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This article was published 21/3/2016 (1435 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If her glorious dream of an international opera career doesn’t pan out, lyric soprano Lynlee Wolstencroft could always fall back on the family business: singing in a rock band.
The 27-year old vocalist won the prestigious Winnipeg Music Festival (WMF) Rose Bowl trophy Saturday night at Westminster United Church, enthralling the crowd with her two vocal selections accompanied by collaborative pianist Renate Rossol.
The Rose Bowl has been presented every year since 1924 for best Grade "A" vocalist and is considered one of the WMF’s crowning jewels. In addition to her gleaming trophy, Wolstencroft also earned a WMF Scholarship, as well as an invitation to perform during the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s annual open house showcase in June.
"I’m still quite shocked by it," Wolstencroft said after hearing she had been given the nod from adjudicator Henriette Schellenberg in her first attempt to win the coveted prize.
"My competitors were incredible and gave such amazing performances that I really thought it could have gone any way," she added graciously. "It’s such an honour to be chosen."
The Winnipeg-born and -bred musician first began voice lessons at nine, coaxed into it by her aunt and grandmother, who noticed her youthful talent. She completed a bachelor of music general degree at the University of Manitoba Desautels faculty of music in 2014, and is just polishing off a post-baccalaureate diploma in opera with her current voice teacher, U of M Prof. Mel Braun. She plans to pursue her vocal training next year in the city, with her sights firmly set on beginning graduate studies in opera performance the following year.
"Lynlee has always had a beautiful voice with fantastic phrasing, and an innate emotional connection to the music," Braun wrote in an email. "She draws you in as a singer and makes you want to know the character that she’s portraying. I’m very proud of the way she’s given herself over to the lifelong process of learning how to sing, and look forward to wherever her future will take her."
While many aspiring opera singers might have cut their teeth on such venerated classical composers as Verdi or Puccini, Wolstencroft said she was weaned on rock ’n’ roll. Both her parents, vocalist mother Lori and drummer father Ted, are active musicians with local R&B bands B Side Champs, who regularly gig around town, and the Fighting Hellfish, a party dance band that has raised more than $120,000 for cancer research.
"My mom is an amazing low-voice singer," Wolstencroft said. "And my younger brother Jonathan is also an incredible self-taught musician who can pick up any instrument he wants."
Even her drummer boyfriend of nearly two years, Jordan Diakur, has been an established fixture in Winnipeg’s metal scene for more than a decade.
Wolstencroft said her parents are her biggest supporters, but asked if she has ever contemplated following in their rock footsteps, the down-to-earth artist — who performed the title role in Manitoba Underground Opera’s last production of Handel’s Alcina last summer, and is on tap to sing the role of First Lady during its next show, Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Retold this August — demurred.
"Become a rock singer? I wish," she said with a laugh. "I have definitely sung along to Heart and Pat Benatar in a few cover bands here and there, but opera is just a really good fit for my voice. I love the extreme emotion and all the stories. The music is so visceral and just tugs at your heartstrings, which I find incredible."
Inspired by avant-garde artists such as British singer-songwriter Kate Bush, Wolstencroft said she also loves Mozart and is passionate about 20th-century music, admitting to a "soft spot" for composer Benjamin Britten. She loves inhabiting the characters she portrays, including star-crossed lover Juliet during her first, deeply expressive aria performed Saturday night, Bellini’s Oh! quante volte from I Capuleti e I Montecchi that also showcased her soaring vocals, ringing high notes and long, arching phrases.
Her contrasting selection — just call it her "B-side" — Berlioz’s L’ile inconnue, further displayed the singer’s innate ability to paint pictures with her voice, as she cast a spell of faraway islands for her rapt listeners.
"She has this very professional, round, gorgeous big sound that’s always in control from top to bottom," Schellenberg said, praising Wolstencroft’s artistry.
"Nothing is overdone. She’s emotional but not excessively so, and projects beautifully. She’s ready for the big stage."
Schellenberg also made mention of how impressed she was with this year’s crop of contenders.
"I’m just in awe of these young people. I would pay big bucks to hear any of them," she said.
Given the high-profile nature of the trophy class that caps the WMF’s entire, intensive three weeks of competition, it’s easy to imagine that stage jitters might rattle any singer’s nerves.
"I was very, very nervous," Wolstencroft said, adding she felt pleased with her weekend performance. "But once you get up there, you have to let all that go. I decided to just go out and have fun, and sing this music that I love straight from my heart."
Soprano Emily Diel-Reader and tenor Elliot Lazar were the two runners-up chosen from a field of 10.