Don't try to pigeonhole Canadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc. Most of us know her as the singer with the voice as clear as crystal; an expert in the interpretation of early music.
But there's much more to this singer from the Maritimes. There is an entrepreneurship quality to her career, with a creative aspect, the 51-year-old says in a telephone interview from her home in Fox Point, Nova Scotia, 40 minutes from Halifax.
LeBlanc and renowned Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor will be performing with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Anne Manson at 7:30 p.m. May 14 at Westminster United Church. They last sang here together in 2004 and the memory of that concert still lingers with many who witnessed it.
It's a match made in heaven for listeners and for the singers, who have collaborated onstage and in the recording studio on many occasions. They first sang together in the Messiah in Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal, says LeBlanc, a McGill University alumnus. The group, Les Idées Heureuses had asked them to do a recital together.
"We had an affinity in so many ways -- a blend," she says. "Now we don't see each other often so it's really fun when we can get together."
The repertoire for the evening is full of audience pleasers, with a good mix of baroque -- plenty of Handel, some Vivaldi, Gluck, Pergolesi, Hasse and a Mozart aria from Die Zauberflote.
LeBlanc caught the music bug quickly. She was a harpsichord major at McGill, studying with John Grew. "I already was in love with the music of the 16th and 17th centuries through my harpsichord study," she said. "I felt I understood it, its architecture and how it worked. I knew the language. At McGill I accompanied a lot and when I accompanied singers I was fascinated that there was a text and by the process of shaping the music to fit with the text."
LeBlanc had sung in choirs as a child growing up in Edmunston, New Brunswick, and her mother was a singer. "I had started voice -- a lesson here or there with singers around town and my mother gave me tips at home. I was a good sight reader so I was often called upon to replace singers. I jumped at the opportunity and ended up singing 50 per cent of the concerts."
Her big break came in 1987, when she was asked to fill in for famed British soprano Emma Kirkby for eight months during Kirkby's pregnancy. "No one knew me -- it was a foot through the door. I had to do a special concert in Tel Aviv, a big, big solo that Emma would have done." She recalls plaudits from her performance at the prestigious Wigmore Hall in London. "The critics loved me. It gave me a lot of courage."
Before this phenomenal opportunity came along, LeBlanc had been thinking of going to study in London. "This was my ticket," she says. She landed up studying with Kirkby's former teacher, Jessica Cash.
There's been no looking back since. LeBlanc's career has taken her to opera stages and festivals around the world; she is featured on over 50 recordings, and she starred in the film Last Song, directed by Rodrigue Jean. "I played a singer who interrupted her career for motherhood. It was an amazing experience, but I'm not looking for more movie contracts," she laughed.
She enjoys walking in nature. "That's when I can clarify my thoughts about what to do next -- to feel what's really calling me."
LeBlanc is currently working on a venture that is close to her heart, the Elizabeth Bishop Legacy Project, recording songs commissioned for the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary (EB100) in Nova Scotia (2011) with the Blue Engine String Quartet. The original music, written by Canadian composers Christos Hatzis, Alasdair MacLean, John Plant and Emily Doolittle is set to Bishop's poems.
Bishop spent part of her childhood in Nova Scotia before moving to the U.S. where she was Poet Laureate in 1949-1950 and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956. But her formative years in Canada were of great inspiration to her and this project aims to reclaim Bishop as a Canadian poet.
LeBlanc and all involved have committed a great deal of time and energy to this project and are still raising funds to complete it. The CD is due for release this fall and the debut concert will be in Winnipeg with the MCO next February.
Finding time to practise has been a bit tricky lately, LeBlanc admits. "There is so much administration with the EB100 Project. I carve time out of necessity. The best is first thing in the morning. My happiest time is when I am singing."
Tickets are $26.50 / adults, $24.50 / seniors and $7.50 / students at McNally Robinson Booksellers, the West End Cultural Centre, Organic Planet, at www.themco.ca or by calling 204-783-7377.