Rising Stars – Emily D’Angelo: 2016 Met Opera Auditions

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Meet Canada’s latest opera sensation. Last season was 21-year-old Toronto mezzo Emily D’Angelo’s break out. Like most singers in their last year of studies, D’Angelo auditioned for multiple competitions and training programs, winning often (see sidebar), culminating in March as one of five winners of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera Auditions in New York and taking home $15,000 USD. D’Angelo’s smooth legato and dark timbre easily won over the judges with her performance of the voice lesson from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and “Must the Winter Comes so soon?” from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. Singing at the Met’s large house in front of the Met Orchestra didn’t seem to phase D’Angelo either: “It’s actually quite wonderful to sing on that stage despite the size. There is something about the air in there that allows you to trust the sound. And the Barber was premiered there, so that was special.”

Despite her success, D’Angelo is well grounded. “We singers can never feel we are 100% ready or prepared. It’s always a work in progress,” she explains. “ You have a solid product that you are ready to share, but you never know. It’s so subjective. And you just do your very best and see what happens. I was thrilled with the outcome. It’s staying humble, but always moving forward. Going to these competitions allows you to hear so many amazing singers, it opens your eyes to the international talent out there.”

The whole journey has been a learning experience for D’Angelo. “When you put yourself in a challenging year, you learn what you can do and what you can handle,” she says. “I would never have known. It’s keeping your personal life in control and staying focused, and learning what that can do.”

D’Angelo is thankful to her support team, teachers Elizabeth McDonald of the University of Toronto and Patricia McCaffery in New York, to keep her on track. When you talk to her, she mentions “hard work” in every other sentence, which for her means treating the métier like a full-time job: “It’s getting enough sleep, not going out late or to loud bars, keeping yourself healthy, practicing, learning your music, research, learning languages – a lot of things to make sure you are able to perform at the highest level you can, and learn as much as you can. This is the prime time to learn as much as you can.”

Beginnings

Emily D'Angelo mezzo, COC

Emily D’Angelo mezzo, COC

Born to a musical family (her grandmother is a pianist), Emily started singing at age three, even before speaking. Her Italian background was a major influence. “My parents had me in Italian lessons every Saturday morning until the end of high school, and I continued studying it into university,” she explains. “Opera was part of the culture. I would listen to Cecilia Bartoli and Pavarotti going to Italian school.”

D’Angelo sang alto with the Toronto Children’s Chorus for nine years, which taught her to read music and to sing in German and other languages, and gave her experience on stage including an international tour to the Musikverein in Vienna. At 15, she started private voice lessons with Heather Wilkie, who encouraged her to explore her high range. “In choir, you are trying to blend. In solo, you are the whole with the piano or orchestra,” she says. “It’s finding your voice and letting it take up space, whereas in choir, you may not have been able to give as much sound or your unique personality to that.”

In high school, D’Angelo decided to take the strings program since she was already doing so much choir and private singing. “I played cello, and cello informed my singing and my musicianship,” she says. “So often instrumentalists are told to sing, and singers are told to mimic the bow. I loved playing the Bach suites, which are challenging because they are unaccompanied and exposed. I played the Elgar Elegy and The Swan from Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals.”

In grade 12, D’Angelo decided to pursue opera studies, and she auditioned for the University of Toronto, as she was now studying privately with MacDonald. “U of T was a great place for me to explore and they gave me a lot of freedom within the curriculum to take on my own projects,” said D’Angleo. “The faculty was so wonderful.” In the summers, D’Angelo sang Sesto in Giulio Cesare at the Halifax Summer Opera Festival, Nerone in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Annio in La clemenza di Tito at the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy and Berta in The Barber of Seville at Opera York. D’Angelo also participated in the young artists programs at the Ravinia Festival and SongFest at Colburn.

Now

Metropolitain Opera Competition Finals, Photo: Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitain Opera Competition Finals, Photo: Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera

After a busy summer making her European debut at the Spoleto ­Festival under James Conlon and returning as a vocal fellow at Ravinia, D’Angelo has just joined the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, where she will sing the Zweite Dame in Die Zauberflöte, and cover the title role in Ariodante.

With a wide range, from low A to high C, D’Angelo avoids classification: “Every voice is hard to categorize, so why categorize? We should sing what feels good to us and what we love to sing. I don’t know where I see my voice progressing. I don’t have any plans for my voice as far as voice type. If it changes, we’ll follow the voice. For now, I love the repertoire I sing. It’s exciting because the voice is always changing and you don’t know what journey it will take you on. I’m happy if my voice is happy.”

» www.coc.ca, www.emilydangelo.com

The D’Angelo Year:

  • First Prize at the 2016 American National Opera Association’s Carolyn ­Bailey and Dominick Argento Vocal Competition
  • Second Prize at the 2015 OREL Foundation Ziering-Conlon competition
  • Encouragement Grants at the George London Foundation Competition (2016)
  • Gerda Lissner/Liederkranz Foundation Competition (2015)
  • 2015 Norcop Prize in Song at the University of Toronto, where she’s finishing her studies
  • First Prize and the Audience Choice Award at Centre Stage, the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio Competition
  • Winner, 2016 Met Opera Auditions

Favourite Art Songs

  • Schubert: Im Walde
  • Mahler: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
  • Messiaen: Poemes pour Mi and Harawi
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