Little did Andrea Lett know that chasing her youthful dream to become an architect would ultimately lead her to a burgeoning career as an opera singer.
The gifted, 23-year old lyric soprano won the Winnipeg Music Festival's prestigious Rose Bowl Trophy Saturday night, awarded annually since 1924 for best vocal performance in the 24-day festival that wrapped up this weekend.
Born in Prince Albert, Sask., Lett arrived in the city five years ago to study at the University of Manitoba, taking the necessary prerequisite courses in preparation for an architecture degree. A natural athlete who still enjoys running, she also taught ballet, jazz, and tap classes at a local dance academy.
Wishing to hone her voice for musical theatre, she began taking singing lessons through the U of M's Preparatory Studies Division, with her then-teacher Lynne Braun quickly realizing she had discovered a diamond in the rough. Braun urged the young singer to switch to the U of M's Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music, where she began studying with acclaimed Winnipeg-based lyric soprano Monica Huisman.
"Monica is a huge inspiration for me," Lett says of her mentor. "She doesn't let anything slide. She gives me the toughest love and I'm so grateful for her."
She's the first to admit her learning curve has been steep. Once, when she was working on a new German Lied (art song) with Huisman, the novice thought the teacher was actually singing Italian. Huisman set her straight right away. "She just laughed and said, 'You have no clue what you're doing!'" Lett recalls. Fast-forward several years and, fittingly, it was winning the WMF's German Lieder (female) class that earned her a coveted spot at the Rose Bowl competition.
"I was very surprised," Lett admits after receiving the top singing prize at Westminster United Church. "I went into this tonight with the attitude that I'm going to just sing and share the music I've been working on with all the people who've supported me."
That includes her pianist, Lisa Rumpel, who accompanied Lett during all three of her "Grade A" festival classes -- as well as the Rose Bowl -- with the vocalist graciously acknowledging her contribution.
"The pianist makes the singer, really," she says humbly of her musical partner of two years. "I could not have done this without her."
Lett is also unafraid of hard work, with leading soprano roles including Pamina in Mozart's The Magic Flute, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and Malika in Delibe's Lakmé -- including its famous Flower Duet -- firmly under her belt through the U of M opera program. She keeps in touch with her retired parents, now living in Medicine Hat, as well as her brother, a jazz saxophonist currently studying at McGill, and two sisters working in the health-care field.
Winnipeg-based opera director Rob Herriot, who staged Manitoba Opera's Don Pasquale last November, was in the audience Saturday night. He praised Lett for her spine-tingling delivery of Meyerbeer's Adieu mon doux ravage aria from L'africaine -- easily nailing her high C -- followed by Schubert's art song Suleika I sung earlier in the week.
"This voice is a voice from heaven. Every single note rang with colour -- it was absolutely haunting and breathtaking," he says enthusiastically of Lett's performance. "The first piece she sang is also extraordinarily difficult. She was dead on the money."
Kicking off the program featuring nine vocalists, the young singer also charmed guest adjudicator Amber Morphy.
"Andrea really set a precedent as the first singer on the program," the Cambridge, Ont.-based soprano/pianist/coach commented afterwards. "She became very difficult to top as the evening went by."
Lett's musical life is certainly coming up roses these days. Late last week she got the nod that she's been accepted into the University of Toronto's two-year masters in opera program that begins this fall. On Saturday -- mere hours before performing at the Rose Bowl -- she also competed at the U of M's Zita Bernstein German Lieder competition. She hopes eventually to land a position in a young artists' program that has opened doors for so many of her singing heroes while she artfully builds her own opera career.
And does the singer who once gravitated towards an architectural career have any regrets about the road not taken?
"There's a lot of crossover when you look at architecture and art. I think it's really cool that it's all connected," Lett says. "But I hope to always be a part of the music world. I'd love to work with an opera company someday, and continue to be involved with music as it has given me so much joy.
"You just never know what path you'll end up taking."