Corona Serenades: Q&A with Nils Brown, tenor (Canada)

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Meet Nils Brown, tenor (Canada), singer for CORONA Sérénades


Australian-born Nils Brown makes his home in Montreal. He is regularly engaged by major orchestras and choral organizations in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. He has appeared with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic, Edmonton Symphony, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, I Musici de Montréal, Portland Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Four Nations Ensemble, Washington Bach Consort, Lamèque Baroque Festival, Elora Singers, Tafelmusik, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Bach Choir of Bethlehem, CBC Vancouver Orchestra and Aradia Ensemble. He has recorded with the Aradia Ensemble, American Bach Society and Washington Bach Consort. Nils has toured Germany and the Czech Republic performing the Mozart Requiem. Last summer he performed in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He was a soloist in the Jonathan Miller staging at the Brooklyn Academy of Music of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, a performance documented on DVD.

How has the crisis affected you?

A series of performances in Montreal of the opera Nicandro e Fileno by Paolo Lorenzani (1640–1713) is cancelled. This was a reprise of a well-received 2018 production and recording on ATMA Classique with Le Nouvel Opéra and Les Boréades. Also cancelled are summer performances of a Rameau/Telemann program with Ensemble Caprice at the Montreal Baroque Festival and Music and Beyond in Ottawa.

Most disappointing is that a reignition of an old project of Neapolitan and Italian songs with guitarist-mandolinist Jordan Officer has been put off indefinitely. After rehearsing through the winter with bass player Mark Peetsma (of Kleztory), the plan was that Jordan would join us in May for a show and a video clip of Lucio Dalla’s song “Le rondini.” Jordan, a brilliant Montreal blues and swing player had five projects on the go and was graciously making time for me. He will have to get all those projects cranked up again, but I think he’ll join us at some point down the long road back, which is now the challenge of all performing artists for the time being. In the past we’ve recorded a self-produced album which never found a label. Maybe it’s time to actually release it commercially.

What are your five favourite operas?

I tend to like any opera where I find that the development of musical language is at the perfect stage to express the subject matter of the story at hand.

Otello (Verdi).
First choice is Vickers/Gobbi/Rysanek/Tullio Serafin. But a VERY close second is Del Monaco/Protti/Tebaldi/Herbert von Karajan.

Tristan und Isolde (Wagner). Vickers/Dernesch, Herbert von Karajan.

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni).
I grew up with Bjorling/Milanov/Bastianini, but the recordings conducted by Mascagni himself are very informative, with Santuzza sung by a lighter voice type compared with what is assumed today to be a proper Santuzza, which normally means re-calibrating to the tenor part to a heavier tenor. Simionato was playing Mamma Lucia; she eventually became famous for her Santuzza, bringing about the change mentioned above. Tip: The most beautiful prelude and intermezzo are on the Japanese NHK Television broadcasts/recordings of the visiting La Scala company in the early 1960s, Giuseppe Morelli conducting.

Elektra (Strauss).
Birgit Nilsson, of course. Also with Christa Ludwig and the coolest cat in opera, Orest, sung so well by Tom Krause, and the infallible, unbelievable Georg Solti at the helm. Amazing to think that Nilsson sang this role at Place des Arts during Expo 67.

Tosca (Puccini). Callas/Di Stefano/Gobbi. Everyone has said all the good things about this recording so anything I say is redundant. All I can say is I mourn Maria Callas’ sad passing every time I think of her and always wish I, or someone else, could have been there for her. I realized recently that Callas and Jim Morrison lived in Paris at around the same time, and I do wonder if they could have saved each other. It was not to be, and the modern Dionysus and his would-be Ariadne are buried in the same Père Lachaise Cemetery – but separately.

What movies, television shows and books do you recommend?

I am a big non-fiction fan, so as it became apparent that this might be a big shutdown, I laid in a copy of Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, the first volume of a trilogy. At 793 pages, I certainly hope it gets me through. If you can’t get his book – and it’s best not to needlessly overtax the postal and delivery systems at this point – look up the following lecture on YouTube: Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture: Stephen Kotkin.

Why did you join CORONA Serenades?

I joined CORONA Serenades because my performances on Facebook seemed to be inspiring people to persevere during this crisis. I don’t know why, but there has always been an aspect of ministry in my work with these Italian songs, sung with guitar. I have been told this constantly by people who encounter my music. If I can inspire or entertain during this difficult moment in our history, this will reassure me that the long years of maintaining this repertoire and my voice were worth the effort, especially if CORONA Serenades can connect me with our brilliant and brave healthcare workers, and most especially, to people actually suffering from this horrible disease, COVID-19. This is why I am an artist, after all: to be of service to others.

All performing artists are facing a shutdown in Montreal, and this program offers a certain amount of activity and opportunity, for which I am extremely grateful. If it goes well and travel is possible, I would love to go to Italy in the autumn and sing this music for the people of that terribly injured country. If I keep busy, I would be in terrific shape to do this!


This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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