INTRO: Natalie Choquette is a global phenomenon, a magnificent and passionate artist who brings joy and laughter to the world. The following three articles are like a journey that follows her career and family, for Natalie, a diva and opera comedienne, is also a mother and home-maker.
The first story, written in 2003, is an introduction to her talent, family and life at home in Montreal between plane trips. In 2007 the subject turned to life changes, the importance of laughter, and her exciting new projects. More recently, in 2011, she was organizing herself. All the while, there are new shows and recordings, her daughters grow up, and family life moves on.
These articles, here accompanied by videos, have previously been published as promotion for performances with both the Vancouver Island Symphony and the Central Valley Academy of Music in British Columbia. I hope you enjoy meeting Natalie Choquette, the woman behind the stage performer and recording artist, the human filled with compassion for all life, particularly for children everywhere. Natalie Choquette makes a difference in this world.
Natalie Choquette Photo by Carl Lessard, 2007
From comedy to beauty - and beware any gentleman in the audience...
Natalie Choquette performs "Habernera" from Bizet's "Carmen", in The Diva and the Maestro
Who Said Opera was Boring?
interview article by Rosemary Phillips, February 2003
INTRO:World-renowned opera comedienne Natalie Choquette was preparing
for a journey to the Bahamas when she took time out for this interview
which led into her concert with the Vancouver Island Symphony in
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Natalie is a woman of great insight
and many talents - for Natalie is not only an opera singer, performer,
and comedienne, she is a mother. It was a joy to talk
with her and while we chatted her children could be heard playing
in the background.
Laughter - the best medicine
So what is fabulous, famous, opera comedienne Natalie Choquette
doing coming to Nanaimo – La Diva who has performed
before crowds of up to 18,000 in Europe in arena-size venues?
"I’m really honoured to have been invited by the
symphony there," said Choquette from her home in Montreal.
"It’s such a beautiful part of the world. When
I visited the Island a few years ago its beauty just blew
Choquette who, with her many comic diva characters, has brought
laughter to audiences of all ages and cultures on four continents
will be performing "Who Ever Said Opera Was Boring?"
with the Vancouver Island Symphony and Maestro Marlin Wolfe
at the Port Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 15.
"It’s so important to laugh," said Choquette,
who was born in Tokyo during a Typhoon and can converse, sing
and joke in at least six different languages. "In olden
days people laughed for a good 17 minutes a day. Now we are
reduced to two."
Opera is definitely not boring for the fans of La Diva. Audiences
everywhere have been known to break into applause and laugh
uproariously at Choquette whether she’s singing a “Turandot”
aria while decked out in hair curlers and slurping spaghetti,
breaking out into a Neaopolitan while hanging laundry on stage,
filing her fingernails while giving a superb rendition of
“Summertime”, or when she sings Puccini’s
"Nessun Dorma" refrain while gargling a mouthful
of red wine… without missing a note! (See the video below) And the costumes
by Rossignol are outrageous.
"No matter where in the world we come from we have a
vibration that’s common. We are all human beings, and
people laugh at the same silly jokes. Africans are very jolly,
and Indians have spontaneous laughter. In Egypt they have
less material things but they sure know how to have fun. In
Japan people are so discreet about their emotions. Latinos
are very expressive. The French in France analyze. You have
to be very sensitive and open to the personality of the audience."
Performing in Europe for 60,000 people of all ages
When asked what it was like singing in front of 60,000 people
for the Danube Music Festival in 2000 she replied, “The
first few seconds – after feeling the personality of
the audience you settle down and deliver your stuff and make
sure that everybody feels included in what you do. It’s
harder to sing for one person than 60,000. You can feel shy.
But it’s fun too. You just have to take that minute
to feel the audience and then you’re OK. That’s
normal. When you master the stage fright it’s adrenaline,
and it’s so important to have that when you walk on
stage. It’s like when you vacuum, you need a special
kind of energy.”
In 1999 Choquette swept across Europe for the “Night
of the Proms” tour, a rock and classical music extravaganza.
For the 37 concerts she was accompanied by the Il Novencento
Symphony Orchestra, a choir of 40 young singers, Italian singing
star Zucchero, Britain’s famous Status Quo, and Tina
Turner’s musical director, John Miles. That was the
same year she won the Grand Prize for the International Humour
Festival in Haguenau, France.
Making opera accessible
“I realize that I get the same comments all over the
world from people who don’t normally go to the opera
and think it’s for people with fur coats and diamonds,”
she continued. “The comments that come out are - ‘Thank
you for making opera accessible to the people.’
“Everybody loves the music, through movies and films.
What scares people away from the music is not so much the
music itself, but they feel awkward when thy go into a concert
hall - maybe someone has said, ‘Shhh,’ if they
applauded in the wrong place. Bringing an entertaining side
to the art brings an ease, it brings laughter. I’ve
even had comments from punks and bikers and teenagers who
were dragged to a concert – that they were glad they
went. One seven-year-old girl said to me, ‘When I grow
up I want to be an operator just like you.’”
Family takes part
As Choquette talked away enthusiastically her two daughters,
age five and three could be heard in the background. “Whenever
I’m on the phone that’s when they ask for things.”
Yes, La Diva is also a mother. And how do her children
feel about what she does? “The children love coming
to the shows – they love the dresses I wear - like fairy
tale clothes. They have even come on stage with me. It’s
important that they feel a part of what I’m doing.”
Eric Lagacé is also part of the family
business. “He composed all the Diva’s themes that
announce the colour of who is coming on stage next. While
I go off and change the orchestra plays the theme preparing
the audience for the next character.”
That’s one thing Choquette definitely aims for –
a balanced family life. “This is how we do it –
our way of living our life, together.” That also includes
oldest daughter Florence, now 20, who has toured with and
without Choquette as a pianist and singer.
January was a time to spend at home with family. But once
February comes into full swing she’s off to sing in
Bermuda, then after her performance in Nanaimo she takes the
family to San Domingo.
Laughter is one of the best medicines and Choquette delivers
it. “Even people who are grieving, they have come to
me and said that for the first time they were able to laugh,
that they hadn’t laughed in so long. And there’s
the beauty of the music. The whole thing put together unblocks
things that we can’t express in words that gives you
the strength to go on – like flowers, and a smile.”
Natalie Choquette performing in Peru - "Nessum Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.
A Family Affair
interview article by Rosemary Phillips, February 2007
INTRO: Life for Natalie Choquette, La Diva and opera comedienne, was going through changes, big changes. The constant - her family, her children. This article was written for yet another appearance with the Vancouver Island Symphony in Nanaimo, British Columbia, a community that just loves all that she is and does.
All in the family
Take a handful of motherhood, a dash of grand-motherhood, a spoonful of business-partner and entrepreneur, ounces of musical theatre and artistic creativity, a few tablespoons of excellent opera soprano voice and great classical music, and several cups full of outrageous comedy, mix together with hilarious costumes and scripts and you have Canada’s amazing and well loved globetrotting opera comedienne Natalie Choquette.
“My house is a mess but I’m having fun,” said Natalie while taking a break from working on a new program. The house was quiet; her two daughters, Eleanor, who is now age nine and has already sung on four of Natalie’s albums, and Ariane, age six, were at school. In a previous interview, before her first highly successful performance with the Vancouver Island Symphony in 2003, both daughters had been running around the house calling for their mother’s attention. “Now I have a bit more time to work at home,” added La Diva.”
You might call it a real juggling act – as Natalie balances home life with her touring. She has in the past taken her family with her, changing diapers in dressing rooms in Europe, and inviting daughters on to the stage during a performance. “My role as a mother is changing quite a bit. In fact, I’m a grandmother now. My oldest daughter Florence K. has had a baby - another little diva in the family, Alice Rose. It feels wonderful to be a grandmother. Florence has become a performer herself, and a songwriter, and her latest album has been named the best jazz album in Quebec.”
La Diva is truly a family affair. Amid the disarray of the house, Natalie practices her Strauss and Mahler for a show about the wives of composers who complain about their husbands, and prepares for a trip to Peru before venturing to visit with the Vancouver Island Symphony for another new program, Love La Diva. Her business partner, Eric Lagacé, who lives just minutes away, helps out with the composing; her parents live upstairs and her father, retired diplomat Guy Choquette, sends out all the latest news about his daughter’s accomplishments, via e-mail. Yes, it’s truly a family affair.
Concerts in Peru, and supporting an orphanage
“I’m taking my daughters with me to Peru,” Natalie adds. “They will learn a lot. They will get to visit the orphanage where I have a musical project. It will show them the value of life - loving, sharing and helping others.”
Regarding her support of the orphanage Natalie says, “There are so many people around the world who need help. I can’t help everybody, but I can do my part – even if it’s a small thing. They have told me that just knowing that someone, somewhere is thinking about them gives them the strength to keep on going.”
The importance of humour It would not be a stretch to say that Natalie’s outlook on life and philosophical approach to all things has helped make her the huge success she is, for is not humour a wonderful way of looking at the depth of our lives and then laughing at ourselves? “It’s so important to laugh,” adds Natalie who was born in Tokyo during a typhoon and can converse, sing and joke in at least six different languages. “Even people who are grieving, they have come to me and said that for the first time they were able to laugh.”
New projects It is through her humour that Natalie has been able to take classical music and reach new listeners. She has performed with orchestras on four continents and with a circus in Germany. “It’s circus meets classic – mixing circus acts and classical music. Being half clown and half diva that suits me fine.” And in France she performed a show with her daughter Florence. “It’s called The Problem with my Mother. We will be doing it for the Québec Festival.”
This last year Natalie also hosted a television series for Bravo called Opera Easy. “I sang in some of them, but we had many other guest singers. It was really fun!”
As we know, underlying all humour is the seriousness of life, and Natalie has touched on that recently with her contribution as spokesperson for the Québec Cancer Society. “My last three albums, the Aeterna Trilogy, were sacred music with a choir, to raise funds for the foundation. Two of the albums have won Phoenix Awards.” And Natalie’s next album will be of South American music. “It will be called Chiquita Choquette.”
The year 2006 was a hard year for many people, including Natalie and her family. “Happiness is knowing how to adapt to change. You have to be ready for anything that comes along, and ask, ‘What can I make of this?’”
Meanwhile, Natalie, who when looking to the future would like to retire to Vancouver Island, rides over it all with laughter and love. And in her show, Love La Diva, she does just that with great music by composers such as Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Mozart and Offenbach, to offer up a delicious and hilarious Valentine treat for the heart, every heart – with love.
Natalie Choquette performs "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess, with Charles Dutoit.
interview article by Rosemary Phillips, January 2011
INTRO: Natalie Choquette is amazing. Here is an artist who is at home on a stage in front of thousands of people, in arenas, theatres, and community halls, creating laughter and sharing her gifted singing voice, and at the same time, like anyone else, tidying her home. This article is an insight into the human side of Natalie Choquette, a diva and opera commedienne who is adored by audiences around the world, audiences that speak many languages. Oh yes, Natalie is multi-lingual. A visit to YouTube will see her infront of huge audiences speaking Spanish, Italian, French, English and Russian. Here she was preparing for her new year and upcoming performance in Abbotsford, BC, a benefit for the Central Valley Academy of Music.
"The spring cleaning is progressing,” states Natalie Choquette, globe-trotting opera comedienne and mother, speaking from her home in Montreal. But wait a minute; isn’t this January? Choquette chuckles, “It snowed before Christmas and on New Year’s Day it started to rain. My body got a mixed message to spring clean.”
Well, when it comes to housework and running a home and family, not even international touring divas are exempt from rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job. “I’m having fun and trying to be a good mum and grandmother,” adds Choquette who, in the last year, has performed for audiences of all ages, created laughter and music from Asia to Europe, South American and across Canada, and left just about everyone in stitches. On a more serious note she says, “This cleaning is probably because I think I’m going to have a big season –I need to be organized.”
"Love is in the Air"
Choquette kicks off her new year with a visit to West Vancouver on Saturday, February 12, and Abbotsford on Sunday, February 13, for “Love is in the Air”, the latter a Valentine’s benefit concert at the Abbey Arts Centre for the Central Valley Academy of Music. She will transform into her many characters as she presents favourite operatic arias from La Traviata, Norma, Madame Butterfly, Cavalleria Rusticana and Barber of Seville, and songs from the Broadway hits Les Misérables, West Side Story and Porgy and Bess. Joining her on stage will be West Vancouver’s Pacific Spirit Choir, directed by Gerald van Wyck, the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra, conducted by Calvin Dyck, and faculty members and students from CVAM.
Be forewarned, this is not your normal operatic event. “This is a grand concert, orchestra and choir – with surprises,” adds Choquette who has been entertaining audiences around the world since 1993 with her own brand of energetic humour and brilliant voice. “Oh yes... no surprise, no fun!” Those surprises come in comedic skits that involve members of the orchestra, conductors, audience - and costumes.
The costume department
“That’s the next part of the house. I’ve warned the family if they see me in a recycling bag it means I've gone a little too far...” laughs Choquette. “My costumes are in a separate place where I can hang them up. Props are in one area and boxes and stickers in another to identify which show they belong to.”
You can tell she doesn’t travel light. “I wear at least fourteen costumes in one show, so they don’t get worn as much, and they carry beautiful energy, so I don’t want to clean them too often.”
Children and family are important to Natalie
Besides rehearsing for Love is in the Air, Choquette is preparing another show with her eldest daughter Florence K. It’s titled The Man I Love. “She’s into Latin and jazz, I’m into opera – we had to find a common ground so we though the 40’s is a good place to start – with the atmosphere of the music. We’ll be performing at the Montreal High Lights Festival, which is also in February, and then in Paris.”
Meanwhile her two younger daughters, Éléonore (13 1/2) and Ariane (almost 11) are often on stage either with Mum or in productions at Place des Arts. “I prefer being a stage mum,” adds Choquette. “My sister is a hockey mum and has to sit and freeze in an arena!”
Choquette definitely has children in her heart. “I love children so much. My career is perfect for me. If I had wanted to be a straight opera singer I couldn’t have had three children. I have adapted my passions, and a big part of my work is done at home – but I still have to cook, and clean and all those things.”
Her joy of children extends not only to her own family but to supporting an orphanage in Peru, and to introducing a special program in Quebec schools titled Mimi, La Diva Malbouffa in which she explains opera and good eating habits. “Kids are so fantastic,” she says. “When I first started this show I was scared. When kids are with their parents it’s one thing, but when it’s a school it’s very different. The more I do it the more I enjoy it. Kids participate. I provoke them, and when you give them a door they step right in.”
A busy year
So besides recording a new CD (her 13th), creating new shows, going on tour, performing at schools, in theatres and at festivals, taking computer lessons, running a household and business, being a mum and grandmother, you can say that La Diva is going to be really busy this year. “I just know I have to get organized,” she repeats; then with the interview over she blurts out, “I’m going to finish the rest of the house!”