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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 15, No. 10 January 2010

Canadian Vocal Arts Institute Enters Seventh Year

by Wah Keung Chan / January 1, 2010

Flash version here.

Musical activity in Montreal during August is usually quiet, yet as diehard fans have discovered, there is still opera to be found at the University of Montreal. Since its inception seven years ago, the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute (CVAI) has presented what amounts to a mini-opera festival in Montreal during the month of August. This year over 40 of the most promising young singers, including 20 Canadians and 16 master teachers and coaches, will take part in the three-week vocal, opera and lieder training program. Running from August 2 to 21, the program consists of five masterclasses and several Gala performances, including a staging of Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias on August 19.

The CVAI is actually the Canadian franchise of the International Vocal Arts Institute, a high-end opera-finishing summer school founded and run by renowned vocal coach Joan Dornemann, who works magic in her masterclasses. “She is more than a magician,” said Bernard Stotland, the CVAI’s new board president. “She can get students to sing an aria a totally different way by using their hands, eyes, ears, nose and behinds. It’s truly amazing.”

The public masterclasses are a fascinating backstage view into the training that goes into forming an opera singer. In previous years, the program has seen prominent guest artists such as Catherine Malfitano and Haken Hagegard. This year’s special guest is tenor Neil Shicoff, who will conduct the first public masterclass on August 6, while other masterclasses are given by Mignon Dunn, Diana Soviero, Claude Webster and Dornemann.

One of the things that sets the program apart is its flexibility. “When the students arrive, the teachers ask the students what they want to work on,” said Marie-Anne Perreault, Coordinator of CVAI. “For some it’s a role, for other’s it’s technique. It’s individualized teaching.”

The program’s first six years have already borne fruit. Canadian baritones Phillip Addis and Etienne Dupuis have both started promising careers on the international stage. Members of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal are regular participants and it’s no wonder they often sound better than their COC counterparts. This year, six members will take part in CVAI, as well as Annie Sanschagrin and Lise Brunelle of Apéro à l’Opéra.

Running a high-end training program doesn’t come cheap. The $1300 tuition only covers a part of the organization’s $230,000 budget, about half of which goes towards paying the teachers. Canadian students also benefit from $20,000 in bursaries to reduce tuition. Most impressively, 75% of the budget comes from a distinguished list of donors and private sponsors led by David Sela, Jacqueline Desmarais, Power Corporation, Dr. Hans Black, the Jeunesses musicales du Canada Foundation, the Sylva M. Gelber Foundation, Hydro-Quebec and RBC. “People naturally give to causes related to education,” said Stotland who hopes to expand the school to have more students and teachers. Unfortunately, the program’s first attempt at public funding from the Montreal Arts Council was turned down, and their dream of hiring an orchestra to accompany the opera won’t be realized this year. “One day, we also hope to pay some of the interns,” said Perreault. Nevertheless, CVAI has entered a new partnership with the Festival des arts de Saint-Sauveur to present concerts there.

CVAI runs from August 2-21 at the Université de Montreal. 514-343-6427, www.icav-cvai.org

(c) La Scena Musicale