Spotlight on: Shauna Yarnell
Toronto-based mezzo-soprano Shauna Yarnell impressed us most recently in Tapestry Opera's Songbook VI, and in Luciano Berio's Folk Songs with the Glenn Gould School. A rising figure in the Canadian scene, Shauna gives a smart interview about the new comedic opera show she's writing, about singing as "energized talking", and the importance of maintaining non-musical interests.
Why do you sing, and why are you doing it professionally?
Singing is a part of my soul. Growing up I was always drawn to music, and I took piano and voice lessons. I think my first love for singing came when I would listen to Les Misérables with my family on long car rides. Singing gives me a safe space to express my own artistic ideas, but it also provides an opportunity for those ideas to touch someone else. I think I am pursuing it professionally because I really love sharing music, which is most often done in performances.
What does "good singing" mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?
Good singing to me means committing to the present moment with your entire mind, heart and voice. Good singing feels like energized talking. Or it can also feel like you are incredibly huge but weightless and flying. It depends on the repertoire. It always feels like the most freeing thing in the world. To me, I know when I have done some good singing when I leave the stage and I can't remember clearly what happened. It means I was totally in the present moment.
What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?
It might be a radical thought, but I think young singers need to do more things or activities other than singing! It can be dangerous to wrap up your whole identity into your aspiring profession. When you investigate other interests it adds depth and perspective to who you are, which will trickle into your artistry.
I'm a fitness junkie and I love cooking and baking. This year I have picked up tennis and it’s been a lot of fun. When you feel confident in various parts of your life you will feel less of a need to prove yourself when you are singing. This gives you more opportunity to take risks and trust yourself.
I think young singers need to do less comparing with each other. We all feel like there are only a few ways to achieve our goals, because that's what we have been taught in our university programs. But the reality is that there are so many different paths and many of them can bring you joy and fulfillment. We can't really control the rate at which our voices will develop but we can work hard to help our minds continue to grow as artists.
While finishing up my diploma at the Glenn Gould School, I was constantly being told that my "big" voice would still need a few years to "develop". I'm happy to give my voice the time it needs, but I also realized that I wanted to create my own opportunities to perform. Over the past couple years I have really been struck by more contemporary classical works, basically anything that feels very relevant to our world today. I also feel this need to make my art accessible to people who are unfamiliar with opera. So with some inspiration and lots of courage, I've started writing a two person comedic opera show, taking various famous arias and re-wording them to fit a modern and humorous plot. I don’t want to give away too many details but I'm hoping to launch the show in 2017 in Toronto.
Do you have any bucket list roles that you would like to sing (realistically or otherwise)?
I've always wanted to sing Cherubino. He's mischievous and spunky and I really love The Marriage of Figaro. And, I can’t help but want to sing Cenerentola and Rosina. Rossini's coloratura is so fun to sing. I'm also really drawn to the role of Octavian in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. The music is so expansive and beautiful. Now that I'm thinking about it, there are so many amazing roles out there that I would love to sing!
How do you explain your job to non-musicians?
I usually say I'm an opera singer, or a classically trained singer. I like to explain that many of the projects are based on contracts so I do other jobs like teaching voice lessons and working at the Royal Conservatory to make it all work. I like to relate the training involved with singing to the training that professional athletes do. I'm always so amazed at the warmth and good wishes from people when they hear about someone pursuing a career in the arts. It gives me another reason to continue to strive for my passion!