To Alicia Woynarski, mezzo-soprano and voice teacher, music means everything. “It means joy, love – I can reach out to people and help them escape the roughness of the world,” Woynarski says. “It’s an outlet for people who can’t express their emotions to come and listen because they can experience those emotions. That’s what opera singing really is – emotions intensified through music.”
After Woynarski’s first singing lesson at age seven, she told her mother she wanted to be a singer. For the next eight years, her first voice teacher, who remains a friend and mentor, instilled the love of classical music. In high school, it was clear that her career would involve singing and she studied seriously, taking theory and history exams and getting Royal Conservatory grades. In her second year of university she specialized in performance so she could sing in the operas.
However, she also wanted to study the composers, many of whom came from the same areas in Europe as her parents. “It was family history that made me interested in the culture and in learning the languages. With opera, we had to study German, Italian, French and English and be able to sing in them,” says the musician, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Western University and a master of music degree in voice performance from the University of British Columbia.
As a mezzo-soprano, Woynarski explains, her voice is on the lower end of the soprano range and is suitable for roles such as seductress, mother, witch or sometimes boys. (The higher soprano voices sing the love interest roles – the Juliets.) Inspired by the work of mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Joyce DiDonato, Woynarski – whose favourite role so far is Carmen – has an extensive repertoire. “I am always striving to continue with this opera career and get into new opera houses,” she says.
Woynarski performed with Calgary Opera in February and will make her debut with Manitoba Opera next season.
People sometimes consider opera stuffy and difficult to understand but much is being done to change that. Such groups as Calgary Concert Opera and Cowtown Opera perform in English, making it accessible and fun. “Come and have an open mind and experience it,” says Woynarski. “It’s art for everyone.”
She has also been giving voice lessons for the past five years and has recently opened her studio in Airdrie. Woynarski teaches the classical technique of opera singing with emphasis on alignment, posture and especially breathing, but she does cater the lessons and repertoire to the students’ interests. “I have a few students who focus on musical theatre, a few [who] focus on jazz, but always with scales that [are] the backing of classical technique,” she says.
As musician, performer and teacher, Woynarski wants students to be engaged with the character and how the character is feeling so there is a sense of understanding. “They need to be able to connect with the music,” she says.
Ultimately, she would like her students to learn to express emotion through singing as well as learning how to create beautiful sounds. “There is a saying in Italian, “chiaro scuro” which means the perfect balance between light and dark aspects of the voice. I would like to pass that on to students,” she says.
Woynarski’s talents extend to the visual arts. She has been asked by a children’s author to illustrate his book and she enjoys doing portraitures for friends and family. She enjoys working with artists from all disciplines and hopes, one day, to work on a collaboration involving song, dance, drama and visual art on a chosen theme to present to the community. She is also the director of the Airdrie United Church choir.
For Woynarski, singing provides her with an outlet, as well. “As singers and actresses we wear our emotions on our sleeves,” she says. “A lot of people struggle with their emotions and it’s a way for them to connect which is always a good thing.”