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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 2

Soprano Suzie LeBlanc returns to Montréal

by Dominique Olivier / October 1, 1999

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Delicate, simple, natural and eminently endearing is how one might describe the soprano Suzie Le Blanc, but that would give the impression of reducing her to a frozen image, of turning her into a Madonna of 17th and 18th century music. On the contrary, the singer is communicative and lively, and in her art also, she puts to advantage her spontaneity enhanced by natural grace. Her relationship with the stage is warm as well as vibrant, owing nothing to stage fright. "When I was young, I found it easier to sing before a public than to practice. My voice came out more easily‹I was more relaxed. That's rare, don't you think?"

Her musical journey, too, has been rare. Without false modesty, Suzie LeBlanc admits that she deliberately put the cart before the horse when she started her career as a professional singer before having studied singing seriously. At 8, she sang in a choir in her native Acadia. Then she took up gymnastics, swimming, and dancing, natural activities for a teenager, all the more so as her mother taught singing... "Of course, there was a musical link in the family. However, opera at the beginning frightened me. I found it ugly."

She discovered ancient music when her family moved to Montreal in 1976. "I hadn't heard much, almost nothing in fact. It was love at first sight. One evening, at a concert of the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal (SMAM) I told myself, 'that's my music.' It was as if I understood it from before. Everything was extraordinary: the harmony, the words, the tone of the instruments, the form. I absorbed it through my pores." She immediately devoted herself to the study of the harpsichord. At CEGEP, she took singing as a second subject so as to have as much time as possible for the keyboard. But then Réjean Poirier, at the time director of SMAM, asked her to sing in his choir on the occasion of his wedding. Following this, Suzie LeBlanc sometimes sang as a soloist, and with two other women-singers formed a trio called Musica Secreta. During a tour of Western Canada an opportunity presented itself when a group from Vancouver was looking for a soprano. "I asked myself if I should take this job, which was professional and almost full time or continue the harpsichord. I chose singing and learned the craft on stage."

The soprano saw that she was indeed made for this art. "I sensed that I had the personality. But it was a choice that came with difficulties. Acquiring one's education on stage can be stressful." Finally, after three years, she decided to study singing in Europe. "In this I didn't succeed either, at least not as I had expected." For just as she was about to leave, she received a call from Anthony Rooley, Emma Kirkby's husband. He offered her a part singing with The Consorte of Musicke, replacing the British soprano for 8 months. "I didn't have a choice. This was my path. In any case I was ready to take the plunge again. It was an apprenticeship at one hundred miles an hour." On a technical level the singer was not as self-assured as others accustomed to many years of exercise. "Sometimes I woke up in the morning wondering how it was all going to turn out that day. Often it was a question of rediscovering everything. Each challenge had to be solved in a concrete fashion by evening."

To remedy her technical weaknesses, the soprano did what always worked for her. She dove in. "When performing, I never thought of technique. My way of working was to give." In her mid-thirties, she has managed to perfect her technique retaining, all the while, a natural manner that makes her deeply touching. While praising her nimbleness and control as well as the beauty of her voice, one cannot remain insensitive to the generosity of her musical personality.

Apart from known artists such as Rinaldo Alessandrini, Ton Koopman, Reinhardt Goebel, she sings regularly with the lute player Steven Stubbs, and she mentions a few names dear to her: Richard Egarr, Jaap ter Linden, Andrew Manze, Rachel Podger, Paul O'Dette. "These are people who love to create in a very spontaneous way, like me, who do not necessarily have one way to do things. We experience music in the same way, with a lot of freedom." [Translation : Tom Levitt]

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