Magazine article Opera Canada

Debut: Twenty Years after She Was Trained to Sing, Soprano Barbara Livingston Is Ready

Magazine article Opera Canada

Debut: Twenty Years after She Was Trained to Sing, Soprano Barbara Livingston Is Ready

Article excerpt

BARBARA LIVINGSTON WAS SPEAKING OVER THE phone from her hotel near the San Francisco Opera House, where she was covering Carol Vaness as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera. There's nothing unusual about SFO artistic director Lotfi Mansouri's choice of cover for the role. Livingston's lirico spinto soprano is perfect for Amelia, a part she knows inside out because she sang it for her own operatic debut. She's even tall and dark-haired like Vaness.

What is unusual is that Livingston made her debut at the age of 40, just 16 months ago in August 1998 for Pacific Opera Victoria, opposite Richard Margison. Very few singers, no matter how gifted, go directly from the relative obscurity of a small town (in Livingston's case, Campbell River on the east coast of Vancouver Island) to co-starring with one of the world's leading tenors.

It's even more remarkable considering that Livingston's musical training was 20 years ago, studying voice with Selena James (who was also Margison's teacher) at the University of Victoria. Despite Livingston's obvious gifts, she did not pursue a singing career. "I was tremendously busy," she says. "My mother got very ill. I was married with a child. My husband Calvin is a logger, and sometimes he works in the camps, so then I'm the single parent."

However, Livingston did continue to sing, mostly in Campbell River, where she remains happily settled with her husband and 11-year-old son Graeme. "Weddings, funerals, national anthems before ball games, a couple of musicals," she says with a chuckle. It kept her voice in shape, but there was still a quantum leap from Sister Mary Amnesia in the River City Players' production of Nunsense to a professional staging of Un Ballo.

Enter Timothy Vernon, artistic director of Pacific Opera Victoria, who had been worried about casting Ballo up to Margison's standards on a budget the company could afford. Vernon's worries ended early in 1997, when he heard Livingston sing at a privately arranged audition. "After a minute, I was transfixed," he enthuses. "I hadn't heard such a sound since my days as a student in the big European houses. It was an incredibly big voice With a beautiful focus to it, an open top and completely fresh. Technically, she was extremely well grounded, the tone was clear from any constrictions or bad habits and the control of the breath was outstanding. …

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