Schwartz soars to opera program in Germany


0711Schwartz4webRachel Schwartz’s voice is essentially her passport to see the world.

But despite living abroad and performing in Europe, to her, there’s no place like home.

Schwartz, 30, left her Chatham home Sunday to fly to Munich to spend the rest of the month with the Munich Opera Program. She is one of 12 emerging artists chosen from auditions around Canada, the U.S. and Europe to study and audition for German opera directors.

“It’s exciting. They bring us over, we polish up our audition material with some of Germany’s top coaches and then we perform and audition,” she said. “I am very grateful for the opportunity.”

Schwartz was in the United Kingdom in May, taking part in the Yorkshire Opera Workshop.

Yet she remains glued to Chatham, where, after years of begging her parents, she received her first piano lessons at age nine and began taking vocal lessons a year later.

Her attachment to Chatham was tested when Schwartz left Chatham after high school to go away to university. She initially didn’t travel too far, heading up the 401 to the University of Western Ontario in London to study music.

Schwartz left there with an undergraduate degree in vocal performance.

Shortly thereafter, she married Daniel Whittal, a Wallaceburg resident.

In 2005, Schwartz was invited to study voice in Slovakia. She and Whittal moved overseas, but returned to Canada less than a year later, as Whittal enrolled in law school in Windsor and Schwartz gave birth to their daughter, Maria.

In 2009, their dream came true, as Whittal was hired by the international law firm Paul Hastings, located in New York City.

“New York was always where we wanted to go,” Schwartz said. It is a veritable mecca of arts and culture.

While in New York, Schwartz went back to school. This time it was the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.

“It was amazing. I met people from all over the world, and we have kept in touch,” she said.

In fact, while in Munich this month, Schwartz plans on meeting up with a Strasberg friend who is now a TV host in Vienna, Austria.

Schwartz, Whittal and their daughter lived in Harlem, where they saw cultural extremes, having French dignitaries live just down the block one way, and a crack house down the other.

The experiences in New York led to the couple thinking about moving to the suburbs, but the commute time for Whittal – at least 90 minutes a day – had them rethink their New York dream.

“I love New York, but there are things kids get exposed to at an early age in a big city that you really want to keep them away from as long as possible,” Schwartz said.

That’s when the family decided to come home in 2010.

“It’s a quality of life thing. This is home,” she said. “You can’t underestimate family closeness.”

Their parents live here and are a big part of their lives, especially little Maria’s. This closeness allows Schwartz to continue to follow her passion and head abroad for performances.

“If we lived somewhere else, this trip wouldn’t be an option,” Schwartz said. “Chatham is the perfect place to be self-employed because of our family presence. We are both able to do our thing. I can be in touch with everywhere I need to be from here.”

As for what lies in store for Schwartz when she returns from Munich, she’ll be part of the musical theatre camps at the Chatham Capitol Theatre in August, and remains the Chatham-Kent children’s Chorus conductor.

“I’m listing to Christmas music right now,” she said.

Schwartz likes to stay one step ahead, but her pace keeps one foot in Chatham-Kent.

“We are never leaving Chatham. We are here for good.”


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