Mid Island residents will soon have a chance to see one of their own grace the big stage.
Parksville’s Wendy Alexander has been cast as the lead soprano in Opera Nanaimo’s production of La Bohème. She’ll be playing the role of Mimi in the four-act tragedy, written back in 1895.
This show will be the company’s first full production. Alexander is excited for the opportunity, which she says has been great so far.
“So far my experience with Opera Nanaimo has just been amazing. Everybody’s been really nice, and really accommodating. I’m super impressed with the rest of the cast – they’re so good. People are just being so pleasant and it’s great,” said Alexander.
The Richmond-born soprano left B.C. to take voice lessons in Italy. She took a number of smaller programs and master classes, mostly private study. She’s had an eye on the stage for most of her life, and it helps that music is written into her genes.
“My mom teaches piano, my dad sings the Barber of Seville while he’s shaving – there’s a lot of sort of musical influence in my family. All my sisters play musical instruments, we were all in band, and that kind of stuff. I just decided I really enjoyed singing opera,” said Alexander.
“When I was 12, I saw the Phantom of the Opera and that was the end of that,” she said with a laugh.
Prior to moving to Vancouver Island, she was living in Italy with a British passport. As tensions from Brexit began to mount, she made the decision to leave the EU. Returning back to Canada, she settled in Parksville to be near family, getting a job at the Rod & Gun pub where she currently works.
She recalls her time studying in Italy with great fondness, even surprising herself with what she was able to learn.
“To learn to speak Italian fluently is something that I never imagined I’d be able to do, and I somehow did it, and I’m happy about that,” said Alexander.
She’s noticed big differences between the Canadian and European approach to musical training.
“The teaching style there is a lot – I guess you’d say it’s strict, it’s very strict. You’re really expected to learn what the teacher told you to learn, and come to your lesson absolutely prepared. You don’t get babied,” said Alexander.
“There’s no excuses in Europe. That’s it. You show up and you know your music, or die… it’s old world, and it’s old school.”
Patrons at the Rod & Gun may have caught a sneak peek of Alexander’s vocal prowess, especially on wing nights.
“When I’m working at the Rod & Gun sometimes I burst into a little bit of opera or whatever,” said Alexander, laughing.
The soprano-turned-server says she has regulars that come in on wing night and request her to sing.
She says she’s not really an under-the-breath kind of singer – if she’s doing it, you’ll know, and her voice is enough to cut through the din of a pub night racket.
“It’s so busy on wing night, and we’re running around, and it’s just chaos, and I start singing opera and the whole restaurant just stops,” said Alexander.
“One of the cooks was afraid I was going to bring the ceiling down,” she said with a laugh.
Although she says that launching a career as an opera singer, particularly as a soprano is like “winning the lottery,” she’s determined to keep trying.
“When I sing opera, it feels like – it almost feels like it’s not coming from me. It feels like it’s coming from somewhere else. It’s just so amazing, When you perform for a live audience – there’s like an energy, you can feel it. I just want as much of that as I can get,” said Alexander.
She’s thrilled to be taking to the stage in Nanaimo, and hopes that she can do other shows in the future.
She also has her eye on doing some original recording.
“I’ve got ideas about doing my own recording, and doing my own kind of hybrid projects with classical and more modern music, and doing some interesting things,” said Alexander.
La Bohème will be performed at the Malaspina Theatre at Vancouver Island University on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10. Tickets are available online through the Port Theatre at www.porttheatre.com.