A conversation with Simone McIntosh: Life after winning the Wirth Vocal Prize

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(A blog post by Digital Ambassador Vanessa Croome)

Photo by Gaetz Photography.

Simone McIntosh (M. Mus 2017) was the winner of last year’s Wirth Vocal Prize and has since gone on to earn such successes dreamt about by many young Canadian singers. A current member of the illustrious Ensemble Studio at the Canadian Opera Company, McIntosh earned her spot after landing the top prize in the 2016 Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio Centre Stage Competition in the fall of 2016. During her time at McGill, McIntosh studied with Professor Dominique Labelle and was a frequent soloist with various Schulich ensembles. Her Opera McGill credits include Judith in Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Meg in Mark Adamo’s Little Women, and Ruggiero in Handel’s Alcina.

A native of British Columbia, McIntosh received her Bachelors of Music from UBC. She has been heard across Canada, appearing as a soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, McGill Symphony Orchestra, and McGill University Chorus alike.  Heralded as “a naturally big, beautiful, gleaming high mezzo” by Musical Toronto, we are excited to see where Simone’s musical gift will take her next!

In celebration of the 2017-2018 Wirth Vocal Prize Competition, we spoke with Simone about her blooming young career after being named last year’s winner.

You’ve done some pretty exciting stuff since you won the Wirth Prize last year. What’s it like out there for young singers in the ‘real world’?

A lot of exciting opportunities have happened, and some other ones coming up! As a young professional, it is easy to get lost in what other people are doing, but it’s not about that. Everyone’s journey is different, and that is what’s so exciting about being in this business. Something I was not expecting is how much free wine and food there is--definitely not something I would complain about!

How did winning the Wirth Prize last year help you jumpstart your career post-McGill?

Prior to the actual competition, I feel as though it challenged me in a way that helped me grow as a performer and artist. I loved working on my program, and it gave me the chance to find the best way to communicate through the text and music. The Wirth Prize allowed me to focus on my craft, and accept opportunities I would not have been able to otherwise. For example, I was able to take time in the summer to go to SongFest which has proven to be successful for the growth of my career and development.

Any advice for this year’s finalists?

I would say to just enjoy and lose yourself in the music. You’ve done all the work to get to the finals (technique, translations, endless coachings and rehearsals, etc.), so don’t think about all that. Just tell the story and have fun!

Do you have a favourite McGill memory?

As a performer, my favourite memory was performing Judith in “Bluebeard’s Castle.” It was a dream role, and I got to work with wonderful people on it. It was one of the more fulfilling pieces I’ve had the chance to perform in my life.

In general, I have such fond memories of McGill. I had, and continue to have incredible mentors, friends, and supporters.

What’s it like being a Young Artist at the Canadian Opera Company?

I walk into work everyday with a smile on my face, and think “I’m getting payed for this!” The COC cares deeply about the Ensemble Studio, and gives us endless resources to help us grow. I am surrounded by fantastic colleagues, and I get to listen to opera all day long! Dream job!

What would you say to skeptics worried about opera’s relevance in 2017?

Opera is timeless, exciting, and relevant, as well as their stories. As creators of opera, we need to ensure that what we are doing is resonating with the audience and finding the best way to relate. I always love seeing a new production of a Mozart opera that is set in the 21st century over a traditionally set one. As well, I am a strong believer that contemporary opera is important in our society to keep the artform living and breathing. Contemporary composers can often be overlooked and neglected, but I think it’s our duty as members of a changing society to keep our minds and ears open to new experiences.

What’s up next for Simone?

On December 5th at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, I will be performing a solo recital with pianist Stephane Mayer (another McGill alumnus) as one of the prizes from the Wirth Competition. I am very excited to be performing works of Grieg, Poulenc, Berg and Frank Bridge. Later in the season I will be heading down to Boston to perform a 50 minute work by composer John Harbison with Collage New Music. At the end of the Canadian Opera Company’s season, the Ensemble Studio will have a Showcase where we will perform for an evening with the COC Orchestra and conductor Johannes Debus. The summer will have some extra exciting things, but you will have to stay tuned for an announcement.

Simone will be performing in recital through the Schulich@COC concert series as the Winner of the 2016-2017 Wirth Vocal Prize on December 5th at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, Ontario. The recital will take place from 12-1:30pm in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre and is presented in part through the COC Free Concert Series.