Where: The Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 22 through Tuesday, Feb. 28
Tickets: $29-$153 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca
Toronto soprano Claire de Sévigné had absolutely zero familiarity with The Birds prior to signing on for the lead role in the upcoming Pacific Opera production — which is precisely why she agreed to jump onboard.
Even though de Sévigné, a native of Hudson, Que., has extensive international experience, the opera by German composer Walter Braunfels had always escaped her purview. “I didn’t know anything about The Birds when my manager contacted me, so you have to make sure the role is right for you,” she said.
“But when I looked at the part, I immediately thought, ‘How could I have not known about this piece?’ When I was looking at the vocal writing, and sang out a few phrases I thought, ‘Oh my god, this fits me like a glove.’ I think it’s a fabulous piece. It’s an absolute gift, really.”
The four Pacific Opera performances, which get underway Wednesday at the Royal Theatre, mark the Canadian premiere of Braunfels’ opera from 1920. Though it was initially met with acclaim, it soon fell out of favour under the Nazi regime and was left largely undiscovered until 1971. The version performed today — a “free adaptation” Braunfels based on Aristophanes’ dark comedy of the same name from 414 BC — remains something of a cult classic in opera circles.
“Once I found out about it, I was asking every colleague I knew in the business — German conductors and directors, even — and very few people knew it. But once I showed it to them, they were in awe.”
De Sévigné will be joined in the upcoming performances by conductor Timothy Vernon, stage director Glynis Leyshon, tenor Adrian Kramer, and baritone Peter Barrett, among others. She describes her role as a “coloratura part,” which often requires a singularly high voice. In the second act, however, De Sévigné said her tone will adopt a fuller, more lyric sound.
It will be in this act audiences discover why de Sévigné, a Juno Award nominee who was named one of the country’s top young classical musicians by CBC, is so well regarded in singing circles.
De Sévigné, 35, said she’s ready for her close-up. “The more I sing, the more I learn. And the older I get, the more I’m in control of my instrument. It’s about putting the hours in. But it's fun to do pieces that are lesser known because then you can put your own mark on it as an artist.”
While her role in The Birds represents her main stage debut with Pacific Opera, de Sévigné is known to audiences around these parts, having sung during the pandemic with Toronto’s Aviva Fortunata in Pacific Opera’s streaming Two Sopranos, One Friendship special in 2021. De Sévigné was flown to Victoria for the recital, which was recorded live with Fortunata and pianist Kimberley-Ann Bartczak over the course of one week at the Baumann Centre.
Though no audience was present during the recording, due to provincial restrictions, de Sévigné was overjoyed at the opportunity to sing professionally while many of her peers nationwide did not have the same luxury.
That’s a credit to Pacific Opera as a company, she said. “It was incredible. I felt so fortunate to be invited out to do something. But COVID or not, Pacific Opera is always doing incredible projects, ambitious projects which they then execute so well. There was no shortage of creativity during COVID out here.”