At 16 years of age, former Red Deer resident Olivia Smith already has a spectacular voice. And with a terrific opportunity before her with Opera Kelowna, her future as a powerhouse singer seems to be that much more of a sure bet.
Smith and her family relocated to Kelowna from Red Deer last summer. The decision to move there followed a holiday to the city, and a pivotal meeting with Kelowna singing instructor Alexandra Babbel, a world-renowned soprano.
“I sang for her, and there was role in the opera Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro),” recalls Smith, who is currently in Grade 10.
Babbel was so impressed with what she heard following Smith’s audition to become a student, and she offered Smith a role of Barbarina in the production which runs this August.
“She said, ‘There’s a role in the opera and I think you would be perfect for it,” explains Smith, who could hardly believe the astounding opportunity. “It’s very exciting,” she said, and she’s particularly fond of her character who certainly adds a touch of youthful energy and spirit to the classic production, which runs Aug. 14th-15th.
“Barbarina is young, she’s fun – she’s a little bit flirtatious but innocent. She’s like the teenager of the group – she brings that aspect to it.”
In the meantime, Smith has already been sharing her musical gift with the Kelowna community via Opera Kelowna and events such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day concerts. Also, during the summer there is an opera program at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, where Smith will be doing much of her training for The Marriage of Figaro.
“There are so many voices here that I’m excited to perform with and to share the stage with,” she explains. “I’m just in awe of them.”
She has certainly been learning plenty from the very accomplished Babbel. “She is phenomenal. She’s amazing – one of those people that is so kind,” explains Smith. “She’s very supportive. You learn so much from her.”
Smith is well-known to audiences here in Red Deer, having performed with Central Alberta Theatre, the Kiwanis Music Festival and various other community events as well.
Her voice is indeed magical, and from the time she was about seven years old, she knew that she wanted to be a performer. She recalls being tuned into music much earlier, however, listening into her mom singing along during their worship services at church.
Over the years, her gift became all the more apparent. And she quickly grew to feel quite at home on the stage. For about eight years, she studied with Cheryl Valentine here in Red Deer. And interestingly, she first had set her sights on country singing. But her parents wanted her to pursue classical training to begin with. “Cheryl really helped me grow into it and love it, too.
“And for the past two years, I’ve realized that opera is really where I want to go. I love the theatrical aspect of it, and the greatness of it.”
Today, it’s clear that studying classical music has provided her with a foundation that opens doors to nailing any number of styles. She sings in several languages including Italian, French, Latin and German as well.
Another highlight this spring will be a trip to New York City that Babbel has planned for several of her students.
Performances there will include shows with the Brooklyn Children’s Choir. Venues include the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Trinity Cathedral which is across the street from Ground Zero. “Alexandra has also arranged an amazing opportunity for me – I’m going to get to study with Joan Dornemann (of the International Vocal Arts Institute).”
Babbel certainly is thrilled to be working with Smith, and recalls those initial moments of hearing the gifted young lady sing. “You can’t listen to her without having this web of tears right behind your eyes immediately – it’s the emotional sound. And she has just exquisite technique.” First off, she was amazed at the repertoire that Smith brought to her audition. “And when she opened her mouth to sing, I was trying to not fall off my bench.
“It was like, thank you God for the angel that just fell from heaven,” she said. “There is something in her spirit that is so generous. She’s such a giver.”
She promptly knew Smith would not only make the perfect student, but that she was also ideal for the part of Barbarina. “It’s delightful, fresh, very youthful and effervescent. It’s perfect for her. She’s going to be great in the role,” she added, noting she also has no doubt of the tremendous career Smith has before her.
Meanwhile, Smith is loving the B.C. lifestyle. “It’s beautiful. I wake up and look out my window and there are the mountains right there. It’s amazing – there are blossoms everywhere and vineyards all over, too. You drive anywhere, and there are vineyards or some sort or orchard,” she said. “For me, there is nothing else in the world that would bring me the sort of happiness that performing does. I know this is the life for me.
“It’s going to be lots of hard work, and there are going to be a lot of steps, and I still have far to go. I have a long ways until I can fully achieve what I want to, but I really want it. I love it so much, that I couldn’t imagine anything different in my future.”