Homecoming Abroad: All the world’s her stage
A powerful top, an assured coloratura and great dramatic artistry. This is how reviews in Germany, France and Italy have described Jessica Strong [BMus/08, PBMus/09].
For the non-opera aficionados, Strong is hailed as a superbly talented soprano, and everywhere she goes, the world takes notice.
Since graduation, Strong has graced stages in Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States – including Carnegie Hall – and here in Winnipeg with the WSO.
Currently, she calls Frankfurt home where she is busy rehearsing for her lead role in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, with Oper Frankfurt this fall.
We recently chatted with Jessica at her home in the bustling German metropolis.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO GERMANY?
I initially moved to Frankfurt as a member of the opera studio — kind of like an internship for musicians — and am now working as a freelance opera singer.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE LIVING AND WORKING IN GERMANY?
The best thing about living in Frankfurt is the Apfelwein (apple cider)! No, I’m kidding. Probably what I’ve enjoyed most is being able to travel frequently and quickly around Europe. My boyfriend lives in Paris and it’s a quick 3.5 hour train ride away!
As an opera singer working in Germany, you need to be flexible! Premieres of new productions can feel similar to those I performed in Canada. However, Wiederaufnahme (or revival productions) are remounts of previously produced shows with significantly quicker rehearsal periods. Last year we staged a production of Falstaff in eight days, and for my debut as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, I had around eight hours of official staging time – and zero time with the orchestra before my first performance.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEMORY FROM YOUR TIME AT U OF M?
I have so many wonderful memories from my time at the U of M. From inspiring master classes with the faculty and my fellow students, to one-on-one lessons with my wonderful teacher Valdine Anderson, to noon-hour recitals, or trying to steal one of the few practice rooms available.
From the many memories I have, one that jumps to mind happened in the Contemporary Opera Lab back in 2007. My friends and I were on a break, lying outside the old Faculty of Music building on the grass. We were practicing a team building exercise that we’d been taught. You lie in a circle with your head resting on the person to your right’s stomach. Once everyone is settled, there is only one goal: do not laugh. It seems simple enough, but all it takes is one person to laugh and pandemonium will ensue! Like the wave, or a ripple effect, we all broke out into hysterics at the sight of a head bobbing up and down on your stomach, and collapsed in laughter on the grass. I highly recommend you try it!
That may seem like a silly memory, but it was just one way to build up trust between you and your colleagues, and allow you to feel comfortable to explore and create in a safe environment. That was the Faculty of Music for me: a nurturing and creative place to learn, explore and find your artistic voice.
THE U OF M IS CELEBRATING ITS 140th ANNIVERSARY. WHAT DO YOU HOPE THE U OF M ACCOMPLISHES OVER THE NEXT 140 YEARS?
I hope that in the next 140 years, future graduates will continue to be proud of what they accomplished at the U of M. I know particularly with the Faculty of Music, they are now able to take the fantastic education they were providing and pair it with a fantastic new facility! That is very exciting for future students and faculty!
WHAT DOES THE U OF M MEAN TO YOU?
The U of M is the place where I realized that a career as a performer was possible. It was the place that gave me the tools to pursue what I love. I will always be grateful for this, as it set me on the path to adventure, travel, and possibilities I didn’t know I was capable of achieving.
NOT ALL ALUMNI CAN COME BACK FOR HOMECOMING. HOW DO YOU STAY CONNECTED WITH THE U OF M?
I stay in touch with former teachers and keep up to date on what’s happening in the Faculty of Music. I would love to come back and sing at the new Taché Arts Complex the next time I visit Winnipeg!
To celebrate Homecoming 2017, UM Today will be running the Homecoming Abroad series, featuring alumni and students across Canada and around the world who are proving that from here you can go anywhere.
Homecoming is a chance to reconnect, reminisce, and celebrate. Join the U of M community at our Grand Opening of the New Addition to the Taché Arts Complex on Sept. 14 or meet up with fellow alumni at faculty, college, and reunion events from Sept. 11-17.