Phillip Addis & Michèle Losier : Werther & Charlotteby Wah Keung Chan
/ December 1, 2010
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It’s been five years since 33-year-old
baritone Phillip Addis and 32-year-old mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier
have sung together in Montreal, in OdM’s production of Chabrier’s
L’Etoile. Since then, both Canadians have taken different paths
to success. Each now has New York agents and contracts for the next
few years. In January, when they reunite as headliners in Montreal Opera’s
production of Massenet’s Werther, they return as bona fide
rising stars in the international opera world.
Phillip Addis started his singing career at a young age in the Halifax
Children’s Chorus and the Toronto Children’s Chorus. “It was really
a decision made by my parents,” said Addis. A career in singing was
not on his mind while he was in high school. Although he sang in choirs,
took up the baritone horn and the tuba in music class and played bass
in a rock band, he had his sights set on becoming a civil engineer.
When he applied for university, he felt
he should give music a try and he was accepted at Queens University
for his tuba skills. “It’s a small program, but it had the flexibility
that was ideal for me,” he said. While taking part in the chamber
choir at Queens, the choir director suggested that he take up singing.
“That first lesson with Bruce Kelly was really exciting and I felt
a big door open. I was a mediocre tuba player but felt at home in singing,”
he explained. In his third year, Addis switched to a major in voice,
studying with Kelly. As luck would have it, Addis received immediate
stage experience in a student production of a new opera by Ron Beckett
that needed a baritone. Living just five minutes away from campus allowed
him to immerse himself in both voice and opera; he spent most of
his time in the practice room and at the library watching videos and
listening to recordings.
Addis then started his artist diploma
in Opera at the University of Toronto, studying with Patricia Kern.
There, Addis met and started dating pianist and vocal coach Emily Hamper.
In 2002, Addis joined the Atelier lyrique of the Opéra de Montréal,
and Emily joined in 2003 as a vocal coach. Today, Emily and Phillip
are partners in music and life. “She is my toughest critic,” said
Addis. In Montreal, Addis studied with César Ulloa. “He helped me
to sing more consistently.”
Michele Losier’s dream of being an opera singer goes back to age six,
when she heard recordings of Pavarotti and Virginia Zeani, and watched
opera on TV. Although Losier is half Acadian on her father’s side,
she wasn’t aware of the Acadian line of accomplished singers such
as Rosemary Landry, Adrienne Savoie and Nathalie Paulin until she was
in her 20s. Growing up in the small town of Saint-Isidore, New Brunswick,
her dream became a distant memory as she became active in sports (figure
skating) and piano studies. “I really didn’t know that I could sing,”
At age 12, after her parents divorced,
Losier moved to Montreal with her mother. She continued private piano
studies at Vincent d’Indy and then, in 1995, at Cegep Marie-Victorin
in piano performance under Francine Chabot. In 1996, while singing in
the school choir, director and contralto Madeleine Jalbert suggested
she take voice lessons. “It was the marriage of two of my passions,
music and theatre,” said Losier. At age 20, Losier decided to go to
university in Voice instead of pursuing her other dream of becoming
a doctor. “My friends and family were worried that I was making a
mistake,” she said.
She wanted to improve her English and
had a good feeling about McGill. There, under Winston Purdy, Losier
excelled, appearing in the school’s productions. After graduation
in 2002, thanks to the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques Program, Losier
made her professional operatic debut at Avignon Opera and Nancy Opera,
in France, in the Mozart roles of Dorabella and Zerlina respectively.
At this time, she began studying with soprano Lyne Fortin, and within
two years continued her studies with Fortin’s teacher Marlena Malas.
In 2003, Losier entered the Atelier lyrique
of the Montreal Opera. “I was looking for an apprentice program,”
said Losier. Montreal audiences immediately saw her as Cherubino in
the main stage production of Mozart’s The Marriage of
Figaro. “I started getting nervous, because I suddenly realized
that I could have a career,” she said.
Here, Losier met Addis. At the 2004 MSO
Competition, Addis placed first and Losier second. “Our paths would
always cross. Sometimes, I came ahead of him, and other times, he was
ahead of me,” recalled Losier.
Just months earlier, in May 2004, Addis was going through an experiment.
“People were telling me that I could be a tenor, so I thought I should
give it a go,” he explained. Neither Hamper nor Ulloa liked the idea,
but they went along with it. That two-month period ended with Addis
almost loosing his voice to fatigue. “I could sing the high notes,
but the tessitura was just too high for me,” said Addis. “I was
torturing myself. It was a great learning experience, in terms of how
my voice works and knowing whom to trust,” he recalled.
Back as a baritone, 2004-2005 became
Addis’s year, as he won the 2004 MSO Competition, the OSQ Competition
and placed fourth in the 2005 Montreal International Music Competition.
That same year, Losier went on to be a finalist at the 2005 Met Auditions.
The Intervening Years
For a young singer, the period between training and an active career
is always precarious, filled with the uncertainties of auditions and
a life on the road. After Atelier lyrique, Losier spent a year at the
Juilliard Opera Center studying with Malas. Stage director Stephen Wadsworth
was so impressed by Losier’s participation in his drama class that
he championed her career. “She has a presence,” Wadsworth told Radio-Canada,
taking her to productions in Los Angeles, Seattle and the Met.
Losier’s last competition was at the
2008 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, where she finished as a
finalist. “I tried to approach it as a professional instead of as
a student—it put a lot of pressure on me and it tired me,” said
Losier, who nevertheless ended up with a recording of Duparc songs with
the Belgium label Fuga Libera.
Meanwhile, Addis had parlayed his success
at the Montreal competition into a role at the Opéra de Marseille.
In the last two years, his schedule has been filled with new roles.
Two years ago, he was a convincing Zurga in The Pearl Fishers
in Montreal, followed by Belcore in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore with
Atlanta Opera, his New York debut as Roderick Usher in Debussy's The
Fall of the House of Usher with Opéra Français de New York, his
role debut as John Brooke in the Canadian premiere of Mark Adamo's
Little Women with Calgary Opera and as the Count in Mozart's The
Marriage of Figaro. His greatest triumph to date has been his portrayal
of Pelléas at the Opéra Comique in Paris in June under Sir John Eliot
Addis’s advice to getting hired and
rehired is above all “… preparation, and it takes a lot of practice
and study. There is so much to learn, you can never study too much.
The next thing is the strong emotional commitment to the work you are
presenting and to the audience. It involves letting go of technique.
You have to be really lively in performance and it takes a while to
know how to pull it off.”
Losier’s big break came in January 2009, when Australia Opera was
looking for a Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther to replace contralto
Pamela Helen Stephen, who withdrew following the death of her husband
Richard Hickox, the company’s music director. “I was recommended
by English Opera with just one month’s notice,” said Losier who
spent the time in New York preparing the role with Malas. “The five-week
rehearsal period also helped.” Losier is used to singing secondary
trouser roles, and Charlotte is a pinnacle for any lyric mezzo as she
is on stage throughout Act III and IV. “It’s finding the right balance
between the lyric and the drama,” said Losier. “You want to share
the emotion, but you don’t want the voice to suffer from the emotions.”
The role fits Losier like a glove and
the reviews were glowing. IMG came calling, as did Montreal Opera’s
artistic director Michel Beaulac, who offered Losier the chance to reprise
the role in her hometown. “There is nothing more cherishing than coming
back home and seeing the ones who love you, who encouraged you and knew
you from the beginning,” said Losier.
Based on Goethe’s somewhat autobiographic
novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, Massenet’s Werther
tells the doomed love of a young poet for a beautiful girl, Charlotte,
who is married to someone else; unable to fulfill this love, Werther
takes his own life. Massenet’s version differs in that Charlotte is
with Werther when he dies. “Charlotte falls in love with Werther when
she realizes that she misses him at the end of Act II,” said Losier.
“Phillip and Michèle are two of the
most exciting young singers of the new generation,” said Beaulac.
“Michele is perfect for the role vocally and being French-speaking,
her understanding of the part gives her a dramatic edge. I chose to
present Werther in the baritone version because the part gains
intensity with a baritone voice, which I feel is more suited to the
romantic character. Phillip’s French is exemplary. His vocal elegance,
refinement and intelligence will give the character its full dimension.”
For Addis, this baritone version of Werther
is a unique project. Since it is rarely done, Addis can customize the
music to fit his voice. “There are middle areas where I can choose
between the tenor and baritone versions,” he said. “I like the final
scene with Charlotte. It’s emotionally raw.”
Montreal will use the Opera Australia
production although Beaulac said that it would be set at the beginning
of the 20th Century. Is the story of Werther relevant today? “When
we did the staging in Sydney, it was set in modern times with modern
sets, and we had this debate,” said Losier. “In today’s love stories,
there is always one person who loves more. There is the debate of who
will leave whom, the fear of abandonment and the fear of losing someone.
Love is always current.”
Werther, Opéra de Montréal, January 22, 26, 29, 31 and February