When Lori Ossip got onstage for her first singing audition, she refused to make a sound.
“I was such a shy kid… I was about eight or seven. I was kind of humming in my mom’s car and apparently she realized I can sing. Automatically she said, ‘We’re taking you to an audition,’” Ossip said.
“I went for my audition [for the choir at the Jewish Community Centre.] I actually refused to sing for the lady… She even offered to go outside and listen in the window, but for some reason I refused. Since then, I’ve been trying to prove that yes, I can do it.”
And she’s succeeded. In mid-September, Ossip, 19, became the youngest person to sing both a duet and solo in Opera Luminata, which she performed at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.
While Ossip only started taking singing lessons at around 10 years old, she spent most of her childhood perfecting songs that only she could sing.
“I don’t think I had a choice. I just sang. It was just my thing. I remember I had songs that no one else could sing,” she said, adding that I Won’t Say I’m In Love, from Disney’s 1997 animated feature film, Hercules, was one of those songs.
When Ossip started taking singing lessons, she began concentrating on classical music, which eventually led to her love of opera.
“I have a strong passion for opera. I really appreciate it. I recognize how difficult it is to sing. It’s a challenge,” she said.
Opera, according to Ossip, usually means higher notes and hours of training.
“A lot of times the notes go faster, there are bigger jumps [between octaves], there are more technical elements that come into play,” she said.
“You sing something, you’re tired afterwards. Not your voice, but your body.”
It’s these challenges that make each song so rewarding. Especially when Ossip perfects one.
“Oh my God, It’s like you’ve finally done something right. You always start a song and it’s brutal… When I can get the song, it’s so rewarding… It’s almost as good as being on stage.”
The stage was something Ossip conquered soon after she started taking singing lessons. In her first production, which she performed as part of an after-school program, Ossip refused to sing a solo. Instead, she auditioned for, and got, the part of the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz.
“I was so scared,” she said.
But all that changed two months after her first show.
“Two months later, I was singing in [Aladdin],” she said, adding that the show was part of a summer program.
Ever since then, Ossip fell in love with theatre. So much so, that she can’t really see herself doing anything else.
“I love performing and I love opera. It’s so hard. I’ve stage-managed before. I’ve been the person in the back with the headset, and that’s really fun, but it’s so hard seeing other people go onstage and you’re itching to go out and do something,” she said.
Which is why the teen was so excited when she found out about Opera Luminata, a show mixed with musical theatre pieces, opera and special effects like fireworks or lasers.
Ossip first heard about the Opera Luminata from her singing teacher, the lead soprano on the show.
“She recommended me. She got me talking to the right people. I was ecstatic. It’s my regional theatre debut, and I’ve been waiting for that forever. Especially since I’ve been training classically for the past nine years,” she said.
Ossip performed a solo – an operetta called One Kiss – and a duet called Stranger in Paradise, from the 1953 musical Kismet. The duet was particularly challenging for Ossip.
“I think the most difficult part was the acting in Stranger in Paradise. I’ve never really done partner work, like strong, adult partner work. I’m only 19. In high school, we don’t do very deep love scenes,” said Ossip, an Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto graduate.
One of the hardest parts for Ossip wasn’t the performance, which took place Sept. 14 and 15. It was the rehearsals.
“I was trying to figure out my motive [in the scene] and then sharing it with the world, which was scary. I’m a naturally shy person,” she said.
“When you get onstage, there’s a fourth wall. You’re separated from the audience. In rehearsal, you see everyone.”
It was during these rehearsals when Ossip felt the most intimidated.
“Pouring your heart out when there’s everybody there is a difficult thing to learn how to do. You have to be very vulnerable at all times. If the director says, ‘No, I don’t like that choice, make a new one,’ you have to push it even further until you find a [choice] the director likes.”
For Ossip, the performances were particularly rewarding.
“It’s very freeing. My acting teacher would say, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ She’d say, ‘When you’re onstage, it’s like you’re in Vegas.’ You get away with so much more on the stage,” she said.
“It was so exciting. It’s a rush.”
Ossip is just about to begin her second year at the University of Chicago, where she’s majoring in both theatre and economics.
The 19-year-old got a 4.0 GPA after her first year, an accomplishment that meant lots of time in the library.
“[The University of Chicago] is known to be one of the most academically rigorous schools in the world,” Ossip said.
“I’m an overachiever. I push myself way too hard… You really get used to not sleeping. I did what I had to do.”