SUMMERSIDE — Tracy Cantin’s voice has taken to her to places she had only dreamed of five years ago.
The Summerside native is currently a studio ensemble member with the prestigious Lyric Opera of Chicago and made her professional debut last fall before 3,500 people at the acclaimed Civic Opera House in Chicago in Strauss’ “Elektra”.
“I was reviewed even. I was picked out of all of the five maids in a couple of different publications. And that was my professional debut. I was in the program. My headshot was there,” said Cantin. “I still can’t believe that it happened. My parents came. It was so amazing. The hall is so beautiful. It’s like a golden cavern with red velvet seats and the stage is so huge. My part, although small, I think was very important. I was on the stage for a very long time.”
It was a dream come true for the 26-year-old soprano who almost opted for a career as a hairdresser rather than as a performer.
She started singing folk at age 12 and soon her voice teacher Beth (Gould) Casey could see the preteen’s potential.
“She recognized that I had something a little bit different. She gave me my first opera CD and she made me sing my first Italian art song, which was very scary and it was at a local festival. I thought what is this and why do I have to do this?” she recalled with a laugh. “I always sang and I used to sing in church choir when I was young and I sang in the jazz band in high school. I sang lots of karaoke-style pop and jazz.”
But the difficult operatic pieces, which were far different than the musical stylings of The Band and The Eagles — staples in the Cantin household growing up — intrigued and challenged the young performer.
It wasn’t until age 19 that Cantin would perform her first operatic piece.
She attended UPEI, where she spent two years studying voice performance and then moved on to the University of Alberta where she got her undergraduate degree.
It was there that she had her first operatic role as the mother in “Hansel and Gretal.”
But still uncertain of her future, Cantin took a year off and taught piano and voice.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t what I loved doing. I loved being on stage and performing.”
Cantin headed to the University of Western Ontario where she honed her performing skills in roles such as Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”.
“That was probably my first important, real leading lady type role,” she added. “I have since performed it again and I listen back to that recording and I was so young when I did it. I’m glad I had the opportunity but I’ve grown so much since then. And that was only three years ago.”
Cantin left UWO with her master’s in voice performance and literature and enrolled in McGill’s Schulich School of Music where she took on the role of Mimi in probably one of the world’s most famous operas, “La Boheme” and played the role of the governess in “The Turn of the Screw.”
“That was another kind of, wow, landmark moment.”
Once her time at McGill was done, Cantin took what has been the biggest step of her operatic career to date, applying to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
“It’s a big opportunity for anybody to get into that program but I am the only Canadian,” she said, adding it was an extreme privilege to be chosen.
But it was step that Cantin almost didn’t take.
When she got an email inviting her to audition in 2011, she was ready to opt out. On the urging and advice of a former professor, Cantin decided to make the trek south of the border.
“I was nervous leading up to it but I wasn’t actually nervous going into it,” she said about the audition. “I think it was because it was so out of my element. I had never been to the United States before let alone sang for anybody there.”
Out of thousands of applications and hundreds of auditions, Cantin was the only soprano selected to the young artists program.
“As a soprano that is the most difficult voice type to be competing in. We are literally a dime a dozen.”
The program began in April 2012. As a young artist, she’s done mostly cover — or understudy — assignments, what she called the “pinch hitter” of opera.
“If the leading lady goes down I would step in,” something, to date, that hasn’t happened.
It was in October that Cantin got that first ‘real’ role.
And to have her parents, Rosemary and Rollie, in the audience was overwhelming.
“For them to have been so supportive through eight years of post-secondary — and I’m not a doctor, I’m an artist, they really were supportive. It was hard at times,” added Cantin. “They never once tried to talk me out of it.”
She’s signed for a second year and is hoping for a third with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
“Getting to work there for an extra year could do nobody any harm. As a Canadian trying to break into the American market the more exposure I have the better.”
Cantin returns to Chicago in early January and will begin rehearsals to cover the role Eva in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”
It’s a lead role, one, if she has the opportunity to step into, could be life changing.
“Just the way things work today that’s how stars are born. That’s where the recognition comes from. It happens all the time.”
Making a living as an opera singer isn’t easy. Only a select few make make millions.
“It’s freelance. You can go months and months and months without work. There are no health benefits. You’ll never have job security. There are opera companies and symphonies folding every day, shutting down because of loss of funding,” said Cantin. “It absolutely scares me since I am on the beginning of the career. I’m still trying to find an agent as are thousands who graduated this year.”
But when she takes the stage in full costume, makeup and wig before a packed house, the rush and the exhilaration of performing can’t be matched. She can’t imagine doing anything else. Well, except maybe hairdressing, Cantin quipped.
“I think I am talented and I think I have a place in this world. I don’t know if that’s going to be at the biggest houses in the world or at local houses but I don’t need to live extravagantly but I do need to sing. I need to be a part of this world. It is so much a part of me,” she added. “It is so much a part of who I am. It’s communicating with people and connecting with people on such a different level. It’s so beautiful. I couldn’t give it up.”
A VOICE SILENCED, FOR NOW
Tracy Cantin’s voice has been temporarily silenced.
The young opera singer recently had delicate surgery to remove her tonsils, a surgery she had put off for years and one that can potentially end a blossoming singing career.
It’s been almost three weeks since the surgery was done in Chicago.
“I haven’t tried to sing yet. I am still healing. I’m still swollen. I think my speaking voice sounds the same so I have no reason to believe my singing voice won’t be much different.”
Is she afraid of what she will hear?
“I talked to my doctors and they were very sympathetic to the fact that I was a singer and used an infant-sized intubation tube and they said it went flawlessly and didn’t touch my cords,” she added. “I feel good. I am glad that the surgery is done and I am confident I won’t be ill-affected.”
She did admit that not being able to belt out Christmas songs and show of her powerful voice while home for the holidays is difficult.
“All I want to do is sing right now but it’s also a nice rest. I’ve been working really hard. This is the first actual break that I’ve had from practicing in years.”
A FEW FACTS
- Daughter of Rollie and Rosemary Cantin; siblings Daniel and Michael.
- Bachelor of music in voice performance from the University of Alberta, master of music in voice performance and literature from the University of Western Ontario, recent graduate of McGill’s Schulich School of Music.
- Performance credits include: Alice Ford in Verdi’s “Falstaff” with both Opera NUOVA in Edmonton and Highlands Opera Studio in Haliburton, Ont.; Mimì in Puccini's “La Bohème” at McGill; the Governess in Britten's “Turn of the Screw” at McGill’s annual Lisl Wirth Black Box Festival in 2011.
- With the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 5th maid in “Elektra” and cover for the role of Amelia in “Simon Boccanegra” and will be cover for the role of Eva in “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”
- Will be featured soprano soloist in “Symphony No. 9” with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in April
- For more and to listen to some of her performances, visit www.tracycantin.com.