Spotlight on: Jennifer Taverner
Canadian soprano Jennifer Taverner is currently at The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to sing in Claude Vivier's "opéra rituel du mort", Kopernikus. It's a far cry from her work as Nadina in Toronto Operetta Theatre's The Chocolate Soldier, or her upcoming work as Armida in Pacific Opera Victoria's Rinaldo, yet versatility is a constant in Taverner's work.
She spoke with us about getting the Broadway bug as a child, and the value of a well-sung Messiah.
Why do you sing, and why are you doing it professionally?
I can't imagine my life without singing. It has been a part of who I am from the very beginning. Even when I was born, the doctor announced "it's a soprano!" No joke. I guess it was my destiny! I was fortunate to grow up in a very musical household as both my parents were piano teachers, and avid choral singers. They had a passion for classical music, including opera, and I was exposed to all sorts of music from day one. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a performer in some capacity.
Now don't laugh, but I remember the musical Cats making a huge impression on me when I was eight years old. I saw it at Massey Hall, and I was totally in awe! I longed to be up on that stage! This inspired me to practice my performance chops, and soon enough I was giving regular performances to my stuffed animals in our living room, dancing and singing along to whatever old Broadway recordings my parents had in their record collection (I still know every word to A Chorus Line).
A few years later, I was accepted to Etobicoke School of the Arts as a music theatre major, and started taking private voice lessons. That's when I got the opera bug, and continued to pursue a more classical route after high school.
I feel extremely fortunate to be able to sing professionally and pursue my passion as a career. One of my favourite parts of the job is the opportunity to collaborate with so many phenomenal musicians. Sometimes I can't believe I get to be on the same stage as them. It's a wonderful feeling being up there, making music together, and connecting with an audience. Music brings joy to so many people and I’m honoured to be a small part of that.
What does "good singing" mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?
To me, good singing isn't necessarily perfect singing. As an audience member, I'm far less concerned whether a singer has flawless technique, or the most glorious voice I've ever heard. I want to be moved, and engaged in the moment. Are they connected to the text? Are they instinctively musical? Are they able to employ different colours in the voice to convey various emotions?
Personally, I like to think I've achieved good singing when I can get out of my head and just be in the moment. When I can let go and focus on what I'm saying or feeling, rather than the position of my soft palate! When I feel like I'm singing well, it comes with a sense of freedom and confidence knowing that all I need to do is breathe, open my mouth, and my voice will do what I want it to do.
What do young singers need to do more of? What do they need to do less of?
I think young singers can get too caught up in their audition package or their "Fach". Diversify! Explore other genres and become a well rounded musician. Sing in a choir for a year or two and perfect your sight-singing skills, tackle a challenging contemporary piece, find an opportunity to sing some musical theatre or jazz! And don't forget about oratorio. Singing Messiah has been a huge stepping stone in my career. It's been the piece that gets my foot in the door with many organizations, and has helped me connect to some great conductors.
I know it's been said before, but young singers (and even not so young singers) need to stop comparing themselves to others. There’s no one way to have a successful and fulfilling career in music. So stop obsessing over who is singing at the Met at age 25, or who got accepted into whatever program, and just focus on yourself. Remember why you love to sing, and keep on truckin'! Your time will come.
Do you have any "bucket list" roles you'd like to sing (realistically or otherwise)?
I sure do! Let's see...all the Handel! I'm singing Armida in Rinaldo next season, and I recently had the incredible opportunity to cover Ginevra in the COC's Ariodante, so I'm off to a good start, but I would love to sing Alcina, Rodelinda, Semele, Cleopatra...the list goes on.
I would love to have more Mozart roles under my belt as well; Pamina probably tops that list. I also really enjoy Britten and am dying to sing the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, which I'm sure has something to do with the fact my birthday is Halloween, and I just love a good ghost story! I still would really like to sing Musetta someday, too. That would be fun.
What have you learned about your career as a singer, solely through professional experience?
I've learned that it’s not just about the singing. Sure, you need to possess the chops, but it won't get you very far if you're not an engaging performer, skilled musician, and all-around good colleague. Be professional, be prepared, be respectful and pleasant to work with. Remember, there are eyes and ears on you at every rehearsal and performance, so treat it like an audition and be the best you can be in that moment. It's great to be hired to sing, but it's even better to be re-hired!
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