Friday, July 1, 2016

Performance Biography *

Dynamic and versatile mezzo-soprano Ramona Carmelly has captivated audiences in more than a dozen languages, in concerts and in roles from the sublime to the ridiculous. Equally at home on the opera stage, in music theatre, jazz and cabaret, Ramona was most recently heard as The Angel in the premiere of David Warrack's multi-faith oratorio Abraham and as Amneris in Verdi's Aida with Toronto's Opera by Request. 

Ramona made her Koerner Hall debut as Madame de la Haltière in Massenet's Cendrillon as a guest artist with the Royal Conservatory Opera program. Her previous roles include Fricka (Die Walküre), Waltraute (Götterdämmerung), Marcellina (The Marriage of Figaro), Meg Page and Dame Quickly (Falstaff), Mère Marie de l’incarnation (Dialogues of the  Carmelites), Mrs. Grose (Turn of the Screw), La Ciesca (Gianni Schicchi), Filipievna and Olga (Eugene Onegin), Dido and the Sorceress (Dido and Aeneas), Mother and Witch (Hansel and Gretel), Mercedes (Carmen), Lola (Cavalleria Rusticana), Maddalena (Rigoletto), Antonia's Mother (The Tales of Hoffmann), Ottavia (The Coronation of Poppea), Katisha (The Mikado), Golde (Fiddler on the Roof), and Miss Hannigan (Annie).

Trained as an operatic mezzo soprano (then as a lyric soprano, then a mezzo, then a dramatic soprano, then a mezzo!), Ramona obtained her graduate Artist Diploma in Voice Performance from the Glenn Gould School in 2003. In her final year, she was featured as the Alto soloist in Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with conductor Richard Bradshaw and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra at Toronto Centre for the Arts, was engaged as understudy for Dame Quickly in Falstaff with Des Moines Metro Opera’s prestigious Apprentice Artist program, and won third place in the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards.

Ramona has appeared with choirs and orchestras in the Toronto and Ottawa regions, in programs of opera highlights and oratorio, including the masses of Dvořak, Haydn, and Mozart, Vivaldi's Gloria, and the Fauré and Rutter Requiems. She debuted with Toronto's Opera in Concert in 1999 as Albine in Thais, and returned that season to critic l praise as Mrs. McLean in Susannah. She sang the Foreign Woman in The Consul, Mrs. Nolan in The Medium, Bianca in The Rape of Lucretia with Opera Anonymous, and moonlighted as stage director for their double bill of Susanna's Secret and L'heure Espagnole. She made her TV debut as the oblivious diva amid murder and mayhem in the comedy-mystery series Zoe Busiek: Wildcard.

An avid collaborator with contemporary composers, Ramona created the title role in Emily, the Way You Are about artist Emily Carr, as well as Alora in the The Last Wife, and performed the Farmer’s Wife in the 2009 North American premiere of And the Rat Laughed. More recently, Ramona participated in a workshop of Christiaan Venter and Anusree Roy's opera in development, Noor over Afghan, at the Canadian Stage Company's Festival of Ideas and Creation.

Recent seasons have seen eclectic performances. In 2010, Ramona sang Chad Martin’s song cycle i will open petal by petal myself in John Oswald's Intimate Music project at the Canadian Music Centre for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, arias from the operas Cassandra and Mother of Kings by Amphion Opera for the Lyric Canada Conference at Shaw, and Brünnhilde from Wagner's Siegfried in The 50 Minute Ring by Myra Davies and Chris Willes for the Music Gallery’s Xavant Festival. In 2009, she was invited to perform among such luminaries as Susan Hoeppner and Jacques Israelievitch at the Glick Society’s Tribute to Srul Irving Glick. Concerts and recitals have included Wagner’s Wesendonck lieder and Mompou’s Cançons Becquerianas, Ravel’s Scheherazade, Ravel's Chansons madécasses and Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No.5. 

Ramona sang Helen Greenberg's Kaddish in the first concert sponsored by PEN Canada in memory of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl. She regularly lends her talent to a range of social causes, including V-day Toronto, Holocaust Education Week, 160 Girls: The Equality Effect on behalf of legal action for victims of rape and violence in Kenya, Hospice Thornhill, Spring into Action for the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Athletes Fund's See You in Torino gala in support of participants in the 2006 Olympic Games, and PGI plays the Red Barn, the Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf Tournament for Literacy.

Ramona looks forward to reprising Emily on a Canadian tour of Emily, the Way you Are, as well as a new project in development about Mama Cass, and a CD recording featuring compositions by some of Canada’s finest untapped talent.

“Ramona Carmelly was every inch the diva princess as Amneris, in a thoughtful performance that held nothing back, especially in her big scene in Act IV. This is a voice that could develop in several directions, as she has the top and low notes, and sang a huge role in a bluesy style a few months ago in the premiere of David Warrack’s Abraham.” -- Leslie Barcza, Barczablog

“Ramona Carmelly as the Spoken Voice and the Angel really surprised me. I'm already a fan of her full-throated Wagnerian mezzo, but I got to hear a different kind of singing from her. A more contemporary musical theatre sound with - wait for it - some DAMN FINE BELTING!” -- Gregory Finney, Schmopera
“As Madame de la Haltiere, Ramona Carmelly had the right comic flair and rich tone.” -- Joseph So, La Scena Musicale

“special mention for Ramona Carmelly … Her performance was a lesson in how deft acting can overcome the limitations of opera on the concert stage.” -- Wayne Gooding, OPERA CANADA magazine

“Ramona Carmelly, with her plush mezzo, was outstanding as the jealously domineering Mrs. McLean” -- David Lasker, The GLOBE & MAIL (Toronto)

“... Alora, played marvelously by Ramona Joy Carmelly” -- Peter Bevan-Baker - The Recorder & Times

“It is not often a composer finds a performer who will prepare a work with such care and
excellent musicianship... a top-notch performance.” -- Mary Gardiner, composer

“The gifted mezzo soprano … [gave] a soaring, gorgeous interpretation of Jewish-Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick's Time Cycle, a jewel from his much admired Yiddish Suite No. 2” -- Jordana Divon, The Canadian Jewish News

June 2016

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Find Your Voice with MezzoDiva

As well as continuing a varied and eclectic performing career, a vibrant mix of cabaret, theatre and recording projects, I'm very excited about a new holistic area of my teaching practice for singers and non-singers alike, in a variety of formats from individual private lessons to group master-classes, as well as seminars and workshop retreats in various lengths, from an hour to 3 days.

Whenever I meet people and I'm asked what I do, I tell people I'm a singer. The very next thing I almost always hear them say is something like "Oh, I can't sing." Well, I call B.S! My manifesto is that everyone can sing. Very few people are physiologically impaired in such a way as to interfere with the healthy function of their voice.

There is a very good reason for the metaphor of ‘your true voice in the world.’ The living breath and a commitment to honest open vocalization (the same tools and techniques which allow performers to create compelling, authentic performances) make singing an incredibly powerful medium through which people at all stages of life can open up to their own true voice, and through their voice to their power, their passion, their creativity and their truth.

Singing and speaking your truth, finding your voice is your birthright as a human being. We are all born doing it: slap, breath, wail. That was your very first song, your own intuitive healing voice. And considering how many people in this world have that right stolen, silenced, or suppressed, it seems a great shame to waste yours. Now, stop caring so much what other people might think, and go sing something!

My work is about helping people get out of their own way psychologically and relearning good vocal habits. So if you want to reclaim your true voice in the world, call me. I can help with that.

Find Your Voice with MezzoDiva
Why we sing, how to make your voice your own,
and why it’s more important today than ever before.

Ramona Carmelly - Mezzo Soprano
Performing Artist: Classical, Jazz, Cabaret
Opera/Oratorio/Music Theatre/Television/Concerts/Special Events
Also available for Lessons/Master-classes 
Vocal Technique & Repertoire
Musical/Dramatic Interpretation,
Character Study & Stagecraft

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Relocated to Facebook

I am so involved in other activities that the care and feeding of a blog is not possible unless I clone myself, fully-formed and functional.

I've been so busy, I seem to have lost my blogging mojo (if I ever really had it). However, I still have quite a lot to say in person and online and I'd love to share it with you and connect and find out what you are up to.

I might drop in here from time to time, but if you're looking for me, you can find me on Facebook over here: There are all kinds of things up on my page there, including a few good Notes from the past, and several coming up, which really are sort of like Facebook blog-posts.

So if you want more from me, go check it out over there.
See a round the webiverse!

Ciao for now!

MezzoDiva aka Ramona

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It was not just another Tuesday afternoon

As it happens, once the police arrived I learned that they were in fact who they purported to be: plainclothes private security for the local dollar store.  And the terrified man they had chased for several blocks had indeed stolen some items: a few pairs of socks and a couple of cheap brimmed caps.  But had I not followed them all up that side-street to witness their apprehension of the man, would they have stopped at holding him down and yelling?

Had I not called the police, would they have done so only much later?  Rapidly advancing and flashing a laminated card at me for a couple of seconds after I expressed my concern does not prove anything.  And why were they so disturbed by my presence as to warn me off vociferously, and so threatened by the one photo I took with my phone to show the police, that one of them approached again to chest-bump, shove me and threaten me, desisting only when I offered to charge him with assault?

I was not, as they put it, “hindering their apprehension of the thief.”  I was merely acting as a witness, not willing to risk allowing someone who was clearly frightened enough to risk running into traffic to be beaten, or worse, simply because, as many others muttered as I went by enlisting their attention, “it’s none of my business.”

And I am very grateful to several other young men who responded to my requests to stay near when I said that I was not comfortable waiting there alone with the first three for the police to arrive and asked them to stand by calmly without escalating the already volatile and potentially violent situation.

I learned a few things yesterday afternoon on my way to an appointment in one of the less well-appointed neighbourhoods of Toronto.

1.  You cannot run, nor even walk rapidly, in flip flops.

2.  There is more chivalry among the young men of that neighbourhood than we might, from our stereotyped prejudices, assume. In ignoring such assumptions, I found allies who were polite and helpful in a potentially dangerous situation. And by treating them with respect, I earned theirs.

3.  I am in fact my brother’s keeper. We all are. And in these times ,when more than ever we are being made to feel disempowered and separate and fearful, we need to override those impulses and follow our truer instincts. The only way we will make this world the better place we want it to be is through a willingness to act according to our conscience.

I am also pondering one more thing:  what sort of circumstances would make a person risk arrest or worse to steal some socks and hats from a dollar store.  But that’s a question for another time.

"We must become the change we want to see in the world" ~ Mohandas 'Mahatma' Gandhi

Monday, September 13, 2010

FAT is not a four letter word.

FAT is not a four letter word.I applaud anyone's determination to manage their health and well-being, physical and emotional.  However, with everyone from parents to society, and now even schools becoming the fat police, this this makes me see red! Why? Because it does not help. Instead it (paradoxically, counter-productively, ironically, cruelly) creates an environment in which eating disorders and body dysmorphia thrive.

As someone who has spent all of her adult life on the other end of the scale (pardon the pun), I am a prime example of the damaging effects of harping on the fear of fat. When I was 13, I was 5'2 and I weighed 137 lbs. My petite mother panicked and dragged me to the doctor, beginning a life-long cycle of diets and weight gain, strict regimented eating or binging, and continual self-denigration. As a result, I have "yo-yo"ed between sizes 16-24 for my entire adolescent and adult life. It has taken me 32 years from that day to overcome the damage to my spirit and I am just starting to overcome the damage to my body.

We have to combat the zeitgeist of fat phobia - the last widely permissible (even lauded) bigotry. The very word, "fat", has become overloaded with anxiety and negative values. It has taken on hugely disproportional connotations of shame and mortification, and no longer functions as noun or adjective, but rather is used almost as a swear word. With the onslaught of media messages, from reality shows and "helpful" talk shows, the fashion industry to news reports of the latest "studies" on obesity, it is very easy to be caught up in the social frenzy and buy into the myths of fat vilification. Women in particular are bombarded with the message that if we are fat, then we are (or should be) physical, emotional and/or spiritual cripples, and fair game for all sorts of derogatory comments.

Enough!  I refuse to participate in or perpetuate that mythology. We owe it to ourselves and our sisters and daughters, and yes, also our brothers and sons, to combat the tyranny of our fat phobic society and how it targets and denigrates people based on size. You are beautiful at any size.

Let's be clear: We do not have a weight problem. We have a weight. They may have a problem with that. But let's stop letting them dump their problem on us.

As a child, I remember running around and playing with abandon. I took dance classes, and rode my bike, and walked, and ran, and... However, with the onset of tween-dom and adolescence, I succumbed to the pressures of schoolyard politics and lost my love of physical activity. In high school, gym class and school dances were at best boring and at worst humiliating. I became an artistic, nerdy, smart girl-woman who could not conceive of anything like physical "exercise" being fun (I recognize the words, but the sentence as a whole does not make sense).

In adulthood I rediscovered my joy of dancing and movement as well the pure unadulterated elation that comes from celebrating your strength, flexibility and endurance. I've walked 60-kms in two days (raising $13,500 to combat cancer) and had the blisters and lost toe-nails and sunburns and a cold from walking all day in the rain (because while healthy activity supports the immune system, extreme activity has been shown to suppress it) to prove it.  I've biked all around this fantastic hilly city of mine (just take a look at a topographical map of Toronto and you'll see what that entails). I've taken Yoga and Pilates classes, found myself able to contort my body into fantastic shapes and positions, though humorously hindered by bumping up against bits of myself in the process (like the time I had my legs thrown way back behind my head and found myself with a face-full of my own bountiful bosom, unable to breathe). And, after laughing at the strength-training instructor who wanted me to do push ups (Sure, honey. Tell you what. If you can bench press ME, we are on. Otherwise, can I push YOU up?), I discovered that real weight training was a true exercise in both torture and pleasure. Who knew it could be so satisfying to bench-press or leg press or, even, those dreaded PUSH-UPS!

All that physicality finally taught me to love my body as it is. Furthermore, I get hit on regularly these days - often even when I'm out walking with my husband. Real men who are not afraid to appreciate ladies with a little extra meat on our bones are out there and I am living proof that they can tell when we feel confident at whatever size!

Full disclosure: I currently wear about a size 24 (well, the labels say everything from 14-26, but I know my measurements but let's call it 24 if we have to give it  a number). In the last couple of years I've discovered something has shifted in my marriage. My husband, who used to be enthralled by the more usual womanly erogenous zones, is finding my voluptuous belly irresistible! His hands will inevitable stray to and linger on my belly.

This paralleled my own (gradual and hard-won) acceptance of that part of my body. Our unjustly maligned and oft-reviled yet generous and forgiving bellies can be honoured as a source of sensual pleasure, as well as serving so well in all the ways mentioned by Sarah Henderson in her wonderful poem: My Belly.  I just LOVE this. It's posted here:

You know, it's a funny thing I realized on the way to size acceptance. No matter what size we are and whether it's our ribs or our rolls that are more evident, even swathed in a burka, our bodies make their unique and wonderful shapes known. It's not like we really can hide the truth of our body, so why not embrace it instead?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The parable of the cracked jar

An Indian legend tells of a man who carried water to his village every day, in two large jars tied to the ends of a wooden pole, which he balanced on his back. One of the jars was older than the other, and had some small cracks; every time the man covered the distance to his house, half of the water was lost.

For two years, the man made the same journey. The younger jar was always very proud of its performance, safe in the knowledge that it was up to the mission it had been made for, while the other jar was mortified with shame at only fulfilling half of its allotted task, even though it knew that those cracks were the result of many years hard work. It was so ashamed that one day, while the man got ready to fetch water from the well, it decided to speak to him:
– I want to apologize, but because of the many years of service, you are only able to deliver half of my load, and quench half of the thirst which awaits you at your home.

The man smiled, and said – When we return, observe carefully the path.

And so it did. And the jar noticed that, on its side, many flowers and plants grew.

– See how nature is more lovely on your side? – commented the man. – I always knew you were cracked, and decided to make use of this fact. I planted flowers and vegetables, and you have always watered them. I have picked many roses to decorate my house with, I have fed my children with lettuce, cabbage and onions. If you were not as you are, how could I have done that?

I met someone recently who offered her shoulder to support me during a moment of fragility. I had a frightening and unforeseeable health scare in the midst of a very intense period in the very last days preparing a performance. One day, just before an orchestral dress rehearsal, I found myself unable to compartmentalize my feelings in order to keep it together so I could function at full steam. And I did something I have not done often. I asked for help. I asked someone to listen so I could articulate my fears in the hope that would make it easier for me to pull myself together.

At a time when she was indescribably busy, juggling the numerous balls that lead up to creating a show in the last days of rehearsal, this person took the time to sit with me and talk. And at one point in that talk, she said something that turned my ideas about my self, my identity, and my life's journey on their head and made me rethink everything I have believed to be true about myself.

As the child of a rage-a-holic, I lived in a bizarre world where I never knew from one day (or moment) to the next when the other shoe would drop. As a result of this upbringing, for most of my life I've always been waiting to flinch. I've functioned like a battle-scarred war veteran. As I learned more about such things and understood my symptoms in the context of post-traumatic stress, I started to define myself as the walking wounded, as someone who was damaged by those experiences in my early life but who seemingly functions at a high level in the world for periods of time, only to withdraw (sometimes secretly, sometimes overtly) into depression, sadness, self-pity, anger, self-judgement, and most of all regret: if only things had been different, I could be different, better, stronger.

On the other hand, I also came to realize that I have depression to thank for much of what I have come to know about myself. Had I not felt so miserable, some days barely to get out of bed, I would not have been inspired to think, to sort things out and seek the help of others to help me make sense of the chaos. But I always wished it had been different. That I had been different, normal - whatever I imagined that to be. And when I would go out into the world, I pretended to others and to myself that I was not me, I was someone else. Even (or especially) when I was not okay, I endeavoured to create the impression that I was fine. This was yet another layer of violence upon my spirit, now self-inflicted.

This colleague and new friend saw right through me. She intuitively recognized the real me as someone who had also experienced a youth where fear and anticipation of the imminent catastrophe was ever-present, and proceeded to point out that I am much stronger than I have been willing to acknowledge, that what I have believed about myself for so long is not necessarily the only true interpretation. Perhaps the real story is not that I am flawed by my wounds and scars, but rather that they are precisely what make me incredibly powerful. They made me a survivor, the hero of my own life. They made me a resilient, compassionate, empathetic, and fiercely committed person. They make me the truly compelling artist, both the creator and the creative vessel that I am.

Karl Ulrich Schnabel said: "An artist experiences emotions that are much more intense than those most people feel. On a daily basis, we handle emotions that are so intense that they would kill most people." There is a danger that we can disown the jar of our own life because we fear or disparage the cracks we bear. We feel that they are too deep, too wide, too broken. The cracked jar in the parable felt sorry for the water bearer because the jar saw its cracks as flaws and thus felt it wasn’t up to doing its job.

If we look at our own jars this way and try to deny them, reject them, put them in the corner to collect dust, pretend we have no cracks, present a normalized façade to the world for fear of having our cracks noticed and judged, we are wasting life’s most precious opportunities.

So, like the jar of the parable, that which was thought to be damaged, wounded, cracked, actually gives life. And through it gardens are watered and beautiful flowers bloom for all to enjoy. Life invites each one of us to use the cracks in our jar to water the gardens of our lives, to create new life and to inspire new growth along our path in this journey.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fairytales can come true, it can happen to you...

Whew! I've been out of communication for a while, haven't I? It's been a whirlwind since the new year, with my trip to New York and a Quintimacy concert and rehearsals and more rehearsals (and yet more rehearsals)...

It's my day off and I'm attending to all the domestic duties I've neglected while rehearsing for an upcoming production of Cendrillon, Massenet's sparkling rendition of the Cinderella fairy tale. I've scrubbed the kitchen sink and counters, the bathroom sink, the toilet, and hubby has filled the washing machine with hot water and vinegar to try and eliminate the residue it's leaving on the supposedly clean laundry. I'm about to head up to scour the shower tiles and tub. Am I the only one who sees the irony here?

I have been invited to return as a guest artist to my alma mater, the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music (one of the foremost musical training programs in Canada), to perform a leading role in the first opera to be presented in the new acoustically perfect and exquisitely designed Koerner Hall. If you're in the GTA, come hear this magical work performed by the bright new generation of up and coming singers with conductor Uri Mayer and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, on Saturday, March 20 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, March 21 at 2:00 pm, Tuesday, March 23 at 11:00 am and Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 pm.

Cendrillon (Cinderella) by Jules Massenet (1842-1912) is a re-telling of the familiar story. The Cinderella theme may have originated in classical antiquity, with the story of Rhodopis by the Greek Historian Strabo. The tale was written down in China during the year 830 by Tuan Ch'eng Shih who referred to it then as an old story. Of the most commonly read versions, a somewhat barbaric one by the Brothers Grimm and a more refined one by the upper class seventeenth century French writer Charles Perrault, the composer and his librettist Henri Cain (1859-1937) chose the latter. Massenet's rendition is a wonderfully constructed piece of musical theatre, where the sublime romanticism of the forlorn lovers is juxtaposed against the ethereally magical scenes of the fairy godmother and the outrageous shenanigans of the step-mother and her daughters.

We are deep into dress rehearsals - and it’s so much FUN! I am playing the wicked step-mother, which works for me very well vocally and temperamentally. It's also the perfect balance (and antidote) to the darker material I've been working in for most of the last year and a half: several amazing V-day shows (The Vagina Monologues and Any One of Us) a brilliant but harrowing opera about the holocaust (And the Rat Laughed), and the intensity of the Wagner arias I worked up for a recent vocal competition in New York.

Side note: I'm a hybrid creature - something of a vocal chameleon, possibly a closet soprano, probably zwischen-fach: this means my voice doesn't fall neatly into a category or 'fach'. I have a fine higher register, as well as a rich lower one, and I am operatically well-suited to zwischen-fach repertoire (that is, actual soprano roles which are occasionally taken by mezzos and vice versa) as well as the Verdi and Wagner mezzo roles, which often require the same range as the soprano, but not the same tessitura. Here's an easy analogy: the elevator goes to all the same floors, but the approach to the penthouse is a little different and while we love to visit, we prefer not to live there! It seemed that everyone who heard me had their own opinion about my fach and for years I was subjected to a tug of war between those in the soprano camp and those cheering for the mezzo team. Temperamentally, though, I am definitely much better suited to the mezzo repertoire. These roles are only rarely the heroines; rather usually we play the spoilers - witches, bitches, hags and whores, with the occasional mother, good or bad, thrown in for variety. This makes for much more interesting character fodder for my taste - not to mention the inherent therapeutic cathartic potential ;)

Now, don't get me wrong. I love to sing profoundly dramatic rep (whether mezzo or soprano). I adore the great sweeping Verdi and Wagner roles for their vibrant or lush textures, as well as Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti for their fluidity and fioritura. Alas, Mozart and Puccini did not write much for the mezzo-soprano, though I had a blast in recent years singing Ciesca in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Marcellina in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro - both brilliant comedy shows with some very tight ensemble writing (in the Puccini, I even got to sing some fabulous High C's!). In addition, I am one of those freak singers who loves contemporary repertoire - passionately. But I have to admit that for stage work I wouldn't be bored doing comedy for the rest of my life. It’s ultimately the most gratifying for me.

Comedy is actually harder to do than the romantic or dramatic stuff. The timing and nuance of every action has to be so precise, in the exact musical place to be funny, and you have to play it all just as believably as drama. You don't get up and act funny. You have to be truly as committed to achieving your character's goal as you would be in a dramatic context. Good comedy comes out of good writing: the dialogue and the circumstances create incongruous scenarios and motivate absurd behaviour, and the less aware your character is of all that, the more hilarious the audience finds it all. Of course, there are physical expressions and actions that are funny, but they all have to come out of a genuine intention to get what your character wants in the scene.

Want to see a good example? Come to Cendrillon and I'll be happy to provide it!

Well, I'd better go finish my own chores then practise. Got places to go, people to sing with. Rehearsals to knit through.