Spotlight on: Michelle Siemens
This interview is part of our ongoing series of features on young working artists in the opera industry. If you think you'd be a great candidate for an interview, or know someone you'd like to nominate, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Calgary-born mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens was heard this past season on the Four Seasons Centre stage, as a finalist for the 2014 COC Ensemble Studio competition. Michelle has trained across Canada and in the United States, and I had the chance to work with her on one of her stops, singing Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Opera on the Avalon. She chats about singing strong, independent women, the magic of music.
1. Why do you sing, and why are you pursuing it professionally?
I sing because I love it! I started my operatic training when I was eleven years old and never considered pursuing anything else. The high of performance is the greatest feeling in the world, to which I am unabashedly addicted. It is also the best way I know of to connect with people. Any given performance will mean something different to each audience member. I believe that music is the closest thing we have to magic, in that it can move us and change us, often without us ever understanding how.
2. What does "good singing" mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?
“Good singing” is when the body is fully engaged, the air is free and the meaning is clear. It feels like the music and emotions fill me up and make me invincible. When the voice is flowing freely and I can commit to communicating as the character, it feels like time stands still and I can just be in the moment. When that happens the sharing of energy between house and stage brings the entire performance to higher level of transformative meaning.
3. What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?
I have found that young singers today are extremely passionate and dedicated. One thing that singers could benefit from is a greater concentration on language skills. Institutions seem to teach diction skills, but lack instruction in the grammatical and conversational basics of the singing languages. Something young singers need to do less of, myself included, is second guessing their own talent. We need to spend less time doubting whether or not we are “good enough” and more time actually enjoying every opportunity to perform.
4. Do you have a "bucket-list" role that you'd like to sing? Why?
Carmen is my dream role! I think she is the dream role of every mezzo. Vocally, her music feels great to sing and her sexy, fierce spirit is so fun to play. Plus, Carmen is one of the very few mezzo roles that are last out at curtain call. My other top “bucket-list” roles are Dalila (Samson et Dalila), Amneris (Aida) and Azucena (Il trovatore). Like Carmen, they are all strong, iconic women who’s stories I would be honoured to tell.
5. How do you explain your job to non-music folks?
When I first tell non-music folks that I’m an opera singer they are usually surprised and interested as to how someone ends up in this field. Most people don’t realize that we don’t use microphones or have any conception of the amount of training that opera takes. When people ask what studying opera entails, my joke answer is that I have two degrees in how to breath very efficiently, read, count and wear pretty dresses. Experiencing opera is really the best way to understand it; so I try to bring everyone I can to the opera. I love watching opera first-timers as they nervously walk into a new experience and transform into an opera lover.