I love making music. It's the thing I do best. I'm a good mom, but I'm a better singer.
—Tracy Dahl, Soprano
"It's a gift to be able to do what you love," says Tracy Dahl, modestly.
The Winnipeg-based coloratura soprano has graced the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and the Canadian Opera Company. She's sung with the likes of Placido Domingo and has been praised by the critics: she possesses "a voice filled with sunshine, rainbows and laser light" (Opera Magazine).
Last year Dahl faced the ultimate challenge, breast cancer. But she has emerged stronger, and her voice is once again in top form.
Tracy Dahl and Sally Dibblee in "Maria Stuarda" in Victoria (Bruce Stotsbury)
The diminutive soprano is currently back on the opera stage singing Maria Stuarda
in Victoria, and on Monday, April 23 she will be honoured by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
with a Golden Baton Award at its Spring Gala
Through all of this, Dahl remains ever humble. "My family wouldn't have it any other way," she quips. She credits her parents' humour, her Christian upbringing, her husband and children with her down-to-earth attitude to life and music. "There is value in every human being, every job."
From an early age Dahl knew she was headed to a life on the stage. But it was theatre and musical theatre that first caught her fancy.
It wasn't until she was asked to participate in a Manitoba Opera
school production of Hansel and Gretel
that the opera bug bit. Soon Dahl was spending days in rehearsal for Mozart's Marriage of Figaro
, and evenings belting it out on stage at the Manitoba Theatre Warehouse in Side by Side by Sondheim
Dahl's first big break was in 1991, when she stepped in on short notice to sing Adele in Die Fledermaus
at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She hadn't actually rehearsed with the company yet, so just before the performance, when a staff member asked her if she needed anything, Dahl said "Yes, directions to the stage."
Listen to Tracy Dahl sing "The Laughing Song" from Die Fledermaus
Dahl's San Francisco debut hinged on ability to inhabit a role
Her San Francisco debut as Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor
was also unforgettable. Once again, Dahl was called in on a moment's notice. She hadn't sung the role in five years. She was there with baby Jaden, who was almost one year old. "Just before I left for the theatre," she says, "Jaden took his first step. So I said 'If you can take this first step, then I can go and sing this Lucia.'"
Richard Bonynge was conducting the opera, and Dahl knew that his wife, Joan Sutherland
- the last century's most famous Lucia - would be in the audience. Sutherland met with Dahl afterward, pointing out they were "the tallest and shortest Lucias ever," and told Dahl that she really understood the character of Lucia, "which for me is a really high compliment," Dahl says. "It meant I was in the role, in the character, telling a story."
Dahl always delights audiences with her ability to take a role and make it her own. She credits this to her days at MTC and PTE. "I worked with some extremely fine people - really good actors. There was always this standard - it never occurred to me that that wasn't what one should do.
"I think it also comes down to how music speaks to your soul. If you're just on stage thinking of your technique, the soul won't come through to the audience. It's second nature to me."Cancer curveball
The curveball Dahl never expected was the diagnosis of breast cancer in 2010. Added to the fundamental concern for her very life and well-being of her family was the fear for her voice - her instrument. Would she have a future? "I got through it with the support of my husband, my children, lots of homemade meals from friends. Family is a huge motivation to be strong, to be honest."
One year later, one month after her final treatment, Dahl was on the stage again. This fall she sang in Vancouver with Bramwell Tovey. "He hired me in the middle of my chemotherapy," she reveals. "That call came while I was sitting in the oncologist's office. I said 'Oh my gosh, God bless him' - such a statement of confidence and belief that things were going to move forward. And they have and the voice is totally back."
And Manitoba Opera has announced she will sing the role of Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto
next season, another vote of confidence.
Dahl feels lucky and blessed to be singing again. "I love making music. It's the thing I do best. I'm a good mom, but I'm a better singer. It's a privilege to me. And maybe more so now because I thought I might lose it."
The WSO's annual Spring Gala dinner, awards and concert will be held on Monday, April 23, 2012 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
The Golden Baton Award, given annually to those who have made a significant
contribution to the musical life of the community through their excellence or
their special support and contribution to the WSO, will be given to Winnipeg's
Tracy Dahl for artistic achievement, and Carol Bellringer for community