Aline Kutan: High on Singing by Wah Keung Chan
/ February 1, 2007
When Armenian-Canadian soprano Aline
Kutan takes the stage at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in the title character
of Lakmé in l’Opéra de Montréal’s February production,
she’ll be coming full circle. In 1996, Kutan made her professional
operatic debut in the same role at Arizona Opera. And it was in playing
this character again 5 years ago that she made her greatest international
triumph — captivating media attention while singing six performances
over nine days to replace an ailing Sumi Jo at Michigan Opera Theatre.
Today, with her clear, warm, and flexible voice, Kutan is undoubtedly
Canada’s leading coloratura soprano.
Being a successful coloratura soprano
means having the kind of agility and precision for roles such as Mozart’s
Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne
auf Naxos. To be able to sustain high notes is often considered
a natural-born talent. “The clarity in my voice was there quite early,”
Kutan remembers. After her family immigrated to Canada from Turkey when
she was 10, Kutan began taking piano lessons and singing in choirs.
At age 11, she started voice lessons with tenor David Meek who taught
her to breathe and sing in the mask. Although this type of training
may seem too advanced for such a young girl, Kutan disagrees. “My
second teacher Louise André explained that when girls reach womanhood,
they are ready to sing. I went through puberty at age 10.” At age
14, Kutan was already studying Olympia and, by 16, she was looking at
Based on her own childhood, Kutan believes
that children can effectively find a balance between extracurricular
activities and school. “Music is great for kids. I don’t think it
takes away from them in school; I was a top honours student.” But
when it came time for university, Kutan was faced with a difficult choice.
“I had wanted to major in both science and arts, but my Dad thought
it was too much. He told me to follow my heart and said, ‘If it doesn’t
work out, then you can do something else.’” After two years of music
at the University of British Columbia, Kutan transferred to Laval University
to study with renowned teacher Louise André, who steered Kutan towards
the coloratura repertoire. “I discovered a new spectrum of sounds
going up to high E and C. The perspective from a woman towards breathing
and placement was different. We worked more on resonance in the mask
that helped me to get higher in the head voice.”
After graduation, Kutan joined the
Phantom of the Opera touring company for two years, understudying
the role of Carlotta and singing in the ensemble. “It was a great
experience, learning how to control the voice and developing stamina
with the dancing. After singing eight shows a week, I realized that
I could do anything, including sing tired or when I’m sick.” She
adjusted to using a microphone by “…singing into the head more than
the body. It was a lot of pronunciation to articulate the words.
You are still singing acoustically, but you are giving more consonants;
you don’t have to enlarge the vocal line.”
The next couple of years following
Phantom were tough for Kutan, as she found herself without a teacher.
“Louise André developed Alzheimer’s, and it really depressed me
because she was a great teacher.” Kutan decided to hone the two somewhat
conflicting techniques she had learned from her two teachers to create
her own. In 1994 she experienced a setback. “At the Metropolitan Opera
Regional Competition, I was first up and I performed horribly.” Hearing
another singer do better in the same repertoire caused Kutan to doubt
her career choice. A summer master class with Ileana Cotrubas helped
her focus on making her interpretative skills more soulful. After getting
married, Kutan went on to win a series of competitions in 1994 and 1995,
including the MSO Competition, the COC Mozart Competition and the Met
Competition, eventually opening doors to Lakmé at the Arizona
“Lakmé is a bel canto role
in the French sense. Aside from the Bell song, it is quite a lyric part.”
For Kutan, Lakmé is a love story that has relevance even today.
“I think of the conflict in Iraq, and think about how love can bridge
two cultures that hate each other. Love makes you do things that you
never thought you would be capable of doing. Although I will never eat
a datura flower [to kill myself], I would make sacrifices for my daughter
Prior to becoming pregnant, Kutan normally
spent two-thirds of the year away from her Pointe-Claire home performing
abroad, mostly in Europe. While pregnant, her jet-setting life was temporarily
grounded and she found time for teaching. “It has helped me confirm
my ideas, and I’ve learned to use different imagery for each student.”
Kutan’s approach focuses on natural singing, “there should be little
stiffness or tension in the body, except in the air; the air must flow
through the body and be used efficiently; have the sound vibrate in
the resonators, out of the throat; sing the words like speech; never
compensate with the jaw.”
Montreal’s Lakmé is Kutan’s
sixth time playing the role, and it marks her return to singing following
the birth of her first child, Nadine, five months ago. Kutan kept singing
throughout her pregnancy, although travel concerns meant that she had
to cancel engagements in Italy (La Scala), Japan and the Canary Islands.
“In the beginning, I was very tired physically — in Lille, the dress
in The Magic Flute was heavy. Vocally, I sensed the body changing.
The high notes became a little less secure, but the air support was
just amazing, especially by the sixth and seventh months.” During
the latter half of her pregnancy, Kutan took part in two Analekta recordings
that showed nice colour in her voice. She admits that her performance
at the Canadian Opera Company’s inaugural concert at the company’s
new opera house while she was seven months pregnant was not one of her
best. “Once I gave birth, I tried to sing and it was all there.”
Kutan took three months off before working on her voice. “Every year,
I take two to three weeks off singing in order to rest and get rid of
bad habits. It takes me ten days to deconstruct and reconstruct the
voice again and I actually enjoy the process.”
Despite being Canada’s current leading
coloratura soprano, Kutan, with her perky nature, is at once warm and
approachable; there is no PR machine pushing a diva agenda. In person,
she exudes a girl-next-door freshness, ready to talk shop or to simply
share the health benefits of wild yams. The opera character she most
identifies with is Constanze in Mozart’s The Abduction of the Seraglio.
She idolizes Joan Sutherland for her great vocalism, but acknowledges
that she finds fault in the great soprano’s pronunciation and tempo.
As an artist, Kutan is grounded. Accomplished in both opera and concert,
Kutan looks forward to expanding herself musically. She feels ready
for the more lyrical coloratura repertoire such as Gilda in Verdi’s
Rigoletto or Lucia di Lammermoor in Donizetti’s opera. Let us
hope that opera directors everywhere are listening.
What book are you currently reading?
Holy Cow (An Indian Adventure)
- Sarah Macdonald.
The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving
the 1st Year of Motherhood – Vicki Lovine.
What Music do you listen to at home
Classical, Jazz, Pop and the Beatles
(my husband’s favourite).
What is your favourite musical work?
What is your current cell phone Ring
Mission Impossible (for my European
What instruments should parents start
their children with?
Whatever the child seems to show interest
in. Piano and violin are probably the best, but why not wind instruments?
What are your 5 recordings to bring
to a desert island?
Anything and everything by Mozart.
Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos (we
are on a deserted island after all) with Jessye Norman.
Piano music like Vladimir Ashkenazy playing
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2.
A compilation of 80s pop music.
The recorded sounds of my baby’s cooings
5 Favourite Places in Montreal:
1. Old Montreal: for walking around,
the art galleries, Pointe à Callière.
2. Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue: for strolls
by the water and ice cream in the summer.
3. St-Denis street: for shopping and
4 Pointe-Claire Village: for its small
shops and eating at Le Gourmand restaurant.
5. Mont Royal: for skating in the winter
and picnics in the summer.
Trattoria San Ferdinando in Naples: best
antipasti and grilled octopus.
Le Boucher in Bordeaux: their speciality
of magret de canard, which is out of this world.
Taverne Avedis in Avignon: fantastic
food with Armenian and Greek specialities.