Magazine article Opera Canada

Glitter and Be Gay: Coloratura Soprano Tracy Dahl Founds Her Flair for the Comic on a Very Precise Musicianship

Magazine article Opera Canada

Glitter and Be Gay: Coloratura Soprano Tracy Dahl Founds Her Flair for the Comic on a Very Precise Musicianship

Article excerpt

To most opera-goers, the name Tracy Dahl invokes the image of a diminutive redhaired woman with an incredible voice, "filled with sunshine, rainbows and laser light," as critic Michael Margolin of Opera magazine so aptly put it. It's not surprising that her ability to sing as so few people can--displaying agility and clarity even in the most florid and stratospheric passages--attracts attention and admiration. But it should be noted that it's a unique combination of talents, not just her amazing voice, that has brought about her rise to international stardom.

No less important is Dahl's abilities as an actress, a fact that is sometimes overlooked by critics smitten with her coloratura soprano. To be done well, the comic roles she frequently performs--such as Adele in Die Fledermus, Rosina in II Barbiere di Siviglia, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Marie in La Fille du Regiment (her personal favorite)--require a precise sense of timing and characterization. Says Dahl: "Comic roles change with every new production, because they have to be worked out with each new cast. In a comic opera or operetta, the singers have to play off of one another. The ensemble has to work, or the result just won't be funny." Certainly anyone who saw her as a Madonna-esque Zerbinetta in the COC's 1995 production of Ariadne auf Naxos can attest to the inspired way in which she and Isabelle Vernet as Ariadne worked together to find humor in almost every gesture and phrase.

Dahl is quick to point out that funny doesn't necessarily mean stupid where comic roles are concerned. "I suppose it's fair to say that Cunegonde in Candide is a bit of an air-head," she admits. "But many other coloratura characters are actually pretty clever, even if they don't at first seem to be. In fact, they often end up outwitting the characters who are supposed to be the smart ones." And what great opera singer does she credit as a leading influence on her comic acting? Dahl unashamedly names television comedienne Carol Burnett as an inspiration for much of her delightful stage humor.

In fact, the Winnpeg-based performer began working in musical and spoken theatre, but after a few years, she decided to attend the Banff Centre, where she studied with Mary Morrison. At 22, she entered the San Francisco Opera's prestigious Merola training program, and she hasn't looked back.

Soon, this young Canadian was singing all over country: at the COC as Sophie in Werther, Adele in Die Fledermaus and Nannetta in Falstaff; and in major roles with most of the other companies in the country. In 1991, she made her first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in Die Fledermaus, in one of those Met debuts that live on in legend: a last-minute substitution for an ailing Adele on opening night. Clearly impressed, New York critic Peter Goodman wrote, "Tracy Dahl, stepping in as Adele the chambermaid for the indisposed Barbara Kilduff, popped onto the stage like a cork in Act I and continued fizzing all night long."

It is tempting to report that the Met's management, upon hearing her as Adele, immediately engaged her for the following season, but that would be bending the truth. In fact, they had already engaged her for the following season, for its 1992 world-premiere production of The Ghosts of Versailles.

These days, Dahl is busier than ever. In engagements with companies throughout North America--including numerous appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Washington Opera and the Canadian Opera Company--she has, at the age of 34, established herself as one of this continent's leading opera artists. And in recent years she has also appeared in Europe: at the Hamburg State Opera as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, as Olympia in Les Contes d'Hoffmann at Paris's Theatre du Chatelet and as Blonde in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail at the Aixen-Provence Festival.

According to Mary Morrison, her long-time teacher and vocal coach, Dahl possesses a rare musicianship that complements her vocal gifts. …

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