UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 2 |
Feb. 3, 2005
Young Tenor’s Star on the Rise
By Brenda Austin
Philippe Castagner was handed a unique opportunity last summer
to showcase his talent. And he made the most of it. Asked
to jump in at short notice, the former UBC opera student performed
at the June 2004 Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina,
earning reviews that dubbed him the next great tenor of this
The 26-year-old’s star has risen in bursts since various
roles as an opera student at UBC in 2001-02. Castagner won
a whirlwind set of auditions held by the Metropolitan Opera
National Council while still with UBC’s opera ensemble,
first in Vancouver, then Seattle and finally New York, leading
to his present role as Beppe in I Pagliacci at the Metropolitan
Opera. And he has just been named a Young Concert Artist award-winner
in a competition that included 300 applicants from 43 countries.
The rewards include concert engagements, publicity and career
development for three or more years.
On his own admission, Castagner was an unfocused student
in his early years at UBC. And he almost did not come in the
first place. It was luck that led him here, when his high
school choir teacher suggested he apply for university in
Canada to study music. The Canadian-born, but New Jersey-raised,
teenager did not read music and had never considered it, but
worked hard on his grades and gained acceptance to UBC.
“He resided on the third floor couch much of his first
two years in the School of Music,” recalls Nancy Hermiston,”
director of the UBC voice and opera programs. “Then
he decided he wanted to be an opera singer.”
Castagner remembers himself as a twitchy singer, diagnosed
at one time with attention deficit disorder. Hermiston remembers
him in an acting class as unable to stand still.
“I had to stand behind him when he sang with one hand
on top of his head, one arm around him and a leg over his
ankles to refocus the energy,” says Hermiston. “Over
the course of two to three months this beautiful voice came
out. It was like peeling off layers of tension to reveal an
intensely musical performer.”
UBC taught Castagner the process, but he has continued to
learn about the effective use of the body through the Alexander
technique. He says, “The system doesn’t discriminate
between mind and body. It teaches one to inhibit habits and
replace them with conscious choices, so one works through
the body. This is very important in the theatre world, and
gaining acceptance in the music world.”
Coming from a French-Canadian family, he spoke French at
home and English outside. Bilingualism leaves the mind receptive
to other languages, he says, and he is now fluent in Italian
and working on German.
Castagner had his stage debut with the UBC opera ensemble
in the role of Slender in the Merry Wives of Windsor, and
in 2001 and 2002 in the role of Danforth in the Crucible.
His professional concert debut in 2001 was with the Ottawa
Symphony Orchestra, performing the Verdi Requiem, and he returns
there this season for performances of the Berlioz Requiem.
Castagner made his debut at the Metropolitan opera in the
2002-03 season, as the First Prisoner in Fidelio, and returned
during the 2003-04 season as the Second Watchman in Die Frau
Ohne Schatten. He has also worked with the San Francisco Opera,
the Aspen Festival Orchestra and the Portland Opera.
Much as he appreciates the classics, Castagner would like
to see new operas written to attract a larger audience.
“We don’t want to be museum curators,”
he says. “The field is struggling artistically. We need
innovation, to think outside of the box. It is hard to attract
younger audiences. Perhaps we can use audio-visuals. If Wagner
had known about animation he would have had no problem with
it, as long as it was done well.”
A Profile: UBC Opera Ensemble
The UBC opera ensemble, now built into a 50-member company,
performs two main productions at UBC every season. Main stage
productions for the 2004/05 season at The Chan Centre for
Performing Arts are Offenbach’s comedy Orpheus in the
Underworld and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
This year the ensemble will tour the Lower Mainland and Interior
of B.C. with their children’s show Opera Night in Canada.
Each summer, the ensemble also tours in the Czech Republic
and Germany to provide performance opportunities for young
opera singers, including the production of new operatic and
music theatre works.
Spring 2004 saw two productions there of Puccini’s
La Boheme and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Plans are
being made for productions this summer of Mozart’s Cosi
fan Tutte and Handel’s Xerxes.