Home for Christmas

Rising opera star Calvin Powell returns to perform Handel’s Messiah.

On Canada’s West Coast, Calvin Powell is preparing for his role in Vancouver Opera Company’s newest production, Lillian Alling, set to premiere this coming spring. Once work wraps for the holidays, he’ll be returning home to St. John’s in time to rehearse with Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s seasonal production of Handel’s Messiah at the Basilica in which he will be the baritone.

It’s a testament to Powell’s approach to his performing career that leading companies on both sides of the country to find roles for him. Since graduating from MUN’s School of Music, Calvin has worked with companies like the VOC and Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company while still finding time to return to Newfoundland to perform.

Having recently settled in St. John’s with his family, Powell credits opportunities with companies like the NSO and Rising Tide Theatre for pushing forward the date of his permanent return.

“I definitely had a plan to move back to Newfoundland,” says Powell, “but I thought it would have been by the time I hit 40. However I was turning 30 and I thought ‘Things are good.’”

For him it just came down to deciding on what’s more important. Once he started a family of his own, being close to the rest of his family and able to afford a mortgage were factors. Plus, in a big city you’re a small fish in a big pond.

“It was by design to come home, but I found myself home ten years earlier than I had originally intended,” he says. He’s pleased with how it all worked out.

Aside from the personal and family connections, Powell finds the broad range of opportunities in Newfoundland more suited to his ideal career. Although he is trained primarily in opera, working in the province has given him the chance to perform musical and non-musical theatre, as well as appear on film in the local short musical, Sweet Pickle.

“That was fun. That was the first time I got to sing on camera,” says Powell. “All the disciplines are really mingled in St. John’s which is great…Working in Toronto, they see that I’m an opera singer and I don’t get considered for those sorts of things.

But for Messiah, Powell is returning to a role dedicated fans will recognize him in.

“It’s a Christmas tradition for a lot people in town,” says Powell. “My first Messiah was in 2000. I don’t think I’ve gone more than one year not doing it. When I was away it was great—it was a way to come home for Christmas.”

He thinks the audience has been able to see him grow as a singer and as an artist over the years. “I think that for me personally I get a little better at it each year.”

For those who have never been, Powell sees Messiah as a unique experience, accessible to newcomers.

“It’s not a play, there’s no movement, but it’s not a concert either, in the sense than everything is totally related and it’s meant to be performed as a whole, as opposed to a bunch of different songs strung together, he explains.”

In the new year Powell will be returning to Vancouver to continue work with the opera company, but in February, he will come home to appear with the Atlantic String Quartet. The balance of professional opportunities both home and away is something he hopes to continue.

“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to keep it up, for sure,” says Powell. “You get to go away and do the things you get to do—the special things, the things you really want to do—but you can make a living here as a performer… It is possible. You just have to make that leap of faith.”

Handel’s ‘Messiah’ will be performed at The Basilica on December 11th and 12th at 8pm. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Tickets for students between the ages of 15 and 29 is $10 with a free ‘Go NSO’ pass. For complete ticketing and performance information, visit nso-music.com