Talking with Singers: Jessica MuirheadInterview
1. What’s it like to return to a role like Pamina, which you say originally put you “on the map”?
It’s like putting on an old pair of jeans and remembering why they were always your favourite. Pamina is the role that I made my European debut with at the Vienna Volksoper and was brought back to sing many times. She has grown with me over the years and every time I pick her up, I fall in love with something new. Singing her right now I feel my voice is finally up to all the challenges she offers… I never felt I was able to sing her suicide scene (with the three spirits) with the depth that I always felt it needed and now finally feel like I have the technical control and depth to be able to finesse that scene like I’ve always dreamed I could. What can I say, my voice just looooves to sing Mozart. Plus, now I understand the German!
2. What does Pamina represent in the story of The Magic Flute?
Pamina is the epitome of truth, strength, faith, goodness, and light. She has been told lies her whole life by her mother, the Queen of the Night, and within the telling of this story she goes on a life journey to discover that even if it seems everyone is against you, and nobody will listen to reason, love and faith can bring you the inner strength to overcome even the greatest hurdles. In this story she hits her darkest moments (she attempts suicide), but it is her love for Tamino and discovering he loves her in return which brings her faith back and makes her stronger than ever!
3. What do you look forward to about performing in Canada again?
It is so good to be back in Canada. I have spent most of my career performing all over Europe, and while I do love it, there is still that extra comfort being in the country where you grew up, studied, and where your family is on the same (or much closer) time zone. Also, while my German is quite good these days, my Portuguese, Slovenian, Swedish, etc., are still really lacking. There is nothing like the comfort that comes with being able to converse in your native language, and have similar experiences to those on the team (we know the same commercials, movie quotes, etc). This Magic Flute cast is extra special since it is like a reunion of sorts. I sang my first named role in an opera (ever!) with Adam Luther (Tamino) in an opera buffa performance of Gianni Schicchi back when we were in our early university years. Even Bertrand Malo (Speaker & Priest) and I studied our bachelors degrees at McGill at the same time. Add to that the ability to shop at Shoppers Drug Mart after rehearsal, before having dinner at Swiss Chalet, and you have one happy diva.
4. There’s an idea in Canada, that Canadian opera singers need to work abroad first, before they can build a real career at home. Is there any truth to that?
I know many singers who have built great careers and stayed in North America. I also know many singers who have crossed the ocean to start their careers, and wound up staying in Europe. The Atlantic feels like the great divide, and sometimes I wonder if anybody really knows that things happen on both sides of it, simultaneously gasp. That being said, I think the idea comes from the fact that there are so many more opportunities to perform on the opera stage in Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria. Opera houses there usually have a different production every night of the week, and employ singers as full-time staff (civil servants, in fact). It’s a very different kind of pressure, and one which definitely pushes you to your limits. What most impresses me is when people have made solid careers on both sides of the Atlantic, and farther.
5. Why do you think The Magic Flute is so popular?
Because the music is simply DIVINE! Add to that larger-than-life characters mixed with relatable human emotions, and of course a bit of magic thrown in here and there. What’s not to like?!