The Prague Summer Nights Festival, presented by Classical Movements, is a program with a mission to develop the next generation of opera singers and allow young artists to perform in historic venues and find a platform to begin their careers.
Baritone Dominic Veilleux is new to the program this year. The baritone, who is portraying Papageno in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” is a rising star in Canada where he is a graduate of the Québec Conservatory of Music. With the Atelier Lyrique of the conservatory, he has performed numerous roles including Leporello in “Don Giovanni,” Brunner in “The Three Waltzes,” and Franz in “Der Schauspieldirektor.”
Since 2011, Dominic has been a member of the Choir of the Opéra de Québec and he made his debut as a soloist in May 2014 by interpreting the servant in “Macbeth.” In October of the same year, he was given the role of D’Estillac in “The Merry Widow,” followed by the First Priest in “Die Zauberflöte.”
He has also portrayed Albert in “Werther” at the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean Opera as well as Figaro in “Le Nozze di Figaro” in Lucca, Italy.
OperaWire had the chance to speak with Veilleux on his work at the Prague Summer Nights Festival and the challenges of working on a role like Papageno.
OperaWire: How did you first hear about the Prague Summer Nights Festival?
Dominic Veilleux: I first heard about it through an ad on Facebook and I decided to apply. It was three months after the application deadline and I asked the administration to see if there were places still available and they offered me a place, so I got in.
OW: How has the experience been for you?
DV: It has been really good and better than it was originally supposed to be. Originally I was not supposed to have a role but then I got the role of Papageno and it’s kind of been a dream come true. Papageno has been one of my dream roles since I started singing. And, of course, the Faculty is really amazing. I have learned so much in three weeks.
OW: Tell me about working with the Faculty?
DV: The Faculty really listens to our needs a lot. And they really understand that it’s a summer program and they can’t change our whole technique. They are here to help us continue our ways and develop skills and tools to help us. The coaches are great musicians and I think a summer program is there for the artistry than to help better a technique. That is what they have been really good with.
OW: How do you balance the challenges of acting and singing for Papageno and how have the coaches helped you with that?
DV: I was meant to be an actor first and during my studies, I discovered that I had a voice so I started studying singing and this was the best of the two worlds. Opera is acting and singing so I really enjoy roles like Papageno, which was written for an actor first. And for me, acting is not demanding. I have to focus on the voice but because Papageno was created for an actor it’s not really hard vocally. There is a lot of presence as he is always there. So the most demanding part of opera is the stamina. It’s true that the speaking and the voice are not the same so I have to be careful that the dialogues are not over pushed.
OW: How have the vocal coaches helped you prepare the role?
DV: Well, I have worked with the coaches here on the music mostly with pianists and they are really good at helping us build the character in the musical style. And we had the chance of having a German director, Joachim Scamberger on the work. So for the German dialogue and the singing, he was always there when we did something wrong. He was there to help us correct it and we did a lot on the dialogue with him. He is amazing.
OW: What are some of the challenges of singing Mozart?
DV: For me Mozart is perfection. He is my favorite composer of all time because everything has its place. That is what makes it so difficult. If you don’t do the right thing then it will not be good. It has to be on point, perfect and that is what makes it one of the most difficult composers to sing. If it is not, it does not sound good. But it is so good for young singers because it is not heavy.
OW: Tell me about Joachim’s approach to directing?
DV: He knows what he wants and he is a good actor himself. And every time he explained something it was really precise and I loved it. It makes the job easy.
OW: Arthur Fagen is a very exact conductor and he is demanding. What are some of the challenges of working with him?
DV: Like Joachim, he knows what he wants and when he does not get it he will start over and over. I love that and that is the kind of conductor that makes the show even better. Especially Mozart has to be perfect and Fagen is a conductor who is precise. He speaks German so when he heard mistakes in the dialogue or in the arias he would start over. He wants precision so when we do a quarter note but it’s an eighth note, we start over until it’s correct. That’s nice.
OW: Everyone in this program is at a different level. What has it been working with singers of all different experience levels?
DV: I loved that because everybody has something to show and offer. That is what is great about summer programs. You get to meet people and learn from everybody. Whenever someone is on stage, it is really fun to watch them evolve as well and sometimes we forget what it was like to be a beginner. And this freshness is great to have. It reminds us of who we were.
OW: You performed in the opera scenes as well as in the staged performance. How do you manage to learn so much music in so little time?
DV: I learned Papageno in a short period but I was a cover so I knew it. But I must say I never have a hard time learning. I have a good memory and I look at a piece of music and in one day I can learn it. The biggest challenge was that there was lots of singing. We were singing from 9 to 9 every day and that was difficult.
OW: The program was described as a boot camp for singers as you guys are singing every day. How do you maintain the voice fresh?
DV: You have to know how to mark and you have to prioritize. Like at the dress rehearsal for “Flute,” we had to sing because it was the only time with the orchestra. But the same day was the dress rehearsal for opera scenes. So that rehearsal, I did not sing because I knew I could sing it during the performance. It would be insane if I sang.
OW: What has it been like to sing in Prague?
DV: This is such a beautiful city. We were in Tabor first which was really nice because it’s such a small city and the venues have such history. And in Prague, the church we performed at is where Mozart and Haydn performed. So it is surreal to have the chance to perform where these high figures performed. And to perform at a legendary hall like the Mozarteum in Salzburg, that is even more surreal because ever since I started singing I heard about the Salzburg Festival.
OW: What is next after Prague Summer Nights?
DV: I will be doing Leporello on a tour in Eastern Canada. It will be Ontario, Québec and East provinces. The tour lasts two months in the fall and two months in the spring. I will get to go to cities I have never been to in my own country. I will be performing Mozart’s Requiem in March and then hopefully something in Québec’s Opera in May. They are doing “Carmen” so I hope I have something in that