Catch Up With 2013 TSM Academy Alum Lucy Fitz Gibbon

In this week’s edition of ‘Fellow Fridays’, we profile soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon.  Since attending the Toronto Summer Music Academy in 2013, Lucy has been busy performing across North America and earning high critical praise for her “dazzling, virtuoso singing” (Boston Globe).  Whether it’s working in early music or collaborating with multimedia artists to pair art song with animation, Lucy is a star on the rise in the world of opera. 

Lucy Fitz Gibbon Headshot

With a busy touring schedule on the horizon for 2016, Lucy caught up with us to let us know what she has been up to.

1.  How old were you when you started studying music? What were some of your early influences?

I started playing the violin at age five, after begging my parents for lessons for two years. Before I was able to take lessons, I used to sit in front of the radio and pretend to play the violin with a glitter wand as my bow. I guess I was surrounded by music from an early age, since my mother was a serious amateur pianist who used to practice a lot at home. I remember a lot of Brahms and Scriabin! My dad isn’t a musician, but he is an opera lover and he used to take me to the San Francisco Opera with him, starting when I was eight years old. I think it was a ploy to get the ushers to feel sorry for me (and thus him) and give us nice seats! However, it backfired because I gave up dreams of medical school and instead I’m now an opera singer myself. Oops! I started singing in choir in middle school after getting guilt-tripped to join by the choral conductor. However, I fell absolutely in love with singing there and started taking private lessons in high school. Ultimately being a singer felt more natural to me than playing the violin: I loved the combination of music and text, and the power I had as a storyteller.

2.  What was your experience like in the Toronto Summer Music Academy?

I had an amazing experience at the TSM Academy. I was able to work with Elly Ameling and Julius Drake, plus a day with Sanford Sylvan. I only knew Elly Ameling and Julius Drake’s work through their incredible discography, and so to be able to work with them in the flesh was a dream come true. I was blown away by Elly Ameling’s wit, wisdom, brilliance, and stamina. I was incredibly moved by the musical risks Julius Drake takes. It felt like everything he played expressed an opinion, that he was playing from the depth of his soul, and hearing him take those risks—and his encouragement of us to take those risks—was really liberating for me as a performer. In addition, I learned so much from my work with Michael McMahon and of course from the amazing singers and pianists who were there alongside me.

3.  What did you find to be the most valuable from your studies at the Toronto Summer Music Academy?

I gained many, many valuable things from my studies, but the two that stand out to me are as follows. Firstly, it was so special to be able to glimpse the lineage of music creation and study through our week with Elly Ameling. She gave this new generation of singers not only of her bottomless knowledge and wisdom, but she connected us with the previous generation, something that is absolutely invaluable. We can learn a lot from recordings (as we found from our incredible evening with an unparalleled record collection!) but there is nothing like being able to study with a master. As I mentioned above, I was (and am!) so inspired by Julius Drake’s bold musical choices. These were evident both in his recital as well as in those moments in class when I was able to sing with him playing the piano—experiencing the embodiment of his teaching. I continue to think about him as I prepare pieces for performance, always striving to make a choice with everything that I do.4.  Would you recommend the programs offered by the TSM to other musicians?

4.  Would you recommend the programs offered by the TSM to other musicians?

Yes! I continue to do so, and many of the friends to whom I have recommended the course (including Kay Maysek, Hyanghyun Lee, and now Jeremy Hirsch) have attended and also loved it!

5.  Since attending the Toronto Summer Music Academy, what have you been up to?

I’ve actually been thinking about my summer at the Academy a lot recently, as I prepare Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées for performance in a small recital tour in the northeast. I sang a few of the songs from the cycle for Ms. Ameling when I was at the Academy and heard a few others performed by another student, so I am constantly going back to my notes and to my memory of that amazing experience!

In general, since that summer I began, and have now completed, a master’s degree, which I received from Bard’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program. There I was a student of Dawn Upshaw and Edith Bers. In between my years at Bard I spent two summers as a fellow at Tanglewood, and I am headed first to Stephanie Blythe’s Fall Island Vocal Arts Seminar and then to the Marlboro Music Festival this summer. In September I started a position as a Visiting Lecturer at Cornell University, where I am teaching voice. It’s a job I really love because I’m learning so much from my students, and my schedule is also flexible enough for me to be able to travel a lot for performances. I’ve had the opportunity to perform as a soloist with a number of orchestras including the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Tulsa Symphony, the American Classical Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and the American Symphony Orchestra in my Carnegie Hall debut. I’ve been involved in the creation of a new opera by American composer Sheila Silver based on the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, which has had performances in New York City and Key West, Florida. My collaborative partner, Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, and I have given recitals throughout the northeastern United States, in Toronto, and at composer John Harbison’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in Wisconsin. We have more recitals upcoming, including the tour mentioned above, and more recitals in Ithaca, NY, and Williamstown, MA. I’ve also worked with a composer and animator, Anna Lindemann, on the creation of a concert-length pairing of animation and art song. We’re taking long-form art songs by Schubert and Prokofiev, as well as a new song written by Anna, and performing them with interactive, live-manipulated animation that helps to tell the story of these wonderful songs. Our hope is that we can reach a diverse audience with this approach without losing the integrity of this amazing music. I’ve done lots of other things, but I guess this comprises some highlights!

6.  What are some of your musical goals for the future?

My musical goals are to continue to make the most expressive, communicative music I can—no matter what or where I’m singing! I’m not sure what the future will hold, but I continue to strive for the same excellence that Elly Ameling and Julius Drake showed us in our weeks together in Toronto.

7.  Is there any music you’re listening to currently that you find really inspiring?

That’s a great question! I recently listened to Peter Eötvös’ new violin concerto, DoReMi, and I was totally entranced by it. I don’t know if this counts, but I also heard four concerts this past summer that—even though they were months ago—really resonated with me and continue to inspire me. The first was a performance of Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. His use of sound—the pure volume of sound that he calls for—was thrilling! Julian Anderson’s new string quartet, 300 Weihnachtslieder, is another example of simply brilliant use of sound. In both of these cases, I sat there grinning from ear to ear. It was so exciting to have my ears and my mind opened to these incredible new sonic possibilities! Finally, I got to attend two performances by Sarah Connolly this summer: Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben and some Mozart arias with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Her singing was incredibly poised, incredibly gracious, and incredibly giving (not to mention, of course, incredibly beautiful). I was so inspired by her commitment to the music and the text above all. I cannot speak highly enough of her!

8.  Where can people learn more about you?

Probably the best place to learn more about me is my website, www.lucyfitzgibbon.com. I do use twitter (@soprano_lucy), but I’m not as vocal (hehe) as I should be…

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