Faculty Profile: Betty Allison

What are you?

I see myself as many things, but mostly as a musician or singing-actor, and now, a teacher.

What do you think is the best part of being a musician?

The best part of being a musician is that you never stop learning, exploring and growing. It’s a career that constantly surprises you, forces you to exam yourself in new ways and encourages you to continually push your boundaries.

Miss Jessel

Betty Allison as Ms. Jessel in Turn of the Screw (Benjamin Britten). The ghost of the former governess, Miss Jessel, haunts the current Governess (Miriam Khalil). Against the Grain Theatre

What areas or topics of research and creativity do you specialize in?

My performance and creative output have been focused in the world of opera. I have spent the last fourteen years singing in operas of all kinds, with a few recitals and oratorios sprinkled in. It is only in the last three years that I started pursing academic research into performance, focusing my research on opera singers and their non-musical stressors and coping strategies.

MWedding_00668-lg

Alain Colombe (Sergeant Flowerdew), Thomas Macleay (Charlie) and Betty Allison (Mary) in Mary’s Wedding (Andrew MacDonald). Pacific Opera Victoria

Which roles and performances of yours would you describe as your favourite?

Every role I have ever performed, no matter how small or large has been a favourite for some reason. For me, each character poses an interesting challenge and each opera is a brief microcosm of colleagues joining together to create a world in which my character can exist. It’s thrilling.

Two of my all-time favourite roles are Mary in Mary’s Wedding and Susannah in Susannah. Both roles, I will likely never do again. With Mary’s Wedding (a Pacific Opera Victoria project) I had the honour to workshop the role with composer Andrew MacDonald and playwright Stephen Massicotte as the team turned Massicotte’s Canadian WWI play into a heartbreaking and powerful full-length opera. As Susannah with the Florentine Opera’s production of Floyd’s work, I felt the cast had a rare chemistry that captured the opera’s tragedy perfectly.  Floyd came to the final rehearsals and show, which only added to magic.

falstaff-le-heros-est-un-coq

In this production all the characters in Verdi’s Falstaff were barnyard animals! Here the chickens, Quickly (Élodie Méchain), Alice Ford (Betty Allison),  and Nannetta (Marie-Ève Munger) are hatching their plan to entrap Falstaff. L’Opéra-Théâtre de Metz Métropole.

What projects are you currently working on?

I was working on two different recitals for the end of May. However, due to Covid-19 they were both cancelled. One was a full recital in Toronto, and the other was Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) with the Emily Carr String Quartet in Victoria. At this point of time, it is too early to know when and even if they will be programmed again in their original form. However, I optimistically keep working on the repertoire in anticipation of when we can gather once again to make music!

The biggest project I have on the go is my DMA dissertation which I hope to write this summer. It truly is a passion project. I think musicians/performers are incredibly resilient and strong people, but there is little to no in-depth research on how classical singers handle the non-musical stressors in their career. Through interviews with elite level performers, my research explores the lived-experience of opera singers with the purpose of formally identify the non-musical stressors and coping strategies that singers use to maintain and promote their vocal health and well-being.

What do you like best about living in the City of Halifax?  

I love living in Halifax.  I find myself surrounded by friendly, outgoing people. In only five months I’ve made wonderful friends who share my interest in hiking and outdoor pursuits. Friends who drag me away from work to experience what Halifax has to offer at whiskey festivals and costume parties at the Discovery Centre. Also, for the first time in a long time, I am not traveling for work all the time and can try out things like kickboxing and ax throwing. There is never a dull moment.

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Susannah (Betty Allison) and the new Reverend Blitch (Wayne Tigges) dance at the county social in Susannah. Florentine Opera.

What advice can you offer any students interested in the performing arts?

This is a dangerous question to ask because I could go on forever with what I consider sage, pertinent advice. However, I’ll only say this. If this is something you truly want, build a strong foundation steeped in your craft. Do the tedious, detailed work that most aren’t willing to do. Then, find your niche. There is no ‘one’ path or definition of what success looks like as a performing artist. Trust that you know what is right for you. Cultivate what makes you passionate and forge a path that aligns with your values. And equally important, be a reliable and kind colleague/collaborator.

Where can we hear some of your work?

I believe music is temporal and meant to be experienced live, and as an opera singer, my entire focus is live performance.  Often, the work I’m most proud of is never even recorded and when it is it is only for archival purposes controlled by the company I am working for at the time.  But here is a fun promo video for Mary’s Wedding with Pacific Opera in Victoria, and me singing “Gaje Comare di Windsor”, a mini aria for Alice in Verdi’s Falstaff.  In this video, pianist Melanie Cancade and I prepare for a recital tour which included a set of Dvořák songsand arias. Melanie and I met on the first day of our undergraduate degree and have continued to perform together ever since. We now run our own summer music program in my hometown of Ladysmith, B.C.

And, perhaps in a year’s time, you’ll be able to read my dissertation.

Requiem 1

Mozart Requiem, with Betty Allison (soprano), Kathryn Whitney (mezzo), Brian Wismath (conductor), Isaiah Bell (tenor), and Nathan McDonald (bass).

Layout and editing by Jennifer Bain.

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