Spotlight on: Charlotte KnightInterview
Coloratura soprano Charlotte Knight last made me laugh as Cecily Cardew in Earnest, the Importance of Being at Toronto Operetta Theatre this season. Her fierce technique is easy to hear, and like all great comediennes, Charlotte is also a smart and versatile performer; she just finished singing Rona Lisa Peretti in 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with No Strings Theatre. Next season, you can hear her in November with the Gallery Players of Niagara, singing Villa-Lobos’ stunning Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 for soprano and eight cellos. and in May 2016 with Toronto Masque Theatre’s production of The Fairy Queen.
Obviously in love with performing, Charlotte gave a beautiful interview about working hard, and not comparing yourself to others.
1. Why do you sing, and why are you pursuing it professionally?
The short answer is: because I love it.
The long answer is: because I absolutely love it. For me, there is nothing more thrilling and fulfilling than cracking the spine on a new score, delving into the often complex journey of a character, developing rhythms and relationships with colleagues during the rehearsal process and then walking (or skipping…or jumping) onstage to perform for an audience.
2.￼ What does “good singing” mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?
To me, good singing is the marriage of three simple things:
- It feels good.
- It sounds good.
- It connects with people.
Remember I said simple, not easy. And it’s no easy feat lining up all three together on any given day – especially an “audition day”. But when it does happen, either in a live performance, an audition, a recording session, or in your living room singing for your grandmother after a family dinner because she just so loves hearing you sing Danny Boy – it’s pure magic. It’s a phenomenon that can never be adequately described in words. It’ an experience, a sensation, a feeling. And afterwards, you can hardly wait to make it happen again.
3. What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?
I think that young singers need to focus more on cultivating meaningful relationships, rather than simply booking auditions and obsessing every minute of every day on achieving the perfect technique. And this is something that I struggled with for years. Yes, technique is extremely important. Yes, auditions are a necessary evil for all of us. But it’s easy to assume early on that weekly lessons and coachings, coupled with scrolling through YAP Tracker to book cold-call auditions that pit you against 100+ other sopranos singing the same rep, going for the same roles, singing for the same people, in the same two-day period, is the best way to break through into the professional world of opera – because for a chosen few, it really does work that way. But some of my most rewarding, career boosting and artistically successful endeavors have been the direct result of real relationships (and dare I say friendships?) that I have maintained with other musicians, artistic directors and conductors. Don’t take those for granted.
And what should they do less of? Stop comparing yourself to others. Just stop. Close Facebook, stop trolling so-and-so’s website, shut it down. Of course there are valuable things that singers can learn from each other, so keeping in touch and informed is never a bad idea. But comparing your voice, your recordings, your headshots, your performance schedule and your career trajectory to other people will take the wind out of you every time.
Stay focused on your own journey and you will get to where you are meant to be. Oh, and enjoy the journey.
4. Do you have a “bucket-list” role that you’d like to sing? Why?
I’ve always been attracted to roles that share two main attributes: beautiful, technically challenging music - and comedy. So for years, my main squeeze was Despina. I remember going to see my first Così at U of T when I was fifteen – and being absolutely shocked to find out that opera could be funny. It started out in typical operatic fashion with these two couples singing languidly about love and losing each other – and then here comes this b**ch on wheels making fun of the whole thing! And then she’s a fake doctor. And THEN she’s a fake lawyer! Who IS this chick? I have since had the pleasure of singing Despina several times on stage and her brashness and candour never cease to amaze me.
Now given what I’ve just said, nothing about my current bucket list will come as a surprise:
- Adele (Die Fledermaus) – Strauss II
- Cunegonde (Candide) – Bernstein
- Blondchen (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) - Mozart
These chicks sing wickedly challenging music. These chicks will have you rolling in the aisles.
5. How do you explain your job to non-music folks?
When I tell someone I’ve just met that I’m an opera singer, usually they think it’s just so totally freakin’ cool and I don’t really have to explain further. For the most part, a lot of the non-music people in my life have become music people gradually by osmosis. They’ve supported and watched my journey for years and now, they understand completely that sometimes, a career in singing requires all of one’s energy, focus, stamina and free time. And these things have continued to change over the years as the stakes have gotten gradually higher. For instance, during a recent production run, I was invited to a birthday party at a hip downtown bar with several friends. My decision took all of two seconds and my RSVP note read something like: “I’m so sorry I can’t make it out tonight to celebrate with you guys – I’m fighting a cold and I have to sing a bazillion high notes tomorrow!”. sigh – sadface
But them’s the breaks. And while they can’t empathize, my non-music peeps are awesome and they totally get it.