Talking with singers: Daniel Okulitch

Talking with singers: Daniel Okulitch

Jenna Simeonov

Canadian Bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch spends much of his time onstage in roles like Don Giovanni, Leporello, and Count Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro); he has also sung the world premieres of Charles Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain, Howard Shore’s The Fly, David T. Little’s JFK, and Peter Ash’s The Golden Ticket, based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This month, Okulitch is heading into holiday mode, singing performances of Handel’s Messiah with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (December 9-11), and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (December 18-23). He chats with us about singing old music, new music, and how his work is a place “where I am ceaselessly challenged and humbled.”

Why do you sing?

I can hardly remember a time when I haven’t been singing - I think at this point singing is so many things to me. It’s certainly a place I go where I can access and release a huge palette of emotions and experiences. It’s a place I go where I focus intensely and enter a flow state, where I am ceaselessly challenged and humbled. I sing because I will never master it.

Why do you think that singers of Mozart, Handel, and Bach are often also interested in contemporary and new music?

Are they? I hadn’t considered it. I think there’s a level of musicianship and creativity that both styles and eras demand, and a certain clarity of tone and attention to detail. You’re given tremendous opportunity in both to really be quite individual and improvise, as well.

What do you wish you knew about singing 10 years ago?

That with a few exceptions, I actually already mostly knew how to sing all this time. I just needed to make the right choices. I wasted a lot of time and energy by thinking the goal was always a little out of reach, that I might not be enough, that I had something to apologize for. In the end I just need to be me.

In your own experience working internationally, what are some unique strengths of the Canadian opera scene?

Canada is small enough that when someone shows an interest in classical music, there is a community that will claim you and help you. As such, I believe we are able to find and produce large numbers of exceptional musicians, disproportionate to our population. We’re smaller than California, but produce more classical singers who have international careers. Figure that one out.

Everybody has a nostalgic relationship with Handel’s Messiah - what does it mean to you to be singing Messiah this year, in Canada with the TSO?

Well, this is my first season of singing Messiah! First in Edmonton and now with the TSO, so my nostalgia is limited. Let’s make some memories.

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