JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, what would you say?
STACIE DUNLOP: Stacie Dunlop is a passionate performer of new music, producer of cutting edge contemporary creations and an avid commissioner of contemporary classical repertoire. Her powerful, agile voice allows her access to explore works from Handel through Schoenberg and into the exciting and boundary pushing music of today’s classical composers.
JS: What important beliefs do you express in your work?
SD: That I must put 100% of myself into everything I do…and when I perform, I never hold back…I give it my all.
JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.
SD: Arnold Schoenberg: he wrote the most amazing music and lived an incredible life…I wish I could have been able to bring his music to life while he was still alive.
My Grandmother: she was my best friend and the most generous person I’ve ever known. She always supported me, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. I wouldn’t be where I am right now were it not for her love and support, both emotionally and financially over my entire life, but especially from when I was a teenager up until her death in 2010.
JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?
SD: I think that the best way to answer this question is to say that when I’m not doing creative work, I tend to lose a sense of myself, so, in fact, when I live my life fully in a way that is truly connected to my creativity, I am not changed…but rather I am the essence of myself, fully and completely.
JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?
SD: Being bound by financial restraints…I never let that stop me, but it sure would be a heck of a lot easier if I had financial flexibility for myself and my projects.
JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.
SD: Leaving my marriage in 2012 and going straight into a 20-week long-term creative residency at The Banff Centre, followed by my move back to Toronto directly afterwards in 2013…that was a pretty incredible way to transition into the fully immersed creative life I have embraced ever since I made that decision.
JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?
SD: The fact that I don’t “have a job”…People who are unfamiliar with an artist’s way of life find it difficult to comprehend how being out at rehearsals and meetings or staying home and practicing, writing grants, emails and applications, qualifies as work.
JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?
SD: I’ve been singing since childhood, and began producing my own projects shortly after I started my professional career…because I have to…I need to sing and I have at least a half dozen projects in my head at all times…I have to be a creative being…I don’t know why, but I do know that without creative work, I would shrivel up inside.
JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?
SD: Hmmm…hanging off an aerial trapeze in a performance…another way to push past traditional boundaries. The exciting thing is that this dream is being realized this year, when I perform John Cage’s iconic work Aria in collaboration with aerialists Angola Murdock and Holly Treddenick for Balancing on the Edge at the Harbourfront Centre in November.
JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?
SD: Last season I was the understudy for the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Robert LePage’s Erwartung. Of course I would have loved to have performed it, but just the step of being the understudy for that role was a huge achievement, especially since I was inspired to learn that role when I first saw the original production of it at the COC in 1993. It was really my first foray into contemporary operatic music and I know I was transformed as a creative being after experiencing that performance.
JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?
SD: Think long and hard before deciding to take this career path…and then if you can live your life without being an artist as a career…do something else…this is not an easy road to venture on.
JS: Of what value are critics?
SD: I think it’s important to get an objective opinion of one’s work. If the review is not favourable, that can be difficult to cope with but it’s vital to hear another’s viewpoint. Of course, if the review is positive, then it helps us with our fragile egos and if well written, a nice addition to add to our press package.
JS: What do you ask of your audience?
SD: To be open to the experience…that’s all…come with an open mind and heart…and if we as performers are able to move them…that’s the best possible outcome.
JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world?
SD: That the power hungry greed could end and that the money being channelled into the military be redirected into the arts…a simple solution to help support creativity and peace, don’t you think?
JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?
SD: I’ve had a couple of really beautiful moments while performing R. Murray Schafer’s Princess of the Stars and The Enchanted Forest…I don’t know if they could ever be relived, but they are definitely moments I cherish and appreciate deeply. There is something soulfully connected with Murray’s environmental performances, and they are moments that can’t be duplicated…I haven’t really answered this question, but this is as close as I can get.
JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?
SD: You can be held accountable in a very public way for your actions, so I think you have to remember to be respectful of how you address issues on a public platform. It’s also important to be humble and show your support when it is required, but at the same time to maintain a certain amount of privacy on a daily basis. Social media is today’s reality, so I try to be smart about the way I choose to share personal information and generally use the media for professional promotional purposes rather than a personal platform.
JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why
SD: India: I am also a yoga teacher and would like to complete my advanced yoga teacher training at one of the Sivananda Ashram’s in India….some day.
France: I went on a short trip to the Champagne Region in 2000…and want to go back, because it is a beautiful place and I adore champagne. I think I see this happening in the very near future.
JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?
SD: My most recent CD, Hymns of Heaven and Earth, was a very special project for me. I commissioned Peter-Anthony Togni to compose Three Neruda Odes for me, which was to date one of the best collaborations I’ve had with a composer…and this CD was a dream to work on (well, sometimes a nightmare, but that was in the initial stages before the actual recording)…fantastic producer, amazing musicians…and incredible support from the community from the get go. This CD should matter to the world because it is stunningly beautiful music, played with passion and excellence.
My next project, or rather, the project I’ve been immersed in since its inception 4 years ago, is an opera commission. Composer Aaron Gervais and librettist Paul van Dyck have created a companion piece to a new chamber version of Schoenberg’s Erwartung (also arranged by Gervais) called The Harvester. We had our first piano/vocal workshop of The Harvester in January of this year and are having a second workshop in January 2017 of both The Harvester and Erwartung, which will also include 10 instrumentalists. This has been a massive undertaking and I’m lucky to be in partnership with Kevin Mallon/Aradia Ensemble, have musical partnership with Montreal’s Ensemble Paramirabo, visuals created by the multi-talented Catherine Thompson and to have had the public support of the Canada Council, SOCAN and the Ontario Arts Council, along with some incredible private sponsorship for both the commission of The Harvester and the workshops.
This project matters to me because my connection to Erwartung is deep…I am soulfully entwined to this work…and I believe that The Harvester is great theatre that has been brought to life on a new level by being reimagined as an opera. This project should matter to the world because this work is edgy, thought provoking, music-theatre…it is opera, new, bold and exciting…it has already been well received in the initial workshop phase and when it reaches full production I think the whole world will love it.