check in on how they are coping with the COVID crisis. A lot has changed since then, obviously, but the importance of keeping the conversation going remains the same. As such, the focus of this series going forward will turn towards how performing artists are rising to this moment’s call for innovation, and the many creative ways that they are working with the restrictions that persist. The challenges the industry has faced in the last four months still remain, but everyday it seems companies and individual artists are experimenting with DIY ways of engaging their audience.

So it’s fitting that, for this episode, Canadian mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel joins us to share her experiences of the last four months. I think her words definitely reflect the arc of struggle and acceptance that we can all probably relate to since lockdowns started in March. She also shares her excitement in regard to upcoming projects, as well as what she’s been reading, watching, and listening to.

How have you been coping through the lockdown?

At the beginning, terribly. I was lucky enough to be with my family, and they were truly the only people who could have put up with me. Many friends said they were grateful for the chance to slow down and for the gift of time. I didn’t experience it in that way. I felt I was in a waiting room with no way out. I would catch myself imagining a pre-pandemic activity, simple things because these are the things that bring me joy, like going for a coffee, and then I would remember this was not possible anymore. I found it devastating actually. It took a while to come out of this dark place. Now, however, I am finding springs of light everywhere.

What sort of digital performances have you been involved in or planning, in lieu of live performance?

At the beginning of the pandemic I was involved with Opera Atelier’s Together Apart. They reached out very early in the crisis to many of their regular performers. I returned home to Berlin shortly after that broadcast and some small live things were already getting started here. I was at a live show with a capped audience by mid-June. Unfortunately, my upcoming season was heavy on North American contracts and I received the cancellation for my last show standing (a contract in the US from May-July 2021) about a month ago. That night I think I single-handedly drank three bottles of wine but woke up feeling lighter than I had in months.

The fact that my work for an entire season (Sept 2020-July 2021) had been wiped out was no longer something I was dreading. It had happened. And instead of feeling desperate I felt a major surge of creativity. I also felt a sense of unity with other artists and administrators, (especially North Americans because the laws make it harder for their theatres to open, whereas in Germany things are already back in motion — albeit with restrictions), I thought of chamber works and operas I had already done or had always wanted to do and called up companies with whom I had a history, asking if they were interested in presenting them in digital format with the hopes of a small audience. I won’t say what the projects are yet because they have not officially been announced, but most groups were interested. A lot of organizations find themselves unable to perform their planned season and suddenly have a blank slate to present something digital in chamber format (hopefully for a small audience). There is something wild and exciting in all this. I am counting the minutes (as is every colleague I have spoken with) until we are able to perform again. In the meantime, I am embracing the uncertainty, the chaos, and the other mediums available to us. It’s a different time right now, and therefore we are using a different medium on a temporary basis.

What are some words of wisdom that’s helped you get through this pandemic?

What’s been getting me through is Bach (he’s gotten me through every hard thing in my life so far) being in constant contact with friends and family, doing things I would not usually do (many of them have been asinine, but the point is they are new and different), and just following any path forward that may reveal itself. Not being afraid to take a side path. Time has flattened out, and now there is an opportunity to experiment and pursue ideas that would have seemed like folly before the crisis.

What are you watching, reading, listening to at the moment?

Watching Rep Ocasio-Cortez killing it on C-Span in response to Rep Yoho’s violent language, Rachel Fenlon’s show Classical Revolution on Idagio, reality TV because it makes me feel better about myself.

Listening to Bach esp. in arrangements (love the “Kurtag” of Actus Tragicus) P.H. Erlebach, Vivaldi violin concertos, The Podcast My Favorite Murder, anything by Peaches, 50s exotica, and ASMR Darling’s Sleep Triggers (YouTube).

Reading great filthy books by blogger Girl on the Net, Vernon Subutex (kind of like eating kale), A Gentleman in Moscow, re-reading Robber Bride (I always wanted to be Zenia as a teen but now I appreciate Roz).


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Michael Zarathus-Cook
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