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An interview with star tenor Colin Ainsworth, Artist in Residence at Opera Atelier

An interview with star tenor Colin Ainsworth, Artist in Residence at Opera Atelier featured image

Colin in rehearsal at Opera Atelier

Colin Ainsworth is a busy, globe-trotting tenor, who is just about to open Opera Atelier’s season with a French Baroque double bill: Charpentier’s Actéon, and Rameau’s Pygmalion. Let’s get to know him and what’s involved when prepping two different roles for one performance.

So you’re an “Artist in Residence” at Opera Atelier this season! When I hear that, I imagine you moving right into the theatre and setting a tent up on the stage. For those not familiar with the term, what does that mean?
Doesn’t that sound cool? I wish that was actually it but it’s not… The scope of the position is varied but is basically a platform to be able to share my experience and help educate the next generation of singers. Not only am I in both the fall and spring operas this year, I’ll also be teaching masterclasses and sessions at the University of Toronto, the Glenn Gould School, and at Opera Atelier. Atelier has a “Making of an Opera” program which brings in schools and gives them an in-depth look at each facet of opera at Atelier, i.e. dance, singing, music and sets/props so when they come see the opera, they have a better perspective to what goes on to create the work. I’ll also be an ambassador for Opera Atelier at donor and special events.

That’s great – a full-circle look at life behind the scenes. To me, preparing for an opera is a lot like preparing for a movie – weeks of research, healthy living, and rehearsals. And you’re preparing for two roles, not just one. How do you manage that? I’d feel so divided.
Luckily, I’ve done both these roles before which helps! I performed Actéon with Atelier back in 2005 and Pygmalion with Nicolas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque in San Francisco but not back-to-back. In rehearsals, we actually would rehearse Actéon one day, then Pygmalion another. That definitely helped for the first couple days. I find the music itself a bigger challenge to switch back and forth from, than the character switch. Rameau and Charpentier are musically quite different and I feel like it’s a huge gear shift to go from one to the other. Both are fantastic but Rameau’s writing is very compact and detailed whereas Charpentier has longer, beautiful musical lines.

Oh, that’s interesting … I guess it’s like switching from a mountain bike to a city bike and yes, I can imagine going back and forth in a short amount of time would be difficult – and you’re referring to your voice. In Actéon, you turn from human into a stag, and are then torn apart by your own hounds. This reminds me of those viral videos of an elephant being hunted and in their wrath, the herd chases down the men with guns. Is there some symbolism going on with this story?
There is definitely some retribution going on here! Actéon peeps in on Diana and her nymphs bathing and gets punished for his indiscretion. Moral of the story: Don’t peep in on a goddess when she’s bathing…doesn’t turn out well!

In Pygmalion, your undying love for a beautiful statue of a woman brings it to life. If I were to present a modern-day theory on that story, it’s about modern-day folks wishing all their bad internet dates lived up to the real deal presented online. What do you think?
I think at some point in our lives, we have all fallen in love with an idealized version of someone or have fallen in love with someone which wasn’t reciprocated. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if a god or goddess came in and waved the magic wand to make that person fall in love with you? But, I think in all operas, underneath the stories of gods, goddesses, or whatever, we see so much of human nature – something that we can all relate to. It’s amazing to me that regardless of what century the opera was written, not much has changed. They struggled with the same issues that we are struggling with. In Actéon, he is punished for his passion, and Pygmalion he is rewarded. Like in life, sometimes, the same action can produces different results for different people. That’s just life…

Speaking of statues, all cast members in Opera Atelier look like they’re carved of stone – very fit. People forget how truly athletic opera singing is – is there a workout regimen to prepare for singing an opera role? Any foods you eat more or less of?
Well, especially at Opera Atelier where the movement is very demanding, you need to be in good shape. I don’t have a specific regimen before I prepare to work there. I just exercise because I enjoy it! Going for a run is an amazing stress reliever for me. I also try to not change my eating patterns too much before a show. My body freaks out and doesn’t know what’s happening. So, I keep drinking the same copious amounts of coffee and just try and keep healthy.

What are you looking forward to the most when this production wraps?
I’m really looking forward to returning to Versailles and Chicago! We’ve been to Versailles a few times now with Atelier and it feels like a second home in that regard. I’ve performed in Chicago many times with Chicago Opera Theater and Music of the Baroque so I’m really looking forward to performing there again. Both are really great cities!

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Opera Atelier’s Actéon and Pygmalion opens tomorrow, October 25, and runs until November 3 at the Elgin Theatre. For ticket info, please click here. For more about Colin, click here.

Photo: Bo Huang

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