Paulina Gonzalez is a new ‘Mexican Nightingale’
2020 DFOM graduate Paulina Gonzalez took a chance on adventure and became a star
NOTE: We in the Desautels Faculty of Music are incredibly proud of our students. While COVID-19 is sidelining in-person commencement ceremonies around the globe, we want to find alternate ways to celebrate our graduates and give them the recognition due to them. Until we can gather together to properly applaud the years of study and practice that have led to this milestone, please join us in congratulating our 2020 Desautels Faculty of Music graduates.
Today we celebrate Paulina Gonzalez!
The world can thank an over-scheduled dance class for Paulina Gonzalez’ foray into music.
“I started singing in my high school choir at the age of 16,” she says.
“I had wanted to take dance class, but the course became full so I was placed in choir instead. At the time I thought I had bad luck for not making it into dance but later realized that it was a blessing because I was introduced to singing,” she says.
How lucky we are that her initially disappointed entry into music resulted in an ignited passion. The soprano ultimately became a dynamo opera singer, wowing audiences in every production she has performed.
And now, she has received her Master of Music in vocal performance!
Welcome to Manitoba!
Gonzalez received her Bachelor of Music at the University of Sonora, in her hometown of Sonora, Mexico. She knew that she wanted to pursue a master’s degree in vocal performance, and took to the internet to research programs.
“Before coming to Canada, I found the University of Manitoba online,” she says of her search.
“It’s always University of Toronto and McGill that you hear about, but there was something about this university” Gonzalez told Winnipeg’s Classic 107 host Simeon Rusnak in an interview this past January.
“I read all of the professor’s [bios], and I was just in love with all of them. They seemed so humble and loving. I don’t know how you can get that from a website, but I did,” she told Rusnak.
“I didn’t know anyone in Winnipeg or the music faculty, but something told me I should apply, so I took a chance and I did,” Gonzalez says.
“For someone who came from the hottest part of Mexico to happily take on Winnipeg winters tells you something about Paulina’s curiosity and spirit of adventure,” says Mel Braun, professor and area head for the DFOM’s vocal department, who worked with Gonzalez in the University of Manitoba Opera Theatre and Desautels Chamber Opera group.
“Little did I know that this was one of the best decisions of my life!” says Gonzalez, who apparently wasn’t put off by all of the snow and cold weather.
“After being accepted and moving here I realized just how fortunate I was to have found a wonderful program with such a caring and talented faculty,” she says.
“She’s really made Winnipeg her home and endeared herself to all her colleagues and teachers with her generous spirit, her hard work, and her absolutely gorgeous singing,” says Braun of Gonzalez’ adaptation to her new surroundings.
“She let herself take in all that the Faculty had to offer. What a pleasure to have her with us!” he says.
The Desautels Faculty of Music and the Winnipeg music community couldn’t agree more with Braun’s sentiments!
In the faculty and beyond
Arriving in Winnipeg, Gonzalez immediately immersed herself in the music community, both within the DFOM and around Manitoba.
In the DFOM, she performed with both the University of Manitoba Opera Theatre and the Desautels Chamber Opera Group in an eclectic array of performances, playing Sandrina in Mozart’s La Finta Giardinera in 2018, La Paix in Les arts florissants by Charpentier, also in 2018, and Cupid in Purcell’s Timon of Athens in 2019.
This past year, Gonzalez took on regal roles in two operas at vastly different ends of the spectrum, genre-wise, first playing Esilena in the 2019 Manitoba premiere of Handel’s little known coloratura-filled baroque opera Rodrigo, and then as a one of the six queens in Ana Sokolović’s Six voix pour sirènes in 2020.
As Esilena, Gonzalez marvelously played a queen betrayed by her husband Rodrigo (played by the equally stunning Karen Santos), who desperately tries to get him to do the right thing in order to save the kingdom.
Her poised and polished performance was breathtaking, heartbreaking, and glorious. One can imagine no one else performing the role so well.
She then followed that performance with the wonderfully weird and avant-garde Six voix pour sirènes several months later, playing a mythical siren learning to find and use her voice. The ensemble performance, which featured five other singers in addition to Gonzalez, was delightful and playful, eliciting smiles, laughs, and awe from the audience as the sirens began to coordinate their voices.
Outside of the DFOM, she performed with the Manitoba Underground Opera (MUO) in its 2019 production of “Lost Voices,” which took place outside in the stone facade of the St. Boniface Cathedral, and was produced by MUO’s artistic director Brenna Corner, and recent DFOM graduate Sawyer Craig. In that production, Gonzalez sang works by Mexican composer Ángela Peralta, who was also an accomplished opera performer and was known as the “Mexican Nightingale” in her day. We think Peralta now has some competition for that title!
A few months later, in January 2020, Gonzalez opened for renowned musicians Karl Stobbe (violin) and Andrew Armstrong (piano) when they performed the Virtuosi Concert Nordic Gods, an honour she earned by placing as a winner in the Virtuosi Young Artist competition.
“I will keep with me all the great moments of performing, the good advice I was given and the knowledge I’ve acquired,” she says of her time in Winnipeg.
“I think everyone in the voice/opera department have been mentors to me at one point or another during my time at UM by teaching me new things, guiding me in the right direction or listening to me when I needed it most,” says Gonzalez of the professors she originally met only through a website.
“I would like to thank Mel Braun and Monica Huisman for being so approachable, for all their help and feedback and for being part of my vocal process,” she says.
“It was a real pleasure having Paulina as part of our Master’s group,” says Huisman, a voice instructor in the DFOM.
“What I love about Paulina is her willingness to always try new things, how she would really light up with her ‘aha’ moments, and consistently want to do better. The addition of her lovely voice and personality brought a real balance and levity to the group. She grew so much over her Master’s degree not only in voice, but in confidence and artistry. I will miss her very much and wish nothing but wonderful things for her in her next artistic chapter!” Huisman adds.
“Thanks to Laura Loewen for giving me tools to find the best way to make music, and thanks to Katherine Twaddle for making opera and acting so much fun and for always being so supportive of me,” says Gonzalez.
“This is one strong and determined soprano!” says Katherine Twaddle, the DFOM Opera Studies Coordinator who also oversees production of Opera Theatre.
“She so loves singing and performing and she shares this love through her wonderful enthusiasm and generosity. This is not only evident onstage, but also in the way that she interacts with her colleagues. Paulina is also a terrific problem solver and has the ability to store away details from her studies and build on these skills and ideas independently,” adds Twaddle.
“And of course a big thank you to Tracy Dahl for all her patience and understanding. I have grown so much as a singer thanks to her and I’m very honoured and lucky to be part of her voice studio,” says Gonzalez.
For her part, Dahl, a voice instructor in the DFOM who has served as Gonzalez’ major practical study (MPS) instructor, has been thrilled to work with her.
“Teaching Paulina is a joy,” says Dahl.
“Think about how a performer loves the affirming applause of an audience, and now be the teacher of a soprano who is constantly discovering and getting excited about her work. It has the very same effect as the applause,” Dahl says.
“Paulina’s energy is infectious – in a good way, let’s be clear in the time of pandemic – because she is so enthusiastic and inquisitive about the process of singing and interpretation. There was no bunny warren too deep, she would go deeper into her stories and explore and find new ways to express herself,” says Dahl of their work together.
“A teacher’s work is often limited to the studio, but in getting to see Paulina compete this past year in University competitions and International opera competitions, what became very clear to me was Paulina’s gift to harness her positive energy and reach her audience. The calculating student would be over taken by the performer and she has the ability to reach her audience and make them interested in her story. She is, as a person and a performer, very sincere, and this is a trait that I find endears her to the listener. I wish Paulina all the best as she moves forward and continues to discover new things about her voice and looks for opportunities to share her talent!” says Dahl.
Though her time in Manitoba has been filled with phenomenal performances and many accolades, when it comes to listing her proudest moment in the DFOM, Gonzalez has difficulty pinpointing anything.
“I don’t have a specific moment,” she says.
“I’m just proud to have been part of the DFOM. Every time I stepped on stage to perform was a victory for me.”
And we are incredibly proud to have had you as part of our faculty, Paulina! The future is wide open for you, and we know you are going to accomplish so many great things! Congratulations!