Meet Mireille Asselin, COSI FAN TUTTE’s devious maid

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Asselin headshotOur summer season opens on June 30 with Mozart’s comedic classic Così fan tutte! For the first time, Ash Lawn Opera will take its mainstage opera on the road, with a fully-staged performance of Così fan tutte at the beautiful Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech on June 30, followed by a return to The Paramount Theater for performances on July 10, 13, and 15. This delightful opera, full of mistaken identities, deceptive servants, jealous lovers, and sublime music, is a production you won’t want to miss. Soprano Mireille Asselin, recently recognized by the New York Classical Review for “one of the most enchanting performances of 2015”, will star as the clever maid Despina. Here, Asselin discusses performing with James Levine at the Met, splitting her time between Canada and the United States, and why so many maids in opera seem to be sopranos! You can also catch Mireille performing at our inaugural recital in partnership with Music on Park Street on June 22, as well as at our Season Preview: A Taste of Ash Lawn Opera on June 18 — tickets are on sale now for both!

You received rave reviews for performing Adele in the opening performance of Die Fledermaus at the Metropolitan Opera last year! What was it like jumping in to perform with Maestro James Levine?
It was honestly one of the most terrifying and exhilarating days of my life. When I got the call I initially had this wave of dread at the immense responsibility and all-around-huge-ness of the occasion: opening night! Maestro Levine! Major role! A million words of dialogue and lots of high notes! Important people watching! Singing next to Susan Graham! AHH!!!!!!! But thankfully I felt prepared, I had an amazing group of people helping me and rooting for me, and although it sounds like a cliché, once I stepped out on the stage I truly did just forget it all and have fun. Thank goodness for that!

In Die Fledermaus, Adele is a maid, as is Despina, the role you are performing in Così fan tutte this summer. Do you “specialize” in performing servants and are there similarities to their personalities and vocal styles?Asselin - Oslo
I wouldn’t say that I specialize in playing maids, but that it’s because of the nature of opera and which roles are traditional associated with which kinds of voices that I have ended up playing so many. When you close your eyes and try to think of what a prince sounds like, or a witch, or a young girl, or a maid… you often have a certain color or type of sound that you feel would fit that personality – just as composers do. Often princes are sung by tenors, witches by mezzo-sopranos, and maids..well, I guess they sound like me and other sopranos like me! But of course, since I’ve sung so many “maid” parts over the years, I suppose it has turned into a kind of specialty – I love playing witty, fun women… and boy, is Despina in Cosi fan tutte one of those!

You were born and raised in Canada — do you work more there or in the United States, and where do you actually live?
It’s been a pretty even split down the middle in the past few years – about 50% in Canada and 50% in the USA, and I really love it that way! I live in Toronto with my partner in a great neighborhood surrounded by dog parks and big trees and good Chinese food, and he and I really love it there. But I also am an American citizen (my mom is American and was born in upstate New York) and I have lots of American family, so I love being able to explore new parts of the USA on different opera contracts. I also did my Masters degree in New Haven, Connecticut at Yale University… so I go into major withdrawal if I can’t get my proper New York pizza fix a few times a year.

Asselin donutsAsh Lawn Opera is presenting its first recital on June 22nd for Music on Park Street with you and baritone, Andrew Garland, performing. Do you feel a special affinity for recital repertoire?
Recitals are so fun because you get to tell your own story. I find them very personal and intimate, and I’ve always connected very deeply to art song repertoire. I fell in love with art song way before I was allowed to touch any opera arias. In fact, the French songs by Debussy that I’ll be singing on this program are basically the reason I chose music as my career! I discovered them in high school and it was the first time that I really understood the amazing magic that happens when a great poem is set to music by a great composer, and what fun it can be to try to read the clues that the composer is leaving for you in his or her music. That’s the big joy of an interpreter… to discover these amazing things and share them with new audiences. As a bonus, Andrew and I have been friends for years and I’m a big fan of his!! I’m really excited to work on this program with him and our fab pianist Jeremy.


Photos from top

In performance at The Metropolitan Opera as Adele in J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, photo credit Marty Sohl
Headshot by Kristin Hoebermann
Asselin in Oslo in January 2015, “a singer roaming a new city on an audition trip.”
From Asselin: “Cradling 4 boxes of my greatest joy… DONUTS! Taken by Sarah Foy in Shawville, Québec, June 2016”