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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 15, No. 9 June 2010

From hockey rink to opera house: Elliot Madore, Met Auditions Winner

by Joseph So / June 1, 2010

Flash version here.

Toronto-born baritone Elliot Madore is the latest Canadian to garner international attention. In March, he won the coveted Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the prize of $15,000, followed by the equally prestigious George London Foundation Award ($10,000), named after the great Canadian baritone. Madore follows a long line of Canadian winners at the Met Auditions, including Teresa Stratas, Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, and most recently Simone Osborne in 2008. At 22, Madore was one of the youngest winners at the Met Auditions. But don’t let his youth fool you: Madore is already an old hand at singing to large audiences. From the age of 13, he has sung the national anthem over 30 times at Toronto Maple Leafs home games. His mother took him to the open auditions and he was picked among hundreds of hopefuls. The ice to the microphone transition was easy for the hockey-loving Madore—“I was a defenseman.” Madore attended the Etobicoke School of the Arts, an arts-focused high school where talented students are nurtured. He first studied singing with retired Canadian soprano Lois McDonall—“she’s an incredible teacher.” Madore later auditioned for renowned voice teacher Marlena Malas at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; Malas remains his teacher today.

Blessed with a beautiful, warm lyric baritone, a trim athletic build and pop star good looks, it didn’t take long for Madore to be noticed, and his ascent has already caused quite a buzz in the opera world. Considered a good prospect by those on the hunt for new talent, Madore has already signed with an agent, and gigs are coming his way. He will join the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Program where he will hone his skills for the next three years. When reached by phone in Philadelphia, Madore was in rehearsals as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Curtis Institute where he is finishing his master’s degree. Over the phone, his resonant, manly speaking voice made a strong impression, as did his easy-going, friendly manner.

LSM: Had your voice broken when you started singing at the Leafs games?

EM: I think it had just broken. My voice was always very seamless; it was like I woke up one morning and it was lower. My grandmother just sent me a cassette tape when I was a treble. The quality was already there—there’s a similarity to the voice I had then and the voice I have now.

You’ve been quoted as saying you came to opera late… when did you see your first opera?

My mother took me to Billy Budd at the COC. I must have been 12 or 13 and I had a difficult time with it. Later, I bought a funny CD with a soldier on the cover looking all depressed and sad. It was Wozzeck. I remember listening to it and I absolutely loved it! I thought it was incredible for some reason—I must have been a strange kid!

As a lyric baritone, what repertoire do you think your voice is best suited to?

The goal is to make your voice able to sing everything and in any language. If I had a preference, it’s French repertoire, as I speak French. It’s a lot easier for me. Dream roles? Eugene Onegin is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve sung Don Giovanni—that used to be one of my dream roles. Absolutely there are lots of Verdi baritone roles, but these are things I can’t touch right now because I’m so young.

Who are the singers you listen to the most? Do you have role models?

Gerald Finley—he’s one of my favourite singers ever. When I first heard him sing “Batter My Heart” in Doctor Atomic, I remember thinking to myself that this is something I absolutely have to do. I also listen to Simon Keenlyside and Thomas Allen—I’d say they are my three favourites. I love Fischer-Dieskau… I think he has something to say. I also listen to a lot of the singers from the past, Bastianini and de Luca. I’ve had a chance to listen to Jonas Kaufmann in Tosca—he’s definitely one of the most exciting singers today. So many singers to look up to and learn from!

Since you’ve only just turned 23, are there more competitions in your future?

Yeah, there are lots of competitions in which I still want to participate. Recently I turned down a couple of things because I needed a break. Before I did the Met Auditions, I was doing the Houston Grand Opera competition. I reached the finalists but didn’t place… I was pretty disheartened by that. But right after that I won the Met. The thing with competitions is that it’s really up to the judges and their tastes.

What are your immediate plans?

I’ll be in Europe on a recital tour with Curtis to Rome, Paris, and Berlin. I am going with a string quartet. I’d love to go to Europe to sing. This summer I’m doing two roles in Ariadne auf Naxos at Tanglewood, the Music Master and Harlequin. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that James Levine will be OK.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to play lots of sports: hockey, tennis and baseball. I read a lot. I try to keep myself busy. As for music, I really enjoy jazz. In high school, I sang a lot of big band music, like Frank Sinatra. I sang with the Toronto All Star Big Band. We had a good time!

Where do you hope to be in ten years time professionally?

My goal is to be working around the globe singing. Up to this point all I’ve dreamed of is to get to the Met, and in a way I’ll be there for the next three years. One of my other dreams is to sing at the COC; I want to do that badly.

What aspect of your voice do you think you’ll need to work on?

I’ve been blessed with having great teachers and coaches who helped me develop a solid technique… but of course there are always things to work on. I would say it’s to become a better artist, to connect more to the text, to understand what is going on in the score, and to really do what the composer asks. We are just vehicles for them.

(c) La Scena Musicale