Fresh off her gripping performance as a modern-day Medea, Lauren Segal sipped tea and reflected on the world of opera, the career path she has chosen.
Last month, she sang the title role in a staged production of a new work, M’dea Undone, a modern-day recreation of the classic Greek myth.
The Toronto-based mezzo-soprano etched the character’s path from loving wife to betrayal and revenge in plush tones of searing emotion. The music theatre piece, co-commissioned by Scottish Opera and Toronto’s Tapestry Opera, had its premiere at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works, a reconceived brick factory that has been transformed into a modern community environmental centre.
“I knew when I was a little girl in South Africa, in a school play, that I wanted to sing,” she recalled. “I knew when I was in Grade 1. And then I fell in love with Broadway, Les Miz and all that stuff.”
She and her family came to Toronto when she was 10, and she speaks today with a Canadian accent, though she can readily switch to a South African one.
From her early years, the multi-talented Segal has had a concurrent fascination with science and mathematics – a rarity among singers. (She ultimately earned a master of science degree in physics from the University of Toronto.)
Indeed, after graduating from high school, “I ended up choosing physics and biology and went to York University. In my second year, I joined the choir there and met some people who were studying opera. I started listening to it and fell in love with opera.”
After her second year, she began to study opera seriously and found the teacher with whom she works to the present day: Inna Golsgand.
After leaving university, Segal studied languages and music history, because “ultimately, I knew I had to follow my gut and go with opera.”
With strong parental support and hard work, she made great strides in her vocal training, and in 2005, was invited to join the Canadian Opera Company (COC) Ensemble Studio – its prestigious young artist apprentice program.
“I was thrilled beyond thrilled to work with the COC. It was a very exciting time to be there, [during] the transition from the Hummingbird Centre to the new opera house. And as a scientist, I was so fascinated with the new opera house, the acoustics of it.”
She praises the late Richard Bradshaw, who, as general director of the COC, was the driving force behind the building of the new opera house. He also was the man who brought her into the company. “He was a real mentor and a real inspiration to me… so kind, and such a presence, a real presence.” She has since performed in many COC productions.
She identifies strongly with her Jewish background. “Often I’m the only Jew [in a production]. I find it a great responsibility [and] I want to share what is so amazing about being Jewish. My responsibility is to show and share and explain… I’m Conservative – it’s important to me. I don’t keep Shabbat, but I try to avoid working on the Sabbath, though it is not always possible. I just love the traditions, I love the core messages of peace, tolerance, love and respect, helping people and sharing, and I really want to pass that on.”
When not singing, she said, “my first priority is to spend as much time with friends and family as possible. I love anything outdoors. Yesterday I was at my cousin’s farm an hour north of Toronto, planting squash, working the soil. I got a million mosquito bites but try not to think about that. I love playing bridge with my grandmother when I can – quality time with my loved ones.”
With upcoming engagements at the COC (a role in next season’s La Traviata) and with the San Francisco Symphony in December, Lauren Segal is a singer to watch and to hear. For more details, visit her website, www.laurensegal.com.