Barbara Fris

Barbara Sophia Corinne Fris, opera singer, concert artist, recitalist, and voice teacher, is a Canadian soprano who specializes in opera and classical symphonic works for voice, having performed across Canada, in Europe, and the United States where she also has sung a wide range of works that include operettas, musical theatre, light classics, lieder, French mélodie, and art songs. She is a member of the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, Association of Canadian Television & Radio Artists, and the American Guild of Musical Artists. In addition to her performing activities, she is an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto) and Owner of the Barbara Fris Voice Technique Studio where she teaches voice, piano, and theory. As a vocal clinician, she is known throughout the GTA for her master classes and vocal workshops, and for her work with students entering performing arts schools and university music faculties.

Born in 1956 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Barbara began her musical studies at the Nova Scotia Teacher’s College (Truro) where she obtained an Associate of Education Diploma and Licentiate as an Early Childhood Music Specialist (1977).  She later graduated from Dalhousie University, Faculty of Music (1980) with a Bachelor of Music in Performance (Honours) and the University of Toronto Opera Division (1983), where she obtained a Diploma in Opera Performance (Honours) as a scholarship student of the noted Dutch baritone, Bernard Diamant and with the support of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust and Canada Council.  She later completed further post-graduate work at the Accademia dei Rozzi, (Siena Italy) under Maestro Walter Baracchi, former principal coach and conductor at Teatro alla Scala di Milano.  Subsequent musical studies led her to New York City where she studied privately with Rita Patané of the Manhattan and Juilliard Schools of Music in Patané’s Carnegie Hall studio. Fris later worked with Féderico Dávia of the Metropolitan Opera and Donna Brunsma, Assistant Conductor at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Since her memorable beginnings, she has mastered a large repertoire from the classics of opera and oratorio to the art songs of French, German, British and American composers, and a great treasury of contemporary popular music.

Career Highlights are:

She has appeared in most of the major Canadian opera houses and throughout the United States and Europe, has sung with orchestras across Canada in a wide array of oratorio and concert repertoire, is the recipient of several prestigious Canada Council and Nova Scotia Talent Trust Awards, and was declared “one of Toronto’s most artistic, creative and inspiring women” by the 2008 Luminato Festival. She has given a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at the opening of Science North (Sudbury).  As a Guest Artist at the ‘International Year of the Senior Citizen’ event sponsored by the City of Toronto, her outdoor concert attracted a capacity crowd at Nathan Philips Square where 15,000+ listeners heard her critically acclaimed Mimi from La Bohème.

Mimi in La bohème marked the singer’s opera début at the Courtney Summer Music Festival (1982). Her professional career and main-stage opera début was launched in 1984 with her portrayal of Clorinda (La Cenerentola) with the Calgary Opera. Re-engagements with the Calgary Opera and guest appearances with the Manitoba Opera and Edmonton Opera quickly followed.

Throughout 1986-1990, Barbara won several major, international competitions that launched her performing opera career, 1989 marked her Italian début as Amelia (Simon Boccanegra) in Siena, Italy, followed by engagements at the Luino Italia Summer Music Festival as Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte). In 1990, Fris performed the world-premiere of Patricia Blomfield Holt’s “A Song of Darkness and Light”.  That same year, she recorded the “Sacred Concertos of Dmytro Bortniansky” for Naxos and performed them in Roy Thomson Hall (Toronto).

Selected Opera Repertoire/Roles:

Since 1984, roles she has played include Liù in Turandot, Norina in Don Pasquale, Zerlina and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Despina and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Angelica in Suor Angelica, Violetta in La traviata, Marguerite in Faust, the Countess and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, Marenka in The Bartered Bride, Micaëla in Carmen, The Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors and Mimi and Musetta in La bohème. Her vast opera repertoire also includes Nedda in Pagliacci, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Antonia in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, and Desdemona in Otello.  Barbara Fris is also known for her portrayals of Angelina in Trial by Jury, Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, the title role in Guiditta and Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow, always to critical and audience acclaim. 

Reviews & Media Appearances:

“…sings with a sensuous warmth, great reserves of power and emotional expressiveness.”  Edmonton Journal.

“Ms. Fris possesses a gorgeous vocal instrument with illuminating beauty of tone … “a songstress that marries her expressive lyricism with exemplary diction and compelling acting.”  Chronicle Herald (Halifax).

“Ms. Fris’ voice is full of vocal colours well matched to intensely subjective moods—evocative and breath-taking”.  Halifax Mailstar.

The CBC has broadcast Ms Fris’ performances in concerts, with festivals and regional orchestras across Canada, nationally in radio and television. Her other television credits include appearances on CTV, CITY and Global networks in their nationally broadcast news features.

Awards & Recognition:

She was awarded the Grand Prize at the 1989 International Bel Canto Voice Competition in Chicago and has been a prizewinner at other competitions including the Luciano Pavarotti Competition in Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (Great Lakes District) in Toronto and the MacAllister Voice Competition in Indianapolis. She is also a recipient of several prestigious Canada Council and Nova Scotia Talent Trust Awards and the Arnold Walter and Canadian Opera Company Women’s Guild Scholarships.

In 2008, Fris was declared “one of Toronto’s most artistic, creative and inspiring women” by Toronto’s Luminato Festival and joined the ranks of other luminaries and well-known faces such as former Governor-General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson, actor Cynthia Dale, and journalists Valerie Pringle and fellow Heliconian, Ann Carson.

Selected Discography:

Mondnacht. Private label, 2005. Live performance.

My Heart Speaks for You: Mozart heroines in his 250th year. Private label, 2006. Live performance.

Toronto Heliconian Club/Community Activities:
Barbara joined the Toronto Heliconian Club on November 29, 1989. Since then, she has been: Chair, Music Section (1996-2004, 2008-2009, 2010 in part); Head of Music Programming (2009-present); Co-Founder, Toronto Heliconian Club Scholarship (2009); Founder, Heliconian Music Subscription Series (2009); Co-Chair, Scholarship Committee Fundraiser (2009); Designer & Seamstress, THC Theatrical Stage Curtain (2002); and author of the Heliconian Hall Rental Guidelines (2002).

At 55, Barbara Fris enjoys an active performing and teaching career, her philanthropic work, producing concerts, and mentoring young musicians, especially singers. She is an Elder of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, enjoys travel, her garden, and the company of her family and extended family and friends. Barbara is married to her husband, Robert W. Landry, an occupational health and safety specialist in the Ontario government.

Related Links:

Photo Credit: Mary Perdue