Talking with singers: Marnie BreckenridgeInterview
American soprano Marnie Breckenridge is currently in Toronto, preparing for the world premiere of the new opera by Luna Pearl Woolf and Royce Vavrek, Jacqueline. Breckenridge sings the title role of Jacqueline du Pré, the famed cellist whose life and career ended too abruptly after a battle with multiple sclerosis.
We spoke with Breckenridge about her work, about singing roles based on real-life people, and what she takes away from Du Pré’s story.
Why do you sing professionally?
I sing because I crave freedom and challenge all in one ball of creativity and complexity. I tried for pre-medicine in college and quickly realized it wasn’t me and was honestly too hard - so I inadvertently chose something I’d have to struggle even harder to master! HAHA! Sort of kidding here.
But I just knew on some deeply internal level that I needed to share my love for singing in some capacity. And I really enjoy entertaining people. I was always the soloist in choirs growing up. My mother was a fantastic mezzo soprano as well as the church organist (oh, and flower arranger too), so I got a sense of performance from watching her at an early age. I used to line my stuffed animals up in my bedroom and sing Barbra Streisand songs to them. I think I actually wanted to have a career like hers. But that hasn’t come to fruition quite yet…
What do you know now about the singing career that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
I wish I had known 10 years ago how crucial a social media and website campaign are. I finally got on board within the last 10 years. It was also the exact time period I was starting my family (my son just turned 10, and we also have a 7-year-old daughter) so the juggle of taking care of an infant while trying to build and maintain more web and social media presence, etc. was an added “to do” on my list.
But everything changes so quickly. It is amazing how readily available the access to videos of a variety of people singing the same songs can really give a singer better perspective on how to incorporate stylistic choices and sounds. When you are only studying with one voice teacher, it can limit your ideas of what sound and technique are. To have the benefit of YouTube and Vimeo to observe other artists doing their thing is priceless.
What kind of woman was Jacqueline du Pré? What do you think are some common misconceptions about her character?
I think she was a very pure, true, straight forward woman. She was an inimitable talent who played from the heart with a healthy ego - not a haughty one. I don’t know if there are many misconceptions about her character. Perhaps people might think that she was simply a sweet, cheerful, proper English lady who never showed anger or used expletives? When struggling mid-stream with her MS disease she would talk about it frankly referring to it as, “This F-ing disease”.
What are the unique challenges of portraying a real person from history?
It is a unique challenge to attempt to get inside the essence of someone while at the same time deliver a performance (an operatic version) of their story. The truth of the performance is not the same as a mimicry of the person. For anyone who knew her personally and had their own opinions on who she was or what her mannerisms were, I would never want to disappoint their expectations. Yet at the same time, I would never want to make her into a caricature or seem to be mimicking her. There will certainly be aspects of Marnie in Jacqueline.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this world premiere production of Jacqueline?
Not only do I hope more people will know a bit more about Jacqueline and honor her memory, I hope they will take away a sense of immediacy. A reminder that we each have a finite amount of time on this planet, so why not burn our creative flames of talent, love, and kindness as brightly as possible while we inhabit the bodies we’ve been given!
If you didn’t sing for a living, what would you do instead?
I’d probably be a theatre/film actor with a side business of being an art dealer. But most likely I’d start a farm where we would rehabilitate and care for homeless animals (especially dogs). Then again, I’m already a mother of two young children so sometimes I feel like I’m already running a farm on a daily basis!