• James Armstrong

Saint-Lazare soprano stars in Opéra de Montréal production

Soprano Myriam Leblanc is performing the role of Gilda in the Opéra de Montréal production of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi. Leblanc, who grew up in Saint-Lazare, was exposed to classical music from an early age. “I started taking violin at the age of five,” she told The Journal adding, “and my older brothers and sisters played piano.”

Summer camp opera discovery

She discovered opera and her voice while attending summer camp.

“One summer, they played a recording of Puccini’s La Bohème and that was the first time in my life that I heard an opera,” she recounted. “I really fell in love with it. I found it so beautiful.”

It was her camp music teacher who discovered that Leblanc had an exceptional singing voice. “We were singing some parts from the opera and reading the score and she said I had a nice voice and that I should definitely take some lessons,” said Leblanc. “I didn’t know that I had a voice, so I took lessons for the three weeks of the camp.”

Leblanc, who was about 14 years old at the time, finished the camp session in voice rather than violin much to the surprise of her parents.

“I didn’t tell my parents until the end of the camp when they came for the concert,” she said and that’s when they found out she was performing as a vocalist, not as a violinist.

Career as a singer

Leblanc continued to develop her voice and explored the world of opera as she graduated from McGill University with a degree in vocal studies.

“And then I stopped singing,” she said. “I had a little crisis. I stopped singing for four years because I didn’t think I was strong enough.” The hiatus in her music career ended when she rediscovered her love of music and decided to obtain a Master’s degree in choir direction from the Université de Sherbrooke.

“This is where I fell in love with voice, again,” she said. “I took three lessons with (famed soprano) Yolande Parent and then competed in some vocal contests and won three or four prizes.” Leblanc took this as a sign that she should continue pursuing a vocal career.

Role in Rigoletto

In her role as Gilda, LeBlanc portrays an innocent young woman, the daughter of Rigoletto, a cruel court jester in the court of the Duke of Mantua. Although Rigoletto attempts to keep his daughter out of the duke’s sight, the young woman is eventually discovered and seduced by the unscrupulous duke. The plot thickens as the angry jester hires an assassin to avenge Gilda’s honour and there are no spoilers here.

Favorite opera

Leblanc describes her voice as a lyric coloratura soprano, an operatic soprano voice that is trained to sing music distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills or ornaments. When she heard her first opera, the beauty of the voices and the music caught her. Leblanc was impressed by the combination of instrumental and vocal music, theatre, drama, and storytelling.

“I don’t have a voice for pop music,” she said. Leblanc encouraged any youngsters considering a vocal career in opera to study other instruments and languages, as well.

“Every instrument has a voice and there is so much to learn from that,” she said adding, “Between the ages of eight and 18, the voice changes so much.”

Leblanc describes herself as a fanatic for vocal technique. “I really pay attention to my voice,” she said. “I have to be in touch with how I feel and not push my voice.”

At the same time, very few opera singers have had a perfect career, she pointed out. “At some point, they push their voice, realize the mistake and readjust,” she added. Leblanc’s favorite opera is Verdi’s La Traviata and she looks forward to singing the lead role of Violetta. She described that role as a more mature Gilda.

“Violetta knows what she wants and has experience,” she said as opposed to the younger Gilda, “who is a little girl who never says anything.”

How to get there

The Opéra de Montréal production of Rigoletto opens on Saturday, September 15 in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts in Montreal and runs Tuesday, September 18, Thursday, September 20 and closes Saturday, September 22. Tickets are available online at www.operademontreal.com.

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