Magazine article Opera Canada

Competitive Patter: In a Chapter from a Work-in-Progress Detailing an Earlier Incarnation as an Opera Singer, Bass Christopher Cameron Relives the Terror and Unpredictability of a Singing Competition for Young Artists

Magazine article Opera Canada

Competitive Patter: In a Chapter from a Work-in-Progress Detailing an Earlier Incarnation as an Opera Singer, Bass Christopher Cameron Relives the Terror and Unpredictability of a Singing Competition for Young Artists

Article excerpt

I was never able to solve the mystery of singing competitions--neither how to do well in one consistently, nor why any sensible musician would subject himself to the ordeal and frustration of one. But as W. H. Auden noted: "No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible."

I entered a few competitions early on in my career, mainly because everyone else did. We all had a vague notion that if you won one, somehow fame and fortune would follow automatically. In some of the competitions I entered, I had a little success, but in others I barely got out of the starting gate before being eliminated. There seemed to be no rational explanation for the results either way. Good singers could be left at the sidelines and appalling singers could go home with the trophy after what seemed like a purely arbitrary set of decisions and judgments. It was maddening.

Sometimes, though, it was just possible to land face-first in a bowl of cherries.

In January 1982, the Canadian Opera Company, with the help of the late Peter Sandor as benefactor, inaugurated the Mozart Singers Competition. I had taken a month off from my contract with the COC Ensemble Studio to sing the role of Dr. Bartolo in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro for Calgary Opera. It wasn't a show I had particularly wanted to do. I was only hired to sing one performance with the student matinee cast, and my previous experience with a student matinee in Calgary had not been a joyful one (one reviewer had referred to our production of The Mikado a few years earlier as "a three-hour embarrassment"). Moreover, I secretly harboured ambitions to sing Mozarts Figaro myself, although no one ever hired me for that. Each time I was in the opera, I continued to believe they should have. But I loved singing Mozart and I loved working with the people in Calgary; most of the cast were good friends and colleagues. It was an easy and successful gig, despite the dark, frigid Alberta winter and the tinder-dry air that freeze-dried our sinuses and made our voices crackle and pop like sparks of static electricity.

A few days before I was to fly home, I got a call from Irene Wronski, the Ensemble coordinator. The first Canadian Mozart Singers' Competition was to take place the next week and they were apparently short of qualified competitors, especially those at the bass end of the register. The competition was being held in conjunction with the COC Ensemble auditions for the following season. In fact, many of the singers had entered the competition hoping to win Ensemble contracts rather than from any interest in Mozarts music. At any rate, someone had suggested that I could drop in just to fill out the roster for the finals.

"But I didn't enter the competition," I pointed out.

Didn't matter.

"Don't I have to go through the preliminary rounds or something?"

No.

"I'm not home till the day before," I said, unhelpfully. "What do I have to do then?" Just show up at the O'Keefe Centre with three arias, Irene told me. Any three as long as they are by Mozart. And wear something nice.

I knew I could haul two arias out of my Schirmer Operatic Anthology and sing them with no preparation--"Madamina," the Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni, and "O Isis und Osiris," Sarastro's solemn prayer from Die Zaubeiflote. For my third choice, I decided I would take Bartolo's aria, "La Vendetta," from the opera I was currently singing in Calgary.

"La Vendetta" is a good showpiece, with some rapid-fire patter in the middle that could be impressive. It also had the advantage of being fairly short, which judges like. But there was a problem. In Calgary, we were doing the opera in an English translation, not in Italian, and I only knew the aria in English. I was planning to learn the Italian version, but hadn't gotten the patter down. Imagine singing the following words:

Se tutto il codice dovesse volgere, se tutto I'indice dovesse legere; Con un equivoco, con un sinonimo, qualche garbuglio si trovera. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.