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‘Be vulnerable and be moved,’ says opera singer
Sure Michelle Koebke sings. But the soprano star could be called a linguist, having exercised her vocal chords in at least 10 languages.
On Wednesday, Nov. 6, she’ll bring Italian words to life in an all-Puccini opera show with City Opera Vancouver at Minoru Chapel. The concert—two shows, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.—is part of the Minoru Chapel Opera series.
Koebke will be joined by tenor Sunny Shams, pianist David Boothroyd and narrator Tom Durrie for the show, which will feature three pieces from Italian composer Giacome Puccini: La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.
City Opera Vancouver has visited the Minoru Park venue before. The professional company aims to bring chamber opera to a wide audience. Its repertoire spans four centuries, from chamber opera’s beginnings to contemporary and commissioned works, with a special interest in Canadian music and artists.
Founded in 2006, the company works to make opera accessible—and for those new to opera, experiencing hearing Puccini at Minoru Chapel is a good place to start, according to Koebke.
Koebke earned her bachelor of music in opera from University of B.C. and a voice diploma at Vancouver Community College. She also trained at the Toronto Summer Academy and Festival and spent one year as an apprentice in Calgary Opera’s inaugural Emerging Artist Program.
She has performed in North America and Europe in operatic roles ranging from Tatyana (Eugene Onegin) and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) to all three leading ladies in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Koebke is a mother of four, and in recent years has travelled between North America and Milan, Italy, studying voice.
Tickets for the Nov. 6 shows, $18 to $20, available in advance at 604-276-4300 or at the door (if available).
1. What are you performing at the chapel? “The concert is all Puccini: Tosca, Butterfly, Boheme, some lesser known stuff, alongside Sunny Shams, one of my favourite tenors in town.”
2. The appeal of Puccini? “It is so luscious! Melody-based, full of soaring phrases and passion. It’s a joy to sing and to hear—especially live.”
3. When did you decide to become an opera singer? “I won a Kiwanis Music Festival scholarship to start a voice diploma at VCC (Vancouver Community College) out of high school, and then transferred into UBC (University of B.C.), at which point I chose opera as my major.”
4. What audiences did you have growing up? “My father landed me the opportunity to sing the anthems for the Vancouver Canadians at age 11. I moved on to sing anthems for the Canucks, Voodoo, B.C. Lions, Grizzlies...”
5. Languages you’ve performed in? “Italian, German, French, Russian, Czech, Latin, Chinese, Spanish, Polish and English.”
6. Is there a longer acronym than BCAPAF in music? “Probably not! This is the official name for the B.C. Association of Performing Arts Festivals, an annual provincial competition which I previously won, representing the City of Vancouver.”
7. Do your daughters sing? “I have four girls (four, three, two, five months). Yes, they sing—pretty much constantly.”
8. Have they ever attended a full opera? “In my belly. I sang Donna Anna six-and-a-half months pregnant in the Czech Republic (with Sunny Shams as Don Ottavio) and my youngest just slept, or was held under my arm or on my hip, at every rehearsal for concert performances of Fiordiligi and Violetta I sang this summer.”
9. Best day hike? “We’ve been taking our Brittany spaniel into the University Endowment Lands for years. Maybe not an all-day hike, but enjoyable daily.”
10. A favourite dish to cook if you have a free afternoon? “Spaghetti, but only to simmer all day and then freeze. There is something magically that happens when you thaw it again for future dinners.”
11. Three ingredients you’d insist on having in a dessert-making competition? “I couldn’t live without cooking but I loathe baking and rarely make a dessert. So I guess arborio rice, figs and Moscato D’asti for a dolce risotto.”
12. Greatest opera singer in history? “Cecilia Bartoli for her virtuosity and musicological contributions.”
13. Greatest composer? “My mind says Bach, my soul says Dvorak or Tchaikovsky, my heart belongs to Mozart. Was I suppose to say Puccini? Love him too.”
14. Biggest opera misconception? “It has to be some ‘big production’ get out the door and to make time for. If you’ve never heard this music live and want to test the waters come out and see this Nov. 6 show. Wear your jeans if you want, grab a coffee on the way, come on down to experience a memorable and real event. Just go. Come on a journey with us, be vulnerable and be moved by Puccini.”
15. Venue that impresses? “I just love the Chan Centre. Every week we’d have rehearsal on that stage and I would sigh, look out and feel such overwhelming joy and love. Also, singing at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens for City Opera Vancouver was a lovely and unique venue.”
16. How do you prepare for a show? “Write out the texts, listen to every YouTube performance I can find of the repertoire, rehearse, hype to my fan base, drink more water and dream it through in my mind each night leading up.”
17. Do you have any superstitions in performing? “Not really. I often pep-talk to myself things my dad or granddad used to say, and mentally say thank you for the opportunity to perform—oh, and a Hail Mary.”
18. Favourite post-performance meal or snack? “Ice cream? Pizza? Anything really, but usually nothing healthy.”
19. Favourite workout at the moment? “Grocery shopping with all four kids in tow. It is a workout!”
20. Favourite subject to photograph? “People! In my other life, between mom and musician, I adore working as a portrait photographer under my married name Doherty. Shooting live opera is a most massive treat.”