Former Red Deerian truly making his mark in the opera world
The Red Deer native, who is now based in Vancouver, retains his easy-going, friendly and warm personality in the midst of the growing recognition that is coming his way these days. Gibbons is, after all, an extremely talented fellow - as many here in Red Deer know - besides his tremendous gift for song, he’s also a strong actor, too.
But it’s that powerful voice that is getting noticed more and more.
For Die Walkure, which will be staged in June in Vancouver, he will be under the musical direction of Vancouver Opera’s Associate Conductor Leslie Dala. Rehearsals begin in May with cast members coming from several other countries as well.
“It’s a one concert showing - it’s a big piece,” he explained of the classic work. “It’s about four hours of music, so it’s monstrously long,” he added with a laugh.
He was also feature in a run of Carmen this past winter with Burnaby Lyric Opera, which landed strong reviews as well. With each appearance, more opportunities open up.
“More and more projects are beginning to line up,” he said, adding that he’s also performing in a concert with his wife Hayley Crittenden, a soprano who Gibbons met while studying at the Vancouver Academy of Music. Crittenden will also be featured in Die Walkure as well.
Meanwhile, Gibbons is continuously working on his strengthening and refining his voice.
“I try to vocalize every day,” he said. “Singing through arias - you are always tweaking things. It’s very physical and very muscle-memory oriented. It’s like with a runner - you have to keep it moving.”
Looking back, his story about how he discovered his amazing ability to sing is simply fascinating.
“I’m an asthmatic, and I had a troublesome adolescence with it. I used to be a sporty guy being from Red Deer as a kid. But when I hit adolescence, I couldn’t really compete with it. I had trouble getting in shape because of the prednizone, and I needed to find another outlet.”
That’s when he started to explore theatre, performing with Tree House Youth Theatre, Central Alberta Theatre and Red Deer College. He has studied theatre for a year at RDC before moving into English Literature via RDC and ultimately continuing with the University of Calgary.
During this whole time with his theatrical experience in the community, his voice started to get noticed, too.
“(Local voice teacher) Melrose Randell has to take some credit because she saw me in a production with Tree House, and she said, ‘You have a big voice! You should learn how to use it’,” he recalled.
“I have an unusual voice type - it’s called a ‘Heldentenor’. It’s German for ‘heroic’,” he added with a smile. Indeed. Heldentenor is officially defined as, “A powerful tenor voice suitable for heroic roles in opera.”
Gibbons said heldentenors have baritonal qualities with a robust sound - and that’s an ideal thing for his role of Siegmund in Die Walkure.
Prior to his formal training at the Vancouver Academy of Music, Gibbons knew that really, he wasn’t go to be happy on a given career path unless he pursued vocal training and explored where it might lead. His studies there stretched over a period of about eight years.
He earned a Music Degree with Distinction in Voice and an Artist Diploma in Opera Performance.
“So I stuck with it, with a pile of support and I’ve had some ups and downs along the way,” he said.
“I did the Metropolitan Opera council auditions in 2010, and I was fortunate enough to win an award with them. I won an encouragement award. And then they sent me down to the University of Southern California to work with them for a bit. And then I came back and did the Canadian Opera competitions,” he explained. “I was a finalist for that, but I didn’t get in because big voices have a hard time getting into those. They sometimes don’t match the ensemble very well.”
But Gibbons kept pressing forward - optimistic as ever - and simply enjoying the experience of being able to do in life what he really loves. He admits that it’s a line of work that does require patience, as there can be times when the opportunities aren’t as plentiful as one may like.
“For bigger voices - especially tenors - it’s an older man’s game,” he explained of where things are at these days. “You study your butt off in your 20s and early 30s hoping that you’re going to have this instrument in your mid-30s through to the mid-40s.” At 35, Gibbons is just entering that stage so the time is certainly right. And all of that hard work and focus is indeed paying off.
“All of a sudden I’m quite busy and there are more calls. This will be a big audition year for me, too. The COC wants to hear me again, the Met wants to hear me again and the Canadian companies in general know about me, too. So it’s about opening the doors.”
On a technical level, Gibbons explained that for men in particular, it takes a long time for the biology to settle down.
“I still have another 10 years of voice maturing to go before I’m in my prime for big voices,” he said. “Also, the larger the voice, the more technically problematic it is. So it’s taken me a long time to figure it out.”
“Once your presenting fully staged opera, the expectation is that your voice is polished. So you can actually bring it to life as theatre.
“Opera is great music - it’s such a physical and spiritual outlet. To me, it’s the most challenging type of music you can sing because you have to sing over big orchestras. And it has to be completely polished.
“But to do that - and to bring a character to life - is still fantastic!”