Artist of the Week: Miriam Khalil

Canadian Soprano Takes Golijov’s Work to Edmonton

By Francisco Salazar

This week the Edmonton Opera opened a new production of Golijov’s “Ayre,” a cycle of songs that offers a tour of the Mediterranean, particularly in that mixture of Spanish, Jewish, and Arabic influences. The work featured Miriam Khalil, a rising soprano who has established herself as one of Canada’s most versatile.

In a short interview, Khalil spoke about the work:

OperaWire: Tell me about working on this piece by Golijov and what excites you about the composer’s writing.

Miriam Klalil: “Ayre” is an incredible tapestry of traditional Sephardic lullabies, Palestinian Poetry, Arabic Easter hymns, Hebrew prayers, Sardinian protest songs, and Spanish love songs. The intermingling of worlds and sounds sheds light on our human condition. The brilliance of the emotional journey that this song cycle takes the listener and the performers on is like no other. I grow as a musician and singer each time I sing this work. The sounds are familiar because a lot of the music is traditional but completely re-imagined in a bold and new light. Breaking barriers and pushing boundaries – finding commonality where there is strife and creating an experience of healing through an amalgamation of culture, language, and sound.

OW: Tell me about performing this role at the Edmonton Opera. Why is it the perfect place to do so?

MK: I sang this piece for the first time at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2016 with Osvaldo Golijov there to coach and workshop the song cycle. We did one of the poems that was originally recited in English in the original Arabic for the first time.

Singing this piece in Edmonton now, where I live and teach, is a wonderful full circle moment as I have now debuted this song cycle in Buenos Ayres, Argentina, Rockport, MA, Toronto, On, Ottawa, On, Victoria, BC, and Banff, Alberta. I have also released the 2016 Toronto live performance in an album that was Juno nominated and critically acclaimed.

OW: What can audiences expect from it?

MK: This is a piece that will take the audience on a journey of heartbreak, war, love, protest, prayer, exile, and redemption. The audience can expect to hear languages and cultures they are not accustomed to hearing intertwined with one another. They can expect to feel surprised by how familiar some of the songs seem and, at the same time, how unique and technicolored the world is that they are set in. The soundscape that Osvaldo has so meticulously chosen and composed in “Ayre” is a world of its own – a labyrinth of sounds that open one’s mind to possibility, empathy, and healing.

For those who were not in Edmonton for the performances, Khalil is set to perform with the Symphony Nova Scotia in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.


For audiences who want to relive Khalil’s interpretation of “Ayre,” there is a recording of the soprano performing the piece. She also has a recording of Handel’s “Messiah.”


Artist of the WeekSpecial Features