It was freezing in Toronto. There was no snow (which is odd when you're from Montreal!) but it was windy and freezing. I was walking from my backstage visit at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performance Arts and heading to the waterfront to meet baritone Joshua Hopkins, who performs Papageno in The Magic Flute presentend at the Canadian Opera Company through January 19, 2017. But the freezing cold DRAINED my cellphone's battery and by the time I got to the meeting spot, it was DEAD. Complete panic. I was on time for the interview but I had no way of reaching him!
Thank god that when my phone got warmer, it came back to life! I immediately called him, apoligizing for being late and you know what? He was totally cool about it. Not upset, not disappointed, just happy I made it alright. Talk of breaking the diva opera singer stereotype.
He met me in the lobby of the building and suggested we head to the common area on the highest floor where we would be able to chat. So between the lobby and the 38th floor, we talked about my cat, which he knew by name (it's EugÃ©nie, learn it and love it) although I had never told him about her. Clearly, Joshua had checked my Instagram @chatdopera, which was definitely thoughtful and only slightly creepy. But hey, what you put on social media is for the world to see, sooo..
The view at the top was beautiful. Looking for a place to sit, we found a piano. Joshua went straight to it and began playing. So I filmed him of course. And then we took some selfies, because why not. But enough about how I genuinely want him to be my best friend, let's jump to Papageno!
Drama in the audience
As a performer, Joshua treats Papageno's suicide very seriously; Papageno is ready to die if he doesn't find his Papagena. It's a very serious moment. Seeing as he has performed in The Magic Flute a number of times, I checked with him he had been in the production of Opera Lyra in Ottawa a few years ago. When he confirmed it was him on stage, I immediately asked him if he had notice something strange in the audience on one of the nights. We began talking about the incident that happened in the audience. It was one of his most memorable stage moments. Joshua describes that the audience feels a lot of empathy for Papageno and want to follow him on his journey. Who isn't looking for love?
So when Papageno told the audience that he was going to kill himself unless we stopped him, a woman from the front loge on the second level threw herself at him in an attempt to save him! Luckily, the patrons on the lower level were able to catch her in time and she was not hurt. Joshua said that from the stage, he could only hear noises in the hall but seeing as Pinchas Zuckerman kept conducting, he kept on singing. #theshowmustgoon.
Tips for young singers
In winter weathers, our bodies are more dry, which is very unsettling for singers, Joshua mentionned. His trick to hydrate properly for a performance is to not drink water right before singing, which is what you would expect. Water actually has the reverse effect; it makes your throat more dry when you drink it before singing. Instead, he keeps a fresh apple in his dressing room, and each time he's about to go on stage, he takes a few bites. The apple actually mimics natural saliva. By the time the opera is done, so is the apple. This combined with a generous application of lip balm, and Joshua does not feel dry anymore!
Want to know a secret? Between the 2nd and the 3rd part of The Magic Flute, Joshua does not have the time to go back to his dressing room to nibble on his apple. So before the second part, he cuts a small piece of it, wraps it in a paper towel, and puts it in the pocket of his costume! Now you know what's really going on on stage if you're going to the Tsallagova/Haji production because there are two different casts performing at the COC.
I am really thrilled to have had a chance to speak with baritone Joshua Hopkins. I strongly recommend attending the few performances left of The Magic Flute at the COC, in which both casts are sure to have you smiling and laughing. Let yourself enjoy Mozart's operatic fairytale for an evening, and forget all about the reality outside the hall. And that freezing cold.