Opera alumna’s success rooted in mentorship

By Michelle Keong

Simone Osborne in Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto Photo: Tim Matheson

Simone Osborne in Vancouver Opera’s production of Rigoletto
Photo: Tim Matheson

Simone Osborne’s (DMPS’09) star continues to rise. The soprano recently reunited with Professor Nancy Hermiston who directed Vancouver Opera’s Rigoletto. It was their first time working together since she graduated in 2009.

“It’s pretty surreal for me,” says Osborne, 29, who first learned Gilda’s aria in Hermiston’s studio during her student days. “The truth is, about half of the roles that I’ve done professionally, I already did at UBC. I’m a singer because of UBC and I’m a singer because of Nancy.”

For Hermiston, who founded the UBC Opera Ensemble in 1995, working professionally with a former student marks a major accomplishment.

“It’s especially wonderful for me to be working with Simone on a role like this. It’s one of the great soprano roles of the repertoire,” says Hermiston, chair of the voice and opera divisions. “I have known her since she was 15 years old and it has just been so great to see this wonderful development.”

Based in Toronto, Osborne has maintained close ties with Hermiston over the years; she has even sung a line or two over the phone, asking for advice. Hermiston has flown to see her former student in career-defining performances, including Osborne’s debut at Carnegie Hall, her performances as Pamina and Gilda in Toronto, and her debut as the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at Edmonton Opera.

“Nancy has always been a point person for me in my career,” says Osborne, who relies heavily on what she calls a personal board of directors. “That board is very small for me but Nancy has a prominent seat. So to do any kind of project with her is just a gift.”

A trusted circle of advisors plays a huge role in the program that Hermiston has built from the ground up. During her career and tenure at the prestigious Nürnberg Opera, her mentors—including James Craig, Constance Fisher, Irving Guttman and Herman Geiger-Torel, founder of the Canadian Opera Company—saw her potential as a singer and director.

“It’s because of them that I do what I do at UBC and I can give Simone and all those students that kind of training,” says Hermiston, who was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada for her achievements as an opera singer, stage director and educator. “It’s like a direct heritage from the founder of the Canadian Opera Company—that’s the heritage from which I came.”

In the final year of her studies, Osborne already had a contract with Wexford Opera and engagements in the USA and Europe. She then landed a coveted spot in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.

“I went right from UBC to an operatic career, which I feel so grateful for, and it’s a testament to the training that I got at UBC and to the time I spent with Nancy,” says Osborne, whose 2015-2016 season includes returning to the Canadian Opera Company to debut the role of Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen and crossing the USA, appearing in 14 cities with the Metropolitan Opera’s Rising Stars Concert Series.

“My UBC opera family of Irving Guttmann, Judi Forst, and most importantly Nancy, is just as influential to this day. Everything they told me is true, and everything they prepared me for has happened.”