Soprano Dominique Labelle (pictured left, photograph by Lino Alvarez) is currently singing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. She spoke with The Opera Tattler on April 17, 2012 after rehearsal in Berkeley.
How did you start singing?
I started singing when I was very young. When I was about 13 I played flute, piano, and guitar. At the time I was writing poems and set them to music, and just started singing that way. I didn't even know I had a voice, it just turned out that way. I always loved music, and wanted to be inside of it. Singing happens to be how I am able to do that.
Was your family musical?
My mother always sang in choruses, as did her mother. My father played accordion. I do have a singer in my genealogy, Emma Albani. Her grandmother was a Labelle. Albani was born in the 1840s. She studied in Italy and even sang at Covent Garden. It took a long time for her to get married, because in those days a woman had to be a mother and stay at home. She would not have been able to continue her career if she had married. She was very brave. She sang all over, in Australia and Russia. I have heard recordings of her, but of course, it was very late in her career so it is hard to tell what her voice was really like. It is remarkable, because where she was from, people were mostly farmers.
You are from Laval, Quebec. Why is it that Canada produces so many great singers?
I think it might be a mixture of discipline and freedom. We don't have the constraints of tradition that perhaps effects the Europeans. We might not have the same pressures of making money as Americans do. But there are many great singers from different places.
How did you find yourself living in Central Massachusetts?
I went to Tanglewood Music Center in 1986 and met Phyllis Curtin. I wanted to really study with her, and was able to get a scholarship to attend Boston University. I moved to Massachusetts in 1988. I met my husband at school, he is a tenor. We did those love scenes over and over and it got us in trouble!
You sing a lot of Baroque music. What do you think of contemporary works?
I love all music, but new music can sometimes be hard on the voice. Especially with young composers, you really have to look at the score. There might be five pages of B flats, who knows! In any case, I love to be part of the music.
The ABA form that characterizes many Baroque arias can seem static. How do you avoid being dull?
Remember that this music was written before radio or recordings. The ABA form is quite nice if it is the first time you are hearing a piece. It helps familiarize the listener, and when the A part comes back, it is always a little bit transformed. You have to find that difference within yourself as an artist, and it is one of the challenges of singing Baroque music.
How is working with Philharmonia Baroque?
Everyone is involved in putting the music together. It is a collaborative environment, like a family.
Tell me about the piece you are singing with PBO, Alexander's Feast.
The text adapted from a Dryden poem written for Saint Cecilia. It is beautiful music. It is not dramatic, and there is no real narrative. We are at party, and there is lots of energy, ideas, and creativity.
You must love Handel, you sing a lot of his work.
Handel demands your whole life! I've thought a lot about the fascinating characters in his pieces. I am always trying to figure out what shaped the story at hand, because can be so much range of emotion in the arias of a given character.
What is next for you?
I am off to a concert in Monterrey, Mexico. I have been traveling since the middle of December!
What was the last movie you saw?
I saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about Jiro Ono, the famous sushi chef who is 85 years old. It really stuck with me, how obsessed with he is with getting everything exactly right.