“I am the least sentimental person you could possibly know,” says Measha Brueggergosman. “Literally as the applause on stage is happening, I know that it’s an odd way to end your workday.”
It’s not as if the star international soprano doesn’t appreciate the ovations that come her way – it’s just that the timing and punctuation is all wrong. While the audience offers its exclamation point, in her mind Brueggergosman is already thinking about the next chapter.
“I don’t look back,” she continues, speaking from her home in Nova Scotia. “I’m onto the next thing.”
So, it’s probably odd for Brueggergosman to be talking about a current project that’s new for her audience but already past tense for her. She’s the featured singer in Angel, a fully staged Opera Atelier production filmed last month at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall. It premieres Oct. 28 at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox and will also be streamed.
The 70-minute film version of Angel, which includes excerpts from John Milton’s Paradise Lost interwoven with Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry, marks the culmination of composer Edwin Huizinga’s commission for the Toronto-based Baroque enthusiasts. The first iteration of the work took place in 2017 at the Royal Chapel in Versailles, where Opera Atelier was invited to participate in the official Canada 150 celebrations in France.
In the context of the live-performance lockdown caused by COVID-19, Angel was something of an godsend itself to the 44-year-old Brueggergosman. “Opera Atelier was a lifeline to me when I was seeking purpose,” says the company’s artist-in-residence. “My career had basically been cancelled – which runs the risk of me thinking that I was cancelled.”
Because of the pandemic, performing arts companies around the world have scrapped and reimagined their season calendars, resulting in a loss of paying gigs. It’s another setback faced by Brueggergosman, who has endured a pair of open-heart surgeries over the course of her career. When sidelined, the Fredericton native misses more than the money.
“Before this project, I was weeping,” she says. “I missed rehearsal and I missed standing in front of the orchestra, figuring out this thing we call music and sharing that exchange. I mourn the solidarity.”
In addition to starring in Angel, Brueggergosman created original music for The Christie Pits Riots, a new audio walking tour and radio drama podcast from Toronto-based immersive theatre company the Hogtown Collective. And, on Oct. 17, she presents Measha’s Gospel Brunch, a drive-in gospel concert and livestream for Toronto’s Luminato Festival.
She spoke to The Globe and Mail about artistic inclusivity, homegrown wine and the process of performance.
Humour comes in handy: “If you’re not laughing about the absurdity of these times, you’re not getting it. Look at what’s happened in our lifetime. I’m holding this little thing in my hand talking to a journalist who’s going to write a story that’s going to go across this thing we call the internet. It’s a miracle. I become shrouded by any number of things, like getting the kids to school on time, my finances, thinking about my new marriage and who I am in this relationship. All this stuff threatens to take our humour.”
It’s social, not antisocial, media: “It is important people who come to my socials won’t find rhetoric, anger and anxiety, but that they find hope, encouragement and music. If I have a brand, I hope that’s it. That, and ‘Wasn’t it nice to have her at that dinner party? And wasn’t it great that she showed up and was delightful and funny, and, yeah, she brought all the wine.’”
On building a wine collection: “You have to have enough of it that you can’t drink it all. And I know some people will read that and think, ‘Challenge accepted.’ I tend to lean toward more bang for my dollar. You’re not going to catch me in the merlots and the Burgundys. I don’t get paid that much, so I look for the same pedigree at a lower price point. In Nova Scotia, we have an incredible wine industry here. It’s good – really good.”
Inclusivity is an opportunity: “I look out into a classical audience and I don’t see myself reflected back. But that doesn’t mean they’re excluding me personally or the people who look like me. It’s a lack of education – which, by the way, is an opportunity. Inclusivity and equity benefits everyone. It’s good news – it’s not a punitive thing. It’s a deeper and more honest foundation. Everything else is just a house of cards.”
The performance is only the tip of the iceberg: “Let’s say five per cent of my career is spent on stage. So, you have to be in it for the other 95 per cent. And I love that 95 per cent. There’s the travel, the minutiae of the technical work, always having a humidifier in the room, not being able to scream on a rollercoaster, the translations. You have to be in it for those things and more. It’s really unfair that you’re measured for just the performance, even though it’s where I excel. I love it, love it, love it. But I believe I’ve stayed with this for so long because of the process. And what the process has taught me is that there’s no such thing as perfection.”
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