I met with the lovers in La Bohème, Mimì (Frédérique Vézina) and
Rodolfo (David Pomeroy) for a joint interview. We had a great time, and
shared some laughs.
AN: What drew you to opera?
DP: I was
born in Newfoundland, my grandfather was a musician; he had a doctorate
in music studies, and was an organist and choir master. So, when I was
kid, he taught me some classical music, and I played the piano.When I was a teenager I played guitar in a rock and roll band
[Frédérique requests an excerpt. David responds that he was unable to
sing that repertoire anymore], and then I went to University for music,
but didn’t think I was going to be an opera singer; the plan was to
stay singing with my band, but after I started studying singing more
seriously, my teacher said to me, “You should go up to the Music
Library and listen to a recording of this aria by this singer” and the
aria was Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti. I hadn’t heard anything
like it before—I was 20 years old and I didn’t really know all that
much about opera. I went up and listened to that recording and pressed
rewind, and pressed rewind, and pressed rewind, and it was that moment
when I realized that this is something I really want to do.
When I was really young my godmother was a singer—more of an Edith
Piaf kind of voice—and she would do competitions. I spent a lot of time
with her, and when she took voice lessons, I remember sitting under the
piano, watching her perform.
I went to this great school
called FACE (Fine Arts Core Education), there I was in a choir under
Ewan Edwards’ direction. He decided to put me in the Magic Flute that
McGill was doing—I played the First Knaben, and that was my first
experience. It was very cool, as I was 13 years old, and went to
rehearsals until 10 p.m. each night. That experience really gave me the
AN: Frédérique, your first operatic role was the boy in Magic Flute. David, what was your first role?
DP: My first full opera role was Tamino in Magic Flute at the Britten-Pears school in Aldeburgh—it was all in German with German dialogue.
AN: Was that difficult?
DP: Oh yeah, it was. I was 23, coming from Newfoundland and I didn’t know much German. My German diction was pretty good, I was told. I didn’t speak it, and when you have to do dialogue it’s tough. We had a really tough diction coach.
AN: So, you both share Magic Flute as your first operatic roles and both of you were in the Ensemble Studio?
Both: Yes, we overlapped.
DP: Frédérique came in, when I did my last year.
DP: Oh, yeah—that’s right! So, we did—
FV: Tamino and Pamina together!
AN: I see a theme here.
DP: Yes, so we both did the Ensemble, we got our feet wet here, and it was wonderful.
AN: What was your most exciting career moment so far—apart from singing in La Bohème with the COC?
DP: I finished the Ensemble, I had a five-year span where I was singing roles throughout Canada and getting into the States, and the COC asked me to come back and audition again. They asked me to sing, Salut! Demeure from Faust and immediately after that audition, they phoned and offered me the title role in Faust. I think that for me, coming back and being brought into the family was a fantastic feeling.
What happened after that was that the Met came to see the final show and that following summer, I got to sing Faust with the Met in Central Park with James Morris as Mephistopheles. So, that whole 5 month period was my most exciting time so far.
FZ: For me, the production I loved the most was Eugene Onegin in Victoria. It’s a relatively small company, but it was such a good production and people loved it and wrote letters into the company expressing their love for the show. It was just a fabulous reaction from people.
AN: What does Rodolfo think of Mimì?
DP: I think that definitely in the beginning, the first moment that he opens the door, he really does see, just this beautiful, fragile woman that you feel that you want to caress and nourish and take care of. I think all of the middle stuff, when he finds out that he she’s sick, and he doesn’t want to be with her anymore—I think it goes against what his true feelings are inside. I think, in the end, he just really loves her.
FV: Except, you never say it.
DP: I never say it, but I keep asking her to say it me with all of my, “do you love me?” lines. But, never say it to her, but I think I do really love Mimì.
AN: What’s your favourite part of her music?
DP: Before the quartet, Donde lieta uscì—"From here she happily left". When she gets into “Se voi! Se voi! Se voi!”, “it’s yours, it’s yours, it’s yours”—I think that, that music is so incredibly beautiful, that gets me every time.
AN: What about Rodolfo?
FV: He’s exciting—he’s full of spontaneity and passion, and I think that those qualities are what she loves about him. He’s fresh and alive, and she is more reserved.
AN: What is your favourite part of his music?
DP: I have to say in Act III, when he sings ‘Mimì è tanto malata!’ It makes me think, it’s like ‘Se voi’ in a way because the orchestra is so simple there, there’s hardly anything. The simplicity and purity of it is power.
AN: Is this your first time singing this role?
DP: Rodolfo was the first role I was offered after I had graduated from the Ensemble program. I did it in Victoria, BC, with Pacific Opera. That was 6 or 7 years ago now, it feels like I am debuting this role now, even though I am not, because I have changed so much and have a different instrument now.
FV: I’ve sung Mimì in Quebec, and in Vancouver last spring. Quebec was a couple years earlier, so it feels pretty comfortable now. I remember the first time I did it; I was terrified—especially since you hear Freni, Stratas, Moffo and other great opera singers in your head. You feel pressured to fall into line with their interpretations.
AN: What’s your favourite singer on your recordings of Bohème singing Mimì?
FV: At the moment it is Stratas. I used to really listen to Freni all the time, but Stratas has something so vulnerable about her.
AN: What about you, David, who’s your favourite Rodolfo?
DP: Pavarotti has an exquisite voice for the role, and the way he sang the role was beautiful, but lately I have been listening to Jussi Björling.
FV: Yes, but when you see him on YouTube, he doesn’t have very much body expression—like an accountant—it’s quite funny.
DP: But beautiful singing.
FV: Yes. The voice is true and he’s got it all there.
DP: We have all the great voices in our heads, but we all have our own voices and try to put our own stamp on the role.
AN: That’s why opera lives.
AN: What’s your favourite part about working at the COC?
Both: Alexander Neef [Laughter]
FV: A lot time to prepare and such great preparation with everyone from diction coaches to the conductor. Not all companies have this kind of rehearsal period before a show.
DP: I’ve learned that the COC is a very important international company and deserves a place known across the world for its art. It’s a great company, so professional, so well organized from diction coaches, to conductors. I think it’s just a great place to work. Toronto is a great city too—granted, the weather is not fabulous at the moment.
The Hall is amazing. For me, this is my home; this is where my wife and daughter are. So, when I can get 8 weeks of work at home, it’s great. This is my favourite place to work, hands down.
AN: Thank you. What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you on stage?
FV: This happened during a rehearsal: so I was wearing a rehearsal skirt with an elastic waist. It was Roméo et Juliette, and it was the sexy scene. He was pulling me towards him, but my skirt was stuck, and he kept pulling me up off the floor. I stood up and my skirt fell off. It was just a bad moment, and embarrassing.
DP: I have been stuck to sopranos. I just did Carmen, and it happened twice within five minutes onstage in Act II. Our costumes managed to stick. I had to, honestly, tear her violently off of me, and then within five minutes, there she was again.
FV: That happened to me in Onegin in the final scene with him. We had staged so we would kind of melt together. But, eventually, my wig got caught on him, and when she is to leave the stage, it is meant to be a very definite departure. I was determined to do it, even though my wig was stuck. So, when the time came, he was trying to undo my hair to let me go—very anti-climactic.
DP: Another moment happened when I was in the Ensemble Program doing Cinderella. We were doing a performance in Jackman Studio and there was a bird that was flying around a bit. So, one of the Ensemble Members was singing and the bird came down and went between us and landed on her bosom - she kept singing beautifully as she didn’t notice the bird, I was staring at the bird. Suddenly, in the middle of her singing, she let out a violent scream when she noticed the bird. It was quite funny, and the kids enjoyed it.
AN: What is your most important piece of advice that you wish to share with younger singers?
DP: I think having a really good teacher is so necessary, but it is not always easy to find. For me, I went through many teachers and put a bunch of things together that would work for me. And then, after that was done and things started to work a little better, I realized that the most important thing was to surround myself with just a couple of people that I really trust, who are not afraid to tell me the truth about my singing. That is the key for me.
FV: . . . And someone who knows your voice and can teach you in a constructive way. It’s difficult sometimes because some people will immediately start trying to teach you and impose their system on you. You have to make the time to learn. It’s easy to not make the time to travel to see your teacher.
AN: What are your dream roles for the future?
DP: Three tenor roles that I would dream about doing, and I know they might be down the road, but I hope that they are tangible are Peter Grimes, Otello and Andrea Chenier.
FV: One of mine is Desdemona, and another one would be Anna Bolena.
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