Kathleen Morrison: Fairview’s International Operatic Soprano!
Kathleen Morrison has some advice she wants to share: when faced with a decision about a life-changing move, get out there and make it happen – otherwise you will regret it for the rest of your life. Morrison, wise beyond her years, has the experience to back it up.
Kathleen was born and raised in Fairview and her family has been calling our community home since the 1970’s. She attended Fairview School for pre-school, elementary and junior high before attending Western Canada for high school. She sadly lost her mother when she was only 11 years old and was then raised by her dedicated father Ken, who inspired and encouraged her to follow her passion and excel in her field.
Kathleen always had a strong attraction towards music, initially inspired by an elementary teacher who would often bring his guitar to school and play and sing with her class. Through her grade school years, she signed up for every band opportunity she could get, typifying the classic “band geek” in her formative years. She played all the brass instruments, particularly the french horn, as well as some percussion. She didn’t start formally singing until high school choir opportunities became available.
Following high school, she attended the University of Lethbridge and graduated in 2005 with a Bachelors in Music – Vocal Performance. Kathleen had no real opera influence in her younger years and it wasn’t until her schooling in Lethbridge that her world was opened up to opera. Besides the intense emotional experience of opera, Kathleen was drawn to the unique blend that the opera experience provides: combining a mix of history, literature, singing, languages and orchestra coordination that is unlike anything else in the fine arts world. She feels that coming into the opera world at a later age was a real benefit to her career because she was more mature and was able to understand and enjoy the experience much more without any preconceived opinions. However, without much experience or name recognition in the opera world, she further pursued opera schooling at the Vancouver Academy of Music and obtained an Artist’s Diploma in Opera in 2011.
In 2012, Kathleen took an enormous chance on her career, saved up some money and made a life-changing, yet daunting move to Berlin, Germany. It was there that she flourished and landed roles that would really make her career. She was perhaps a little overconfident in her newly-learned German fluency – her first role at an opera house had a cast that spoke no English, so Kathleen quickly realized she was in way over her head. However, she would secretly record the rehearsal, take it home and translate it to help her integrate more quickly.
She also made a connection with a German lady who was offering up a room for rent who also spoke no English. Kathleen immersed herself in the language, asking staff at local businesses she frequented to ensure the conversation remained German as well as enlisting friends to trade German lessons for her English lessons. In about one year she was fully fluent in German. One of the pitfalls of many ex-pats in foreign countries is that they surround themselves with other ex-pats from their own country and never really learn the local language (including some of Kathleen’s North American opera colleagues) – something Kathleen was aware of and worked hard to avoid.
To explain the European opera scene to a native Canadian is a foreign concept. While Canada has essentially 9-10 main opera houses (typically one per each major city) that each do a few shows per year for a week at a time, Germany alone has about 250 opera houses that run most of the year (usually taking the summer off when they do open-air concerts), with shows five nights per week. Going to the opera in Germany is like going to the movies in Canada – it’s just a casual thing to do that you may do on a whim, without the grand preparation, pretentiousness or “elitist” feel that is more common in North America. Sadly, this is why much of our fine art talent needs to move away to Europe to make a career of their amazing skills and knowledge of music, art and/or drama.
Her thoughts on a better North American approach to opera? Just because it is opera, that doesn’t mean it has to be scary. Try it out and most likely you will find that you will enjoy it. Almost everyone will come away with an emotional connection to the music.
The opera scene is certainly not all adoration and roses. The constant auditioning process can be gruelling and the rejection cruel, so much so that some singers can be broken from it. Kathleen tries to stay confident in what she presents and level headed with the rejection. There are also some big personalities, egos, emotions and politics to contend with, but something that just comes with the business. Her approach has lead to many successes over the years.
Despite her international success and living most of the year in Berlin, Kathleen maintains strong ties to her home community of Fairview. She spends much of the summer here at her father’s home, working to supplement her income and visits every Christmas as well. When she’s here, she always tries to make time to see her friends and those who have supported her throughout the years.
Kathleen has been really enjoying her Berlin experience and has no regrets. She has fully immersed herself in the language and culture and spends much of her free time exploring the city, travelling Europe and especially loves visiting museums and stumbling upon historical sites and places of interest that are overly abundant in the city. An amusing fact: the Berlin building that she lives in is older than Canada!
Kathleen would love to extend a warm invitation to all of her “Fairview family” to her upcoming concert “Tales from the Operatic Trenches: A Soprano’s Berlin Adventure” on August 25th at the National Music Centre in Calgary. The evening will be a small crowd, relaxed, European-like concert where she will sing some of her favourite numbers from her recent roles, share some funny and touching stories about her experiences and read a couple of chapters from her upcoming book. The talented Mimi Park will be accompanying on the piano. Kathleen encourages you to come see what it’s all about.
For more information about Kathleen, her upcoming concert, her repertoire and to see some videos of her past performances, be sure to visit her website at: www.kathleenmorrison.com. You can also connect with her on Instagram or Twitter: @canadiansoprano
Photos credit: Smokeshow Photography