Kirsten MacKinnon

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Kirsten MacKinnon — 2017 Metropolitan Opera Auditions

By Adrian Rodriguez

In March this year, Vancouver soprano Kirsten MacKinnon was selected as one of six winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, one of the most prestigious singing contests in the world. She thus joins the ranks of such legendary sopranos as Renée Fleming, Jessye Norman and June Anderson.

“I’m not going to lie, I was wicked nervous to be singing at the Met, but I knew my music well. Also I could lean on the fact that I had done the work that was necessary. For a couple of years I had been working on refining my technique. Then I did a couple of international auditions, so the repertoire had time to settle comfortably in my body. When it came time to perform, I was ready.”

She shared her experience of singing on the Met stage, where the semi-finals and finals of the competition were held. “I was actually pleasantly surprised, because you would think that singers have to give a lot more voice because the size of the hall, but I found that the acoustics were actually really pleasant. With some big houses you are worried that your artistry is going to be limited, but I truly felt that when the tone is supported even the softest color would carry, which is such a relief!”

Early beginnings

MacKinnon was an early bloomer and started singing lessons at six years old, looking up to Renée Fleming, particularly for her passion and interpretation of Strauss’ music. To her great surprise, Fleming hosted the finals of the competition. “I got to meet her and I have to say I was definitely star-struck.”

Although she considers herself lucky to have found the right teacher at a young age, she offered words of caution about starting early, “It’s dangerous, because bad habits can also creep in early. That’s why I consider myself lucky. You have to be very careful, very clear, and really health-conscious. For a six-year old my voice was pretty big, so my teacher had to work with me on my mindset. Because if you have a big voice, no matter your age, the danger is to enjoy making it bigger, which is often unhelpful. Bigger is not always better.”

After high school MacKinnon was accepted directly into the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia for undergraduate studies in singing performance. A few years into the program, she wondered if she was in the right profession: “Singing is a life choice and you can’t be casual about it. You have to be really sure. There came a point where I didn’t know. I wasn’t even humming in the shower!” She experimented and tried on some other hats. Eventually she rediscovered her love for classical singing and finished her studies at Curtis.

Her schedule this year is very busy. Upcoming performances include Micaëla with Opera Philadelphia, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at the Glyndebourne Festival, and Inès in L’Africaine with Oper Frankfurt.

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