Marianne Fiset: Voice for Mimìby Wah Keung Chan
/ April 1, 2011
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Four years after being thrust into the
limelight by her unanimous victory at the 2007 Montreal International
Music Competition (which celebrates its 10th edition this
May), Canadian soprano Marianne Fiset is finally making her “hometown”
leading role debut as Mimì in the Montreal Opera production of Puccini’s
La Bohème, which opens May 21. If it seems as if it's been a long
time coming, it's only because the opera world is scheduled so far in
advance. This Bohème marks a busy 2011 for Fiset; when we spoke
with her, she had just finished singing Musetta in Pacific Opera Victoria’s
Bohème and was off to Marseille to sing Donna Elvira in Mozart’s
Don Giovanni. Fiset’s 2012 and 2013 schedules are already filling
up with roles both nationally and internationally.
Fiset isn't complaining. “I’m very
lucky,” she said, referring to the opportunities that presented themselves
when she won the MIMC. Since then, she has travelled to Europe and across
Canada. Her two solo albums on Analekta and another with piano and horn
on ATMA have all been positively received, but the operatic excerpts
are the real gems.
Blessed with a naturally beautiful, clear
and warm voice with an even vibrato, Fiset has been evolving. In the
Montreal Opera’s September 2009 production of Puccini’s Gianni
Schicchi, Fiset’s rendition of the famous aria “O mio babbino
caro” was the vocal highlight. “Fiset’s voice just blooms,”
I tweeted from the balcony. It was unlike the others on the stage; it
was a wall of sound which enveloped the hall, something she didn’t
During her years at the Atelier lyrique
de l’Opéra de Montréal and the MIMC, Fiset studied with César Ulloa.
Unfortunately, Ulloa moved to San Francisco, so since March 2010 Fiset
has been studying with Juilliard’s Edith Bers, who also teaches Julie
Boulianne and Lelia Claire. “She was recommended by my colleagues
and also by my vocal coach, Denise Massé,” said Fiset. With Bers,
Fiset developed a new interest in working on her technique. “We work
on the placement of the voice and the breathing. We have to work so
that it becomes instinctive. Keep the voice very high and relaxed. Singing
is three things: breathing, relaxing and supporting.”
Fiset has a new appreciation for the
singing profession. “When I was a student at the Quebec Conservatory,
my professor [Madame Cestillini] had to twist my arm to work,” said
Fiset. “I wanted to sing right away. I found the richness of the sound
through the repertoire instead of the technique. I now feel more able
to control the voice and give the effect I want. There are things that
I have dusted off, and now it is easier than before. I know how to approach
certain roles, arias and songs much better than before.”
It may be surprising to know that in
a typical day, Fiset doesn’t sing much. She starts by jogging outside
around her Pointe St-Charles home with her dog for half an hour (although
she does avoid the cold in the winter). “When I can, I also do yoga,”
said Fiset. “Then I start with technique for about a half hour. I
work in full voice for an hour, not more. There is a lot of mental work:
translation, solfège, memorizing, reciting the text and working in
front of a mirror. I don’t work every day. I send e-mails, research
productions, invest in my career.”
When Fiset steps on the Montreal Opera
stage as Mimì, it will not be the first time she has sung the role.
That was in June 2009 with the Saskatoon Opera. The reviews were ecstatic:
“Both beautiful and captivating […] Marianne Fiset brings passion
and a powerful voice to the role of Mimì,” wrote Jenn Sharp of Verbnews.
“Fiset effectively creates the image of a fragile, sweet and quietly
heroic woman. She unleashes her true and arresting voice and powerfully
expresses deep pain or soaring affection,” wrote Heather Persson of
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon).
Her second staging of La Bohème
was just this past February at Pacific Opera Victoria, but this time
in the role of Musetta. “Vocally, Musetta is more active and reactive,”
said Fiset. “Musetta has emotion; she gets upset, laughs and changes
mood quickly. The placement of the voice and the intention is different.
She is very impulsive; you can see immediately what she feels and thinks.
Musetta has a good complexity too. She is very generous, heart of gold.”
Fiset feels this experience will help her approach the role of Massenet’s
Manon when she makes her Paris Opera debut in January 2012 singing two
performances and covering for Natalie Dessay. “Manon has that coequettish
Which one does she like better, Mimì
or Musetta? “Mimì is lyricism, long lines, legato, emotion, sentimental,”
said Fiset, who admits that there is a bit of the seamstress in her.
“But I hope not to have the same destiny. Mimi is reserved, thinking
and reflective and Musetta is an extrovert. That’s the major difference
between the two. I like to do both, but I have a preference for Mimì
for the magnificent music; her music is a bit more complex."
What is Fiset’s favourite scene? “For
me, it’s Act III, as I’m there from the beginning to the end. Act
IV is also really magnificent. It’s really not difficult as I’m
singing lying down, which only demands a different approach and a bit
more concentration to be sure of having enough support."
Before Montreal, Fiset will be in Marseille
singing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni
along side Canadian baritone Jean-François Lapointe in the lead role.
This will be her European operatic debut and she is quite excited. Last
summer, she prepared for the role by singing it in concert with Yannick
Nézet-Séguin, who was also doing it for the first time at home before
making his debut in Salzburg. Fiset adores the role because “Donna
Elvira is both a woman of the heart and of the head.” It was a good
exercise because Mozart has difficult lines and the challenge is to
find the right place to breathe but she hopes to also sing Donna Anna
Now that Fiset has expanded beyond Mimì,
she is setting her sights on more challenges. “I want to keep my instrument
healthy. There are some roles that are now possible, like Manon, which
is challenging vocally, physically and technically. There are other
roles that are heavier which I hope to do in a few years like Tatiana
and Violetta.” Already at ease in Russian, the Czech opera Rusalka
is within reach, especially since its "The Song to the Moon"
is one of her signature tunes. When pressed to name a fantasy role,
she admitted: “When I am 50, I would like to sing Aida; but it is
clearly not for me for the next 10 years. I find this role magnificent.”
When Fiset was 18, she had a very different
fantasy; she was studying political science with the idea of working
at an embassy in order to travel. “I stayed seven years at the Conservatory,
and each year I had doubts about whether I should continue.” Thankfully,
her talent and persistence have paid off: she now enjoys both her lifelong
dreams of traveling and singing.
» La Bohème, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier,
(Place des Arts), May 21 to June 4 www.operademontreal.com
of the Month: Mi chiamano Mimì
“Mi chiamano Mimì” or “They call
me Mimì,” sung by Mimì right after Rodolfo’s Act I aria “Che
gelida manina,” is one of many gems in Puccini’s La Bohème.
“The aria requires endurance and nuance,”
said soprano Marianne Fiset. “Puccini writes intelligently and provides
places for rest. It’s a jewel, a moment of magic. If you close your
eyes, the music takes you elsewhere. It’s a small moment of eternity
in the opera.”
The aria begins in a recitative style.
“She presents herself casually: what she does, her hobbies, and what
she likes,” said Fiset. “She makes flowers and is a seamstress.
Slowly, she opens a door to the real Mimì, who likes poetry and the
beautiful things. Then there is a change. She talks about spring and
love, and it becomes vocally more lyric.
“She starts to open up and talks about
what touches her. She is not sure Rodolfo is listening so she asks him.
She doesn’t know what more to say, so she repeats she is called Mimì
and doesn’t know why. She is a bit nervous because she is in another
man’s house. She is simple because she is reserved.”
"Now Mimì has Rodolfo’s
attention: she is a bit more coquettish and playful," said Fiset.
“She doesn’t go to church, but she prays. And she explains she lives
alone, showing that she is available; there is a feeling of flirting.
She lives in the attic, and in the spring she looks at the roof tops
and the sky.”
“The big moment comes: she is the first
to receive the sunlight and this fills her with joy, contentment, pleasure
and beauty,” said Fiset. “In ‘Ma quando vien lo sgelo’ we see
the real Mimì, radiant. Inside her is full of emotion and passion.
Rodolfo sees a new side to her. For me, it’s at this moment that Rodolfo
falls in love. Vocally, it’s there where I open the valves. You need
to nuance it. The pleasure resides in playing with different interpretations,
emotions, colours and nuances.
“Then she returns to herself, and she
says that she loves flowers although those she makes have no smell because
they are artificial. And the aria ends with Rodolfo looking at her;
she doesn’t know what more to say except: ‘I’m your neighbor who
comes at an inopportune moment.’”