Vania Chan on Airline Icarus

Vania Chan on Airline Icarus

Jenna Simeonov
Canadian lyric coloratura soprano Vania Chan splits her time between Early Music like Mozart and Rameau, and New Music, like the upcoming _Airline Icarus, opening in Toronto on June 3rd._ Brian Current’s opera, set to Anton Piatigorsky’s libretto, tells the stories of several passengers on a Cleveland-bound flight. Vania answered some questions of mine about Airline Icarus, working on an opera with its composer, and what’s common between Early and New Music.

Do you like flying?

I guess it depends on the length of the flight, but overall, yes, I do like flying. If I get a seat by the window, I won’t hesitate to look out and watch the ground disappear as the plane takes off. I still think clouds up close are super cool, and that they look like cotton candy. A little bit of turbulence can be fun - just enough so you feel like you’re on a mini roller coaster ride.

What appealed to you about Airline Icarus?

I find the Airline Icarus characters and their personal psycho-dramas very interesting. The opera gives the audience snapshots of the lives of various individuals - the Advertising Executive (my character), the Business Man, the Scholar, and the Flight Attendant. Each character is imploding through their own magnified insecurities; the rise and fall of their emotions are reflected in the “smoothness” or “turbulence” of the aircraft’s flight. I feel that the characters are believable human beings that the audience can relate to, and they form the core of the opera.

What can you tell us about your character in Airline Icarus?

I sing the role of the Advertising Executive - a career-oriented woman who has attained a high level of success. Despite her achievements, she’s now reached a point in her life where she despises her job, and worries about growing old and gaining weight – which has manifested itself into an eating disorder. Ultimately, she worries about ending up alone in life, and envies the happiness that her sister has found in having a family. It’s fascinating to be immersed in such a complex character. I’m constantly discovering new things about the Ad Exec through each rehearsal, and most likely will continue to do so throughout the run.

You sing a lot of both Early music and new music. What do you find in common with these two “poles” of the operatic repertoire?

I think most, if not all of us, have ears that are more attuned to the music of the classical and romantic periods. The “bookend” eras of Early Music and New Music offer unexpected twists and surprises in melody and harmony, which can be more challenging for both the performer and the listener. However, these unique “surprises” are also what can captivate us mentally and emotionally. Personally, I’ve grown to love singing Early and New Music because of the challenges the repertoire affords me.

What’s it like to work with a living composer on new music?

It’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Working with Brian Current on Airline Icarus has been very inspiring. Since he’s conducting his own work as well, I feel like all of us in the cast are benefiting directly from the creator. It pushes us, in a good way, to live up to his musical vision. Brian has been generous in sharing his ideas, but has also been open and co-operative with making changes to support the creative team and the cast. I feel that the production is blossoming in a unique way, and it’s an example of collaborative effort at its best.

How do you think Airline Icarus adds to today’s new operatic repertoire? What does it say about people/society/technology today?

I think Airline Icarus is a significant and vital addition to today’s new operatic repertoire. The opera’s narrative makes an important statement about the rise and fall of human beings through the progression of technology. Society always strives for the next revolutionary technological development. People are quick to get their hands on the latest device, easily equating self-worth to the most “high-end” electronic available. We can lose ourselves in a sea of Twitter posts and selfies. Through the Greek mythological character of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, the opera’s underlying message is to take heed of our own hubris, and to reflect on the ruin that comes with the excess of pride and ambition.

_Airline Icarus_ runs from June 3rd-8th, at Ada Slaight Hall, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E. It’s conducted by composer Brian Current, and Vania Chan joins a cast that’s full of Canadian talent like Krisztina Szabó, Geoffrey Sirett, Alexander Dobson and Jennifer Taverner. For more info and for tickets, click here.



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