Versatile vocalist quenches a thirst for variety

Kimberly Barber relishes role as teacher, operatic star and cabaret singer Her career has already taken her through a dizzying number of different areas, from educator to operatic star to cabaret sin

29 January 2010

Kimberly Barber relishes role as teacher, operatic star and cabaret singer

Her career has already taken her through a dizzying number of different areas, from educator to operatic star to cabaret singer.
But Kimberly Barber still seems to have an unquenchable thirst for experience.
Currently on sabbatical from Wilfrid Laurier University (where she co-ordinates the voice program), the Ontario-born mezzo-soprano has used her time off from academia to pursue various endeavours. These include her new ensemble L'accordeoniste, where she collaborates with pianist Peter Tiefenbach and accordionist Mary-Lou Vetere, to scores of recitals around the country and an upcoming starring role in the Calgary Opera's production of Little Women.
While braving the cold Alberta winter, she's also agreed to perform in Edmonton for old friend Brian McIntosh, who directs the opera program at the University of Alberta.
The recital, called "Love Before 1850/ Love After 1950, Women's Lives and Loves: Songs by Clara and Robert Schumann, Libby Larsen and William Bolcom," has Barber teaming up with Little Women's pianist Gordon Gerrard for an intriguing evening of musical amour as seen across the sexual divide.
Barber spoke to The Journal recently about her career.
Whereas many vocalists in your field appear content to stick with operatic roles, you do seem to enjoy running the gamut of experiences.
I really do like the variety, yes. My background is also in literature, theatre and film, and I like to be stimulated in what I do. I also love teaching, and in a way it's because of this that I've branched out into a lot of chamber music in last few years, since I have access to so many wonderful musicians at the university.
Has it been tough to balance your many projects, especially given that you're in demand for so many larger ones? Is it hard to make room considering your teaching and performing schedule?
Well, normally an operatic career can be quite isolating; you have to make an effort if you want to do other things.
I take it that recitals are just as important to you as higher-profile roles in big opera companies.
Yes. Unless you're a hugely successful opera singer, recitals won't make you an enormous amount of money. But the satisfaction in tapping into different characters in one evening is enormous.
You'll be tapping into a number of different roles on Monday night, channelling the work of Robert and Clara Schumann, plus William Bolcom as well as your contemporary Libby Larsen in a century-spanning meditation on the vagaries of love.
It's a very contemporary take on relationships and women's feelings.
Years ago I'd done a world premiere of some of Libby Larsen's work in St. Paul, and she handed me these songs, saying 'I'd love for you to do them.'
I fell in love with them immediately and knew that it would be great to do with Schumann, because they're so opposite in sensibility. Schumann's are a beautiful cycle, a man's poetic version of what a women feels at some critical junctures in her life. Meeting her husband, getting married, having a baby and then losing her husband to death. But it's a man's point of view, a very 19th-century man's point of view.
You have to approach these songs as truthfully from the text as you can; if you think too much it will disturb you. (Laughs) Or cause you to roll your eyes.
You have to put it in its own time. It's fantastic to pair these song poems by a man writing for women in the 19th century with songs written by a woman about women in the 20th century. It's a nice juxtaposition.
When: Monday at 8 p.m.
Where: University of Alberta Convocation Hall
Tickets: $10 to $20, available at the door
By Tom Murray, Freelance
January 29, 2010