One moment, I was in Spain, strolling the Passeig de Gracia, eating tapas and sipping red wine. The next, I was singing for Justin Bieber.
Perhaps it was jet lag. Perhaps it was the parade of superheroes that casually strolled by me as I donned my Marie Antoinette wig. Either way, it was the most surreal evening of my life.
A few weeks prior, I had been in hair and make up for the Canadian premiere of Mozart's Lucio Silla with Toronto-based opera company, Opera Atelier. The co-artistic director, Marshall Pynkoski, leaned over my make-up chair and asked me if I would be willing to fly back to Toronto from Spain to perform at an event.
"We're going to have to be quite secretive about planning this," he said. "It is the birthday party of one of our donors and is celebrating the engagement of his friend, Jeremy. Jeremy is Justin Bieber's father. Justin will be there."
The afternoon of April 30, my husband picked me up at Pearson Airport, where I had arrived direct from Barcelona. We weaved through the Toronto highways toward the Bridle Path -- I changed shoes, put on lipstick, warmed up my voice in the car. As we turned the corner of one of Toronto's most exclusive neighbourhoods, I scanned for the address. "I think it's the one with the Batmobile," I said. And so began my evening singing for the Biebs.
Andy Curnew and Dr. Rita Kilislian know how to throw a party. As guests were welcomed into their home, they walked a red carpet. The foyer was decorated with large scale, colourful artwork. Graffiti artist Nicholas Sinclair was painting a live commission. The whole evening was carefully curated by Andy with themes of art and pop culture woven throughout.
It was a mecca of visual titillation. With a new attraction in each corner, the party seemed to effectively reflect our society's need for constant, ever changing stimulus. As an opera singer, I appreciate spectacle. It is not an easy feat to capture the attention of one person, let alone a group. It is an art.
Toronto's best and most beautiful sprawled across the couple's property, a large pool canalling the space. Toward the left, a tent with Nyotamoiri or "body sushi." The right, a DJ playing songs far too hip for me to know. Wildly fit women served sashimi and miso-glazed eggplant, rousing within me tinge of guilt for all of the patatas bravas I had scarfed in Spain the week prior.
In a large tent at the back of the yard, decorated with torches and fire pits, there was a gallery of sculptures and art from some of the world's most famous artists. Rodin sculptures, original Andy Warhol prints, five-foot-tall photographs of early Kate Moss and statuesque paintings by Canadian artist Joanne Corno. As I sauntered past the artwork in my giant, Elsa-from-Frozen-esque ball gown, I felt flattered to be a living art installation amongst the greats.
After the acrobats and the fire throwers, we musicians got ready to take stage. Opera Atelier's Pynkoksi took the mic to announce that Andy Curnew and Dr. Rita Kilislian had just made a $25,000 donation to their Toronto-based company.
Let me quickly digress a moment to say one thing: opera is a hard sell. It is a gorgeous, archaic, at-times hard to swallow art form. There is something exotic but inaccessible about what we do. Being relevant to pop culture, to modern society and to current audiences is something we need, and for that, I'm thankful to Andy and Rita for not only their donation but their inclusion
My colleagues, Nicole Bellamy, Chris Enns, Olivier Laquerre and I belted our way through the opera faves. The boys melted hearts with Sondheim, I flounced my way through Puccini's "Quando m'en vo," "flirting" with well-dressed strangers and draping myself over the lap of a Dragon's Den star.
Somewhere between La Boheme and "O sole mio," I saw a low-profile, beautifully handsome Bieber peak out from behind an oversized black hoody. I like to think that it was a moment of repose for him, because for a second, someone else was on stage. He seemed intrigued, which is exactly what one could hope for. With high notes and larger-than-life gestures, the set finished, perfectly timed with dusk falling. I couldn't help but wonder if that had been curated as well.
I climbed out of my corset and changed into plain clothes. My wig came off, my hair came down and I was entirely anonymous. As darkness fell upon our extravagant evening, I sat in a sleek poolside chair. I sipped a gin and tonic, leaned back and became an audience member: a voyeur to the those who had just watched me. The gymnasts, the electronic violin player squealing over Journey songs, wild opera patron Mike Wekerle getting a tattoo in the corner created the tapestry for an entirely different type of performance.
The difference between being an opera singer and a pop star like Justin Bieber is that at the end of the day, you shed your character and go back to being a regular person. The world of opera, so entirely unique and separate from modern society, has managed to exist in its own artistic universe.
Only time will tell if singing for a superstar will have any impact on my career or life. I encourage and welcome the melding of these worlds, but doubt it may. For now, I will I forge forward in preparation for roles in my world -- singing for opera companies in North America, performing in the Palace of Versailles, my upcoming debut at Lincoln Center. But who knows? Maybe next year I'll be singing for Miley Cyrus.