by Ilaria Gelichi
1. Dina, you are studying Vocal Technique for opera singers at ISTITUTO EUROPEO with Susanna Rigacci. Why did you choose her and how is your relationship?
When I was researching places to study in Italy, I came across Istituto Europeo and I kind of just knew I had to study here. I researched the teachers at Istituto Europeo and came across Susanna Rigacci. I listened to her singing on YouTube, then I spoke to my teachers back home and they all agreed that she would be the right choice for me. I didn’t give up until I received confirmation that she would be my teacher. I am currently studying with Susanna here in Florence and I really enjoy the lessons and the relationship we have, we have a great mutual understanding.
2. What do you think you are learning particularly from Susanna?
I can say that the Italian style of singing and the North American style are very different. In North America, there is more pressure to be perfect always. Before coming here I was focusing completely on technique and Susanna gave me the opportunity to actually sing and blossom in my own singing style. She is helping me to explore different ways to achieve vocal greatness. I’m doing a lot of exercises and different techniques I don’t usually do at home. She is also helping me to become more free.
3. Culturally speaking – but in regards to music too - have you noticed many differences between your country, Canada, and Italy?
I have always had pressure – as I said earlier - to be the best but what I learned here and particularly from Susanna is that I cannot be perfect now. I will eventually get better but “no one is ever perfect”, she said, “I’m still learning now”. For her it’s important that I achieve the right position, the right point, from which I can then improve.
In regards to culture in general, I find that Italians are very relaxed and not very strict with time. Their lifestyle is much more taking it day by day, minute by minute almost. You will hardly ever see an Italian in a rush, which is very different than Toronto.
4. What do you think about the city of Florence?
I have heard that Florence is the most beautiful city in the world, from everyone who had been here before I came. I can say that this is definitely true. In Florence there is a lot of beautiful art, history and architecture and I love that. Here I’ve seen some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and that’s just on my walk to school. I feel that in Toronto if you want to see art and history you have to go out and find it; whereas here in Florence, it’s everywhere. I wasn’t expecting the city to be so full of history, like the old cobblestone roads, the buildings, etc. I think it’s extremely difficult to drive in this city. I always walk and that’s great because I don’t think I would have seen as much as I’ve seen if I wasn’t walking around everywhere, exploring and being able to stop – if I had a car this wouldn’t be possible.
5. How did you start as a singer? How did you realize that you wanted to become a singer?
When I was very little, about a few months old, my parents where shocked because my dad used to sing to me and I hummed the melody back. When I was 3 I started doing “concerts” for the neighbourhood, everyday at lunch time. Then we moved to Canada and my parents put me in a music school, where I performed and studied for many years. One day my mother saw an advertisement in the newspaper for an opera singer who was offering lessons so she suggested we go hear what a professional’s opinion. I went to see him and he said “she has to sing opera, she’s got a talent”. So I started studying opera when I was 11 and I just never stopped. Then I went to university to study classical voice performance and that’s how I ended up in Florence finishing the last credits of my undergraduate degree.
6. What are your plans for the future? Do you have goals to reach?
I definitely have goals to reach. Of course my plans are to become a famous opera singer, a really famous one. Like Susanna, because she is known all over the world, I’ve heard of her in Toronto. I want to be known… It would be true success – that, and also being able to have an equally successful family life.
7. In your opinion, which is the best quality an opera singer should have?
Patience. Which I don’t have! I want my voice to just “work” right way, but it takes time and lots of meticulous work. There are lots of seemingly boring, annoying exercises which will get you there and you have to do, and patience is the key… A quality that I definitely lack, but I think it’s really important for opera singers. And also perseverance- you really need to have a goal in mind and you have to work towards it, you can’t give up. You have to be positive all the time… Also something I lack!
8. “A winner never quits. A quitter never wins.” Is that true?
Yes, that’s true for sure. I know people who have quit and others who even though they might not be the best, they don’t give up. It’s like that with every profession I think, not just opera: the minute you give up, you’re not serious, you don’t want it badly enough.
9. Has this experience in Italy changed you in some way?
Yes, I think it has changed me in a lot of ways. It taught me to be independent: I still live with my parents and I’m the youngest of 3 children and I’ve always had my family and friends and around me as my support system. Being alone in another country made me stronger mentally and taught me to be my own support system. Also, when I’m at home I always find a reason not to practice, because I don’t like singing in front of my family. I also have practice rooms at school back home, but I never found the time or reason to. Maybe I was too unmotivated… I find that I practice here a lot more than I do at home, which definitely helps me.
10. Have you already started working with any opera companies?
Yes, I have. When I was about 12 I joined the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus in Toronto. They are an excellent chorus led by excellent musicians and people. The Canadian Opera Company (who is the resident company in the Four Seasons Opera House in Toronto) always turns to the CCOC first when casting children in their productions. I performed in the children’s chorus in productions such as La Boheme, Carmen, and I even had the role of 3rd spirit in the Magic Flute when I was about 12-13. Last year during the 3rd year of my undergraduate my teachers suggested I audition for Opera in Concert, which is a company in Toronto. I guess they liked me because I’m still working with them now-it’s my second season. I haven’t only performed in the chorus of Opera in Concert, I also had the supporting role of Myrtale in Thais. The director of Opera in Concert is the same of Toronto Operetta Theatre, and I’ve done 3 opererttas now with them. While I was in Italy now I went back to Canada for 2 weeks because I got an offer to do a role with that company. Opportunities come and go… and since this was during my fall break I am grateful that I had the ability to accept this one.
11. Would you recommend an experience like yours at ISTITUTO EUROPEO?
Definitely. Especially If you are studying opera as I do. I think it has helped me to grow, and to learn a lot. Studying Italian in Italy (as studying any language in its home country) is extremely helpful, because you are forced to speak it with people who don’t understand you. I’m good at languages generally, but I never learned one so quickly. Studying Italian here helped me immensely to learn it much quicker. But also singing: where else you can study opera if not in Italy?