Vocalist blooms Mezzo-soprano alters range, takes home Rose Bowl trophy


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A year ago, Winnipeg-based singer Jillian Bonner wasn't even sure of her voice type.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/03/2015 (2926 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A year ago, Winnipeg-based singer Jillian Bonner wasn’t even sure of her voice type.

Fast-forward to this spring, and the 25-year old artist has not only morphed from a lifelong soprano into a lower-pitched mezzo-soprano, but also won the Winnipeg Music Festival’s prestigious Rose Bowl trophy for most outstanding vocal performance at the 24-day fete that wrapped up on the weekend.

And she couldn’t be more surprised by the win.

“I’m shocked,” Bonner says moments after being given the nod by adjudicator Penelope Dale during Saturday night’s competition held at Westminster United Church. “I just came here tonight to have fun and perform in this beautiful church. I really didn’t see this coming.”

The New Brunswick-born singer first arrived in the city in 2013 to fulfil her dream of studying with prominent soprano Tracy Dahl, a vocal coach at the University of Manitoba’s Desautels Faculty of Music, and herself a past Rose Bowl winner.

“Tracy heard me sing, and gave me two copies of the aria Una voce poco fa from Rossini’s Barber of Seville: one in the original mezzo key, and one in the soprano,” Bonner recounts. “She let me work on them and decide for myself which one felt better. After a couple of weeks, I chose the mezzo version.”

Dale lauded Bonner for her strongly communicative abilities, heard during her two selections: Mozart’s joyful Laudamus te from the Mass in C Minor, and Charles Gounod’s Que fais-tu blanche tourterell? from the opera Romeo et Juliette.

“I’ve been listening to Jillian all week long, and she’s always captivated me with the warmth and sense of joy in her singing. She has an ability to really give colour and character to all of her repertoire, and to do so in a very refined way. She’s a very touching artist,” Dale says.

Bonner is so connected to her characters she even strayed from the usual, glamorous evening-gown garb typically worn by singers, opting instead for more tomboy-style pants and shirt for the competition that included 10 other singers.

“The aria that I did is a pants role,” she says of portraying the Gounod opera’s 15-year-old page boy Stefano. “He’s a young man. It became very difficult for me to show that masculinity in a gown.”

Bonner has another pants role on her plate, performing the male lead in the Little Opera Company’s Hansel and Gretel, being staged April 30 to May 2. Later this year, she’ll portray Angelina, a.k.a. Cinderella, in the U of M’s Opera Theatre production of La Cenerentola on Dec. 2 and 3.

Upon graduating next semester, the singer is planning to study with Dahl another year while preparing audition repertoire for a host of young-artist training programs that will lead to her becoming a professional opera singer.

And she also wants to teach, inspired by her own mentors — especially Dahl, whom she credits for guiding her in everything from colouratura vocal technique to practical tips in managing a stage career.

Even the venerable, 97-year old Winnipeg Music Festival is not immune to the winds of change. Quite possibly for the first time, the gleaming, 91-year-old trophy given out each year since 1924 experienced its inaugural selfie when Bonner snapped her photo with the engraved silver cup to show her surprised family back home in Saint John.

When asked what she would like her listeners to feel during her performances, the gifted artist doesn’t hesitate for a second.

“Transported to a bigger world than they’re in. Maybe that sounds kind of cheesy, but I love telling stories more than anything in the world,” she says.

Four runners-up for this year’s Rose Bowl Trophy were also named (listed in alphabetical order): Ben Kroeker, Daniel Thielmann Ana Toumine, and Jessica Kos-Whicher.


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Updated on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 8:33 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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