Magazine article Opera Canada

At a Crossroads: After 20 Years on the Stage at Home and Abroad, Tenor Michael Schade Thinks the Time Is Right to Strike out in New Directions

Magazine article Opera Canada

At a Crossroads: After 20 Years on the Stage at Home and Abroad, Tenor Michael Schade Thinks the Time Is Right to Strike out in New Directions

Article excerpt

IT seems scarcely credible that 20 years have gone by since Canadian lyric tenor Michael Schade, then 23, first appeared on the professional stage as Jaquino in Beethoven's Fidelio for Pacific Opera Victoria. Since then, the extraordinarily gifted singer has carved out an enviable international career as a renowned recitalist, concert and recording artist and opera singer. But as he approaches his 44th birthday (on Jan. 23), Schade concedes he's at a crossroads in his career, proud of his many successes and accomplishments, but restless and eager for new challenges. "I suppose I'm getting to an age and a certain artistic level that it is now more important for me to find interesting projects," he says. "The status quo no longer interests me. Simply going somewhere just because they need an Ottavio or Ferrando doesn't interest me as much any more. And while the opera world won't lose me, I'm certainly going to be doing a lot more concerts in the future."

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As he looks to the future, part of Schade's thinking is shaped by personal geography. Born in Switzerland of German parentage, he was raised and educated in Toronto, where he continues to live with his new partner, Canadian Dee McKee, and their combined household of eight children ranging in age from 2 (Eva) to 18 (Laura, now an undergraduate at McGill University). Given the tenor's unrelenting performance schedule and largely European-based career, however, he has, out of necessity, a second residence in Vienna that serves as the base for his European activities. The ocean and almost 7,000 km separating the Austrian capital from Toronto is a daunting obstacle."I admit it's a challenge just to see my children--and it's certainly expensive--but we actually do a lot better than most people think," he says. "I've never felt more connected to anyone in my life than to Dee. She's a wonderful communicator. And as for the children, thank God for iChat!" The Salzburg Festival has also been a regular part of Schade's summer schedule since 1994, so everyone can be together there for a full seven weeks during the holidays, scooting around the city on bikes like a latter-day version of The Sound of Music's von Trapp family. "Salzburg is a wonderful place, and we actually get to live a more or less normal family life there."

No Canadian singer has forged such a deep and rewarding connection with Austrian musical life--and with Vienna and the Vienna State Opera (VSO) in particular--as Schade (though soprano Adrianne Pieczonka would come close). Indeed, since his VSO debut in 1992, Schade has appeared on its stage every season, chalking up about 200 performances with the prestigious company. This season alone, the ebullient, larger-than-life tenor has starred in the VSO's production of Richard Strauss's Capriccio opposite American superstar Renee Fleming, and taken part in the VSO's tour to Japan last October with Mozart's Cosi fan tutte under conductor Riccardo Muti. Later in the season, he returns to the historic Staatsoper for performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni (May '09) and for a revival of its spirited production of Strauss's comedy, Die schweigsame Frau (June '09), opposite one of his favorite artists, the sensational German coloratura soprano, Diana Damrau. That's an impressive schedule for one opera company in one season.

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Austria's gain, however, is Canada's loss, and his appearances here, on the opera stage especially, have been all too infrequent. Although he has managed a few recital and concert performances on a fairly regular basis over the years, his last appearance in an opera on Canadian soil was with the Canadian Opera Company in the delightful 2002 production of Rossini's II viaggio a Reims. But that situation looks set to change, both in the immediate future and the long term. Schade has already had talks with Alexander Neef, the COC's recently installed General Director. …

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