Local opera diva sings for her supper

By Careesa Gee

Holding a giant mug of steaming apple cider, Lise Maisonneuve’s delicate features break out into a laughing smile set off by dimples as she talks about her love of opera.

The petite Centretown soprano has just finished a run of La Fille du regiment, a comic opera put on by Opera Lyra of Ottawa. Maisonneuve was part of the chorus in the Donizetti opera that featured Canadian superstar Tracy Dahl in the lead role of Marie.

“She (Dahl) was always interacting,” Maisonneuve says, adding she had a chance to chat with many of the renowned lead singers such as Elizabeth Turnbull. “They were all very approachable. There were no snobbish attitudes.”

As a young performer on the scene (Maisonneuve admits to being in her late twenties), she says it was a great chance to talk to the established artists about furthering her career. One of a select few chorus members with aspirations to play lead roles, Maisonneuve says she would like to make a career out of singing. Right now, she teaches piano and voice in order to pay the bills.

“I’d love to see myself performing lead roles in opera (in 10 or 15 years),” she says, “and it would be great to do some in Canada. I just want to sing, I have to sing!”

But Maisonneuve admits that it’s extremely hard to sing for your supper in Ottawa. Most opera stars travel around the world performing, and she says a likely next move for her would be to Toronto or Montreal.

“It’s really difficult to make a living just singing in Canada,” she says, but having had a taste of stardom already has only whet her appetite for more. Maisonneuve played the lead role of Gretel in Opera Lyra’s Young Artists Programme’s performance of Hansel and Gretel last year.

Maisonneuve says initially she had no dreams of being an opera star. Growing up in Timmins, a small town in northern Ontario, she played the piano and the flute. However, maternal instincts saw the voice inside the little girl.

“My mom always says I was singing before I spoke,” she laughs.

She initially studied music education at the University if Western Ontario in London, and then moved to Ottawa to pursue her MA in music theory at the University of Ottawa.

But before she completed her master’s, she was invited by Gerald Morris, the program coordinator for Opera Lyra, to try out for a part in the chorus. She auditioned, and made the cut.

According to Morris, Maisonneuve’s dreams are likely to come true.

“I think we’ll see her as a soloist within five years,” he says. “She’s got the goods.”

Now in her third season with Opera Lyra, Maisonneuve has participated in five operas.

She says her first experience with opera buffa, or comic opera, was a lot of fun and the cast seemed to gel together.

A plus for her was that La Fille du regiment is written in French, and Maisonneuve is francophone.Maisonneuve says it’s important to understand what is being sung, because she loves how opera communicates a story, both through the acting and the singing.

“I’d like to see more people exposed to opera,” she says. “I think Ottawa audiences are becoming more interested in opera….it’s expensive, but it’s around the same price, maybe less, than going to a hockey game…but I like hockey too!”