Allison Harker’s voice sounds a tad hoarse when she answers the phone –– not a surprising affliction for someone who is studying opera in university.
As a fourth-year student in the opera program at the University of British Columbia, Harker has been, in fact, writing exams the past week, and she just finished her final test on the morning The Morning Star reached her.
Recovering from the fatigue of all that studying, the former Vernon resident will be one of 11 vocalists from the UBC Opera Ensemble who will perform with the Okanagan Symphony in its Divas, Dons and Dastards concerts in Kelowna Saturday and Vernon Sunday.
“We’re a really close-knit group, so this will be a sort of goodbye,” said Harker, her voice coming back to life. “It’s also nice for me to end my UBC career returning to my roots in the Okanagan. It will be a great performance with the ensemble and symphony.”
Born in Vancouver, Harker lived for a short while in Malaysia before her family moved to Vernon when she was in elementary school.
She attended Hillview Elementary and Vernon Secondary School, studying voice throughout with now retired music teacher Elizabeth Scott. She was also a member Scott’s choral group the Scott Singers.
While she was in high school, her family, including sister Heather, moved up to Alaska, where both girls eventually enrolled in post-secondary vocal studies –– Allison at UBC and Heather at the University of Victoria –– thanks in part to a scholarship awarded to them in Scott’s name.
“I did a scholarship concert with my sister Heather in Vernon two summers ago to help raise more money for it,” said Harker.
While at UBC, Harker has been able to work with well-known Canadian lyric coloratura Nancy Hermiston, who is the head of the voice and opera divisions at the university. Hermiston founded the UBC Opera Ensemble in 1995, beginning with a core of seven performers, and has built the program to a 70-member company, which performs three productions at UBC every season.
“This year at UBC we did a contemporary British opera, as well as (Mozart’s) Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutti, which the ensemble will also be performing in the Czech Republic,” said Harker, adding the ensemble tours regularly to the Eastern European nation, and she had the opportunity to perform there last year.
The ensemble has also been singing from Bizet’s Carmen, as well as Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, and audiences attending the performance with the Okanagan Symphony will be able to hear those selections plus some others from Puccini, Verdi and Delibes.
“It’s a very varied program,” said Harker, adding she hopes to see her former teacher Scott, as well as friends and family when she returns to the Okanagan. (Harker will be sure to have a few cheering for her in the audience as her parents are back living in Vernon, while her grandmother lives in Kelowna.)
Harker is also deciding on how to embark on the next phase of her career. She will perform with the Vancouver Opera this summer, taking on the role of Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and is also thinking about whether to pursue her master’s. She also has an opportunity to privately study with the University of Manitoba’s Tracy Dahl.
The Okanagan Symphony is welcoming the UBC Opera Ensemble with a special afternoon tea, open to the public, at Kelowna’s Delta Grand Hotel Sunday at 2:30 p.m. before their evening show in Vernon. The symphony fundraiser will feature a performance by members of the ensemble and symphony, led by OSO conductor Rosemary Thomson. Tickets are $60, and can be purchased by contacting the symphony office at 250-763-7544 or online at www.okanagansymphony.com.
Sunday’s performance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre starts at 7 p.m. Those who arrive one hour before the concert can listen to Thomson as she gives one of her inimitable pre-concert chats to set the stage for the evening’s musical selections.
Tickets for the concert are $48/adult, $41/senior and $22/youth at the Ticket Seller box office, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.