Mozart and the Met: Layla Claire

Interview and write-up: @EmerNestor

Photographs: @FMarshallPhoto

A 2012 graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, Canadian soprano Layla Claire is creating quite the storm in the opera world. Celebrated for her sensitive and intelligent interpretation of Mozartian repertoire, and her refined command of her instrument, Claire has had great success on the stages of such prestigious opera houses as: the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington National Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, the Pittsburgh and Minnesota Operas, among many others. Her varied appearances on the festival circuit have been met with critical acclaim. Particular attention has been paid to her roles in: Don Giovanni (Glyndebourne Festival, and Tanglewood Festival); Così fan tutte (Tanglewood Festival); and La Finta Giardiniera (Aix-en-Provence Festival). In 2010, Claire was awarded the Prix des amis d’Aix-en-Provence for best Mozart performance. As a regular soloist with the world’s leading orchestras, Claire maintains a vibrant presence in the concert halls of the Americas and Europe.

Claire met with Final Note at the Metropolitan Opera to give us some insight into her busy career.

What was your very first venture onto the stage as a singer?

I sang as a soloist with my high school's jazz band, and competed in the local Kiwanis music festival. The first professional contract I had was my first opera role, at the age of 17, as Gianetta in a local opera company's production of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore — a role that I eventually sang at the Met many years later with Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau.

Why did you decide to study opera at l’Université de Montréal?

I wanted to learn to speak French. At 18, Montreal felt far enough away from home (the Okanagan valley in British Columbia) to feel like an adventure, but still within the comfort of Canada. They also offered me a scholarship, and opera roles.

Tell us about your time in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program

I learned most from watching the pros. I sat in on virtually every dress rehearsal, and snuck into as many rehearsals as my schedule allowed. I was also given the opportunity to sing smaller roles on stage, which was a wonderful way to get my feet wet.

How did you find the initial move to New York?

New York is an amazing city, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to live there. I am not a city-girl, so it's not somewhere I see myself living long-term, but it was wonderful to feel at the center of things. It is both exhilarating and exhausting!

What are the main challenges facing young touring singers today?

For me, the biggest challenge is staying healthy while travelling and maintaining a busy rehearsal schedule. I have been singing a lot of new repertoire, so I'm often learning the next show while I'm working on another...so it's about managing my time, and my vocal energy.

What is the significance of social media in your artistic world?

It is wonderful to stay connected with what my friends and colleagues are doing. However, I am not terribly apt with my own social media, and so I have help with that!

Opera singers are often scrutinized for their physical appearance and acting skills by the critical press — how do you stay focused and self-assured when dealing with the words of reviewers?

I have not read a review in a really long time. My job is to stay free, vulnerable and open on stage, so that I can tell the story with honest emotion. If I were to worry about what a critic might write, I could get distracted, or self-conscious. I think it's easier to just take that out of the equation. I am very aware of times when I've nailed it, or when I could have down something better.

In the competitive performing arena of opera, how do you ‘sell yourself’ in auditions?

I have no idea! I've never been very good at auditions, and I'm very thankful I rarely have to do them anymore. I understand that they are necessary, but for me they always felt artificial. I suppose the best auditions I've had were those in which I was able to really get into the story-telling and let go. But, singing something out of context in a small room, for a panel of people who are scrutinizing you, can be challenging. Some singers are natural show-offs in those circumstances, but I've always been a nervous audition candidate.

How did you prepare for your recent role with the Washington National Opera as Blanche de La Force in Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmelites?

Well, of course I read, The Song at the Scaffold, upon which the opera is based, and I read up on the horrors of the French revolution. Our cast also had the amazing opportunity to go and visit with Carmelite nuns in Maryland, which was an incredible experience that I will treasure. The opera is based on real women that became martyrs. It was important to me to make Blanche as real as I could. She is the most interesting character I've had to play so far, and it was a privilege to live in her skin.

What character elements did you strive to highlight in your portrayal of Anne Trulove, in Stravinsky’s The Rake's Progress at the Metropolitan Opera?

Anne represents good in the story, while Nick Shadow represents bad. But, it is easy to get stuck thinking she is one-dimensional. I tried to underline her moments of doubt, fear and disappointment, as well as her earnestness and steadfastness, to make her as real as possible.

Tell us about your forthcoming role in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence.

Helena is a joy to play. After performing a season of characters where their lives do not end well, it is fun to play someone whose story ends up happily-ever-after. As a lyric soprano, there are not a lot of ensemble roles like this, and even fewer comic roles...so I am enjoying it while I can.

Beyond opera, what kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

At the moment, I'm enjoying learning about the Grateful Dead, which I somehow missed until now. I'm also totally obsessed with Robyn. I grew up listening to Björk, Bob Marley, Radiohead, K.D Lang, Sarah Mclachlan, George Michael, and Madonna. My four brothers have always been into electronic music, so there was a lot of Daft Punk pounding in our house.

What is your signature vocal piece?

That is a good question and I don't have an answer. I'm always scrambling to find one!

What is the dream role/gig?

I feel so incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities I've had, and all of the amazing roles I've played already. I'm singing my first Handel role this year, which I'm really excited about. Mozart has been a big part of my life, so I'm thrilled to sing his music at the Salzburg Festival next year. I'm excited to see where my voice leads me now that I'm in my thirties. I feel like Strauss is in my future. I'd love to sing Desdemona and Tatyana one day, if they end up suiting me. But, I try to take each day as it comes, and be thankful for what I'm singing now.

What do the coming months hold for you?

A holiday! I have had a pretty busy season, so I'm really looking forward to taking a few weeks in British Columbia to swim in my lake, and go camping with my little nephews!

To find out more about Layla Claire see: http://laylaclaire.com/

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