When Chatham’s Katie Flynn was a young girl, she took tap class and liked to hang out with her dad’s family band, The Country Boys, in her garage. Until one winter, her dad, Allan, asked her to sing.
Turning her back in shyness, Katie decided to sing White Christmas to Allan and her grandfather, Larry.
“Dad wanted me to sing and I had been listening to my Amy Grant tape, her version of White Christmas, so I sang it turned around with closed eyes,” Katie explained. “When I turned around, they were both crying, and from then on, it was, ‘You’re going to be a singer.’ I was out of tap dance and into voice lessons which I was really thrilled about.”
Now the 22-year-old voice student, in her third year at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), has been offered the lead role in the Italian opera Radamisto, thanks to a unique opportunity.
AEDO, the Accademia Europea Dell’Opera, is a European opera experience in Lucca, Italy and was created in collaboration between the university and Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini. The four-week program is centered on the preparation, creation and performance of full operatic roles. The international program brings together singers from around the world to work with pianists, conductors, and directors from celebrated opera institutions, followed by a series of public European performances.
After being encouraged by her voice coach to audition for AEDO, Katie wasn’t sure what to expect, as at that time, she had little experience with operatic performances.
“I thought I might be in the chorus, but then I opened the e-mail and I was offered the lead in their opera Radamisto,” she said. “I’m currently in a Falstaff opera. I haven’t had too many rehearsals but opera is more difficult. The music is very precise and knowing when to come in is very tricky.”
Katie was told her voice, considered a rare mezzo-soprano (the middle range where she is most comfortable), fit the male role of Radamisto and is her first time singing a male lead.
Katie, a former Chatham-Kent Secondary School student, saw her first musical at the high school, Les Miserables, while in Grade 6. As a high school student, she sang in the CKSS performances of Little Shop of Horrors, The Phantom of the Opera, Thoroughly Modern Mille and her first one, Rags.
When she played the role of Carlotta, with some operatic performance, Katie said the director gave her the music, which included a high note at the top of her range.
“She kind of sings operatic music, which is hard when you’re not trained. The director gave me the music and there was a high note I couldn’t hit,” Katie said. “I practised non-stop for three days, and the first two days, nothing would come out but by the third day, I got it. It felt really great when it came out and it’s motivation for me for not giving up. I think about that all the time.”
Since her first public performance at a Kiwanis Music Festival at the age of 11, where she sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in a costume complete with ruby red slippers, and her years in the Mitchell’s Bay singing contest, Katie has honed her skills at UWO, “the second best music program in all of Canada,” and is excited about this next step in her education.
Scheduled to be in Lucca, Italy for the month of July, Katie now faces the challenge of coming up with her tuition, 3,000 euros or $4,300 Canadian, plus the cost of her flight, for a total of approximately $6,000 by April 1.
“I can’t wait to go; I really hope I can,” Katie said. “I am trying to fundraise and when I first found out, I spent the whole night brain-storming with my family to come up with events or performance concerts. I made a YouTube video, a Facebook page (titled You, Me and Italy) and a blog.”
Katie hopes to keep her supporters up-to-date on her plans, and there is a link to her GoFundMe page to help her with her tuition and flight costs.
With the support of her parents and grandma Bev, who has a scrapbook of every performance Katie has been in, the singer hopes people will join her on her journey.
“People can message me on my Facebook page, You, Me and Italy. It’s not just about me; I want to make the people who support me feel like they are a part of it,” Katie said. “They can follow along my journey in Italy; see and be a part of it because I can’t do it without the help of other people.”