MYOpera, 2013

Alumni Spotlight: Jan Nato

Jan Nato was in MYOpera’s 2013 Triple Bill production, performing in both Mavra (Stravinsky) and Le Magicien (Vallerand). In the photo above you see him as Arlequin with Alyson Spina as Columbine in Le Magicien (2013). Jan shares with MYOpera what he’s been up to recently!

1.Where are you from? 

I was born in the Philippines, and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba when I was two years old.

2. Where do you currently live?

I’m currently living in Winnipeg. Come this September, I will be calling Montreal home for a little while.

3. What’s your favourite MYOpera memory?

I was in Triple Bill. The one opera I was not in was La serva padrona, and I distinctly remember a moment when Janaka, Kate, and Giovanni broke into a great dance alla macarena. Add to this image gray onesies and amazing music, and it made for a favourite memory.

I must share another, and that’s a reception that Kate, Maeve, and Spoon hosted at their place for the MYOpera team. It was a great evening of getting to know each other and really become a part of the MYOpera family. It was the start of life-long connections that continue to this day. In fact, I’ll soon get to run into Kate and Maeve in London (UK) of all places! I’m quite excited for the reunion.

4. What role has MYOpera played in your career/life?

MYOpera gave me my first opportunity to perform an opera in Toronto. I had moved from Winnipeg, and we all know what a shock that can be. I remember I lived in a perpetual state of sensory overload for the first three months and I was experiencing the additional shock of moving from a small pond to an amazing ocean of talented artists. MYOpera gave me the opportunity be paid to perform and the support to do my best. MYOpera gave me my first “opera family” in Toronto.

5. What have you been doing since MYOpera?

Oh boy! What haven’t I been doing?

I finished my Master of Music in Opera Performance at the University of Toronto. I had the immense privilege of performing two roles there that have changed me as a person: Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and the title role in Britten’s Albert Herring. In Winnipeg I performed the title role in Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito. This was a role that really surprised me as an actor; there is so much more there than I had presumed there was.The performance took place in the ruins of St. Boniface Cathedral, so it really felt very Roman in every way. Most recently, I got to revisit my old friend in a fun production of Don Pasquale with Jeunesses Musicales Canada (There were muscle shirts and neon coloured swim trunks involved…).

Of course, in the midst of this, I had to support myself in between gigs. In Toronto I had a day job that (I have to admit) I hated. My roommate at the time snapped some sense into and said, “You’ve got skills, so do something else!”). I quit my day job and started doing some graphic and website design. It was great to support fellow emerging artists develop their professional presentation.

In December 2014 I moved back home to Winnipeg to save some money while regrouping for another opportunity. I worked as Community Art Program Coordinator for an amazing organisation called Artbeat Studio. Founded ten years ago, Artbeat Studio promotes healing and empowerment through creative endeavour. We do this by 1) offering an artist-in-residence program for artists recovering from mental illness, by 2) running an urban arts centre in Winnipeg’s inner city open to all, and by 3) operating a social enterprise boutique where our artists’ work is sold for their economic benefit. It was amazing year getting involved in community development through the lens of the arts. I learned a lot. Above all, I was reminded that about music’s role in my life.

So now the new opportunity for which I was regrouping: I’m happy to report that this September I’ll begin law school at McGill. The law, and specifically how laws shape our society, was a passion of mine since before the time when I knew what opera was. I hope to help make our society a place where all can find their place, where music can flourish, where artists will always be able to hold that mirror up to us to say, “Okay, let’s talk about how we’re doing as a species.”

Music will always be my strength and stay, my place to come home to. I am still planning recital programmes! I hope to perform one I’ve called Floods of the Centuries that will span four centuries of music this August in Winnipeg.

On a fun note, I have hosted many a dinner party since my time with MYOpera. A recent triumph of mine was a six course French meal that ended in crêpes suzette flambéed at the table.

6. What’s your favourite opera (to watch/listen to)?

Why are you making me choose? Let me pick a few.

La Traviata is a masterpiece of Italian music. Maria Callas called Verdi a bel canto composer. I agree with her. This opera is the summit of the power of the human voice to express every emotion, especially Maria Callas’s 1953 recording conducted by Gabriele Santini. It’s a lesser known recording, but my favourite one of the opera.

La Sonnambula is another of these great bel canto masterpieces I can’t help but be drawn into. I really do wish that Bellini had lived longer. Again, I love this opera because the language is so alive in it. I love hearing how a singer “partners” with a great composer to bring life to words. If I were on an audition panel and I saw “Ah non credea mirarti” listed, I would ask if they knew “Ah! Se una volta sola rivederlo potessi,” the preceding recitative that tears me apart everytime: “Quanto infelice io sono, felice ei sia… Questa d’un cor chi muore è il l’ultimo preghiera…”

I love watching a made-for-television production Albert Herring from Glyndebourne. It’s the paragon of an ensemble cast, and you really do forget that they’re singing. They take such care of the English language in all its beautiful textures. It’s a beautifully executed satire on Britishness.

I love listening to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The second act Liebesnacht seen sounds like making love. The final Liebestod is peerless transfiguration.

Honourable mentions go out to: Lucia di Lammermoor, Peter Grimes (especially the Sea Interludes),  Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, Cavalleria rusticana, Le nozze di Figaro, and Il barbiere di Siviglia.

7. What’s your guilty pleasure song (any genre)?

Oh dear… I think more than any particular song, my guiltiest pleasure is singing the soprano/mezzo-soprano repertoire in my own octave. I think I know the entirety of Amina’s mad scene (La Sonnambula). I make a mean Leonora from Il trovatore if I do say so myself. Princess Eboli’s “O don fatale” fromDon Carlo is another fiery favourite. Donna Anna’s “Or sai chi l’onore” creeps in there too. I think Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate is among the most joyful pieces of music there is. It was first sung by a man you know…

8. Traveling is always an adventure! What’s your favourite/most memorable travel experience?

I couldn’t pick a favourite travel here. Seeing new parts of the world is always amazing.

However, I do have a most memorable travel experience, but not for the reasons one would expect. I just finished singing the final performance ofLa clemenza di Tito in Winnipeg and I needed to be in the airport maybe three hours after that to get to Montreal for Don Pasquale. I didn’t have time to have a goodbye dinner with friends or family; I was in performance mode for the last weeks. My best friend drove me and my family to the airport when our car broke down on the way. There I was, bring brought to the airport by people whom I love but I had not been able to see at all. Further, I wasn’t sure when I would be in Winnipeg next. This was the day I really realised what immense sacrifices professional opera singers make.

9. Do you have a signature dish/meal that you make? Tell us about it!

Besides boeuf bourguignon and steak tagliata, which are pretty standard and you can Google readily, I have a dish that I call “No Kiss Pasta.” Why?

I start by dissolving finely minced anchovy fillets in a pan with olive oil. To that I add a copious amount of minced garlic and allow it to soften. I tip in a drained can of chickpeas, a generous pinch of hot pepper flakes and allow those flavours to become friends, adding more olive oil if the pan becomes dry. I put a short pasta in some hot, boiling, salted water (usually pennoni). I flake apart some canned light tuna, and squeeze the water out of some thawed frozen spinach and set them aside. Once the pasta is al dente, I drain it and tip it into the pan with the garlicky, anchovy-y chickpea mixture. I add the tuna and the spinach (only at this point so they don’t overcook) and put in a good few heaping tablespoons of briny capers. Finish with more olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and some pasta water to transform into an unctuous sauce. Season with grated parmigiano and black pepper. It’s a great dish served hot or at room temperature as a quasi-pasta salad. Fair warning though: you won’t be kissing anyone unless they have also had this great dish with you.

10. Singers/Artists are busy people! What’s your favourite snack when you’re on the go?

I’m awful at planning snacks. I have a notoriously bad habit of having a coffee and a pastry in the mid afternoon . Some famous combinations that I ran to are: americano and amaretto at L’Espresso Bar Mercurio, americano and pain au chocolate at Nadège, a Hong Kong style coffee and custard bun from Chinatown (the most economical option on this list), and most recently the chocolate chip cookie with a coffee at Maman in First Canadian Place.

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