A year ago he was eating authentic Italian pizza and rehearsing an opera for performances in the Teatro comunale Città di Vicenza in Vicenza, Italy. Today celebrated tenor Spencer McKnight is creating videos, anticipating the rescheduling of concerts, and in what is great news for Outlook, preparing to open a vocal studio to teach aspiring students here at home.
As a teenager Spencer was like most young people. He played hockey, volleyball, curled, ran track and took part in student government, unaware he had a voice that just a few years later would be described as one of the finest tenor voices in Canada. Thankfully, a trip to a musical production stirred an interest in singing and that put him on a path that would see him to take to concert stages across the country and, as of last summer, into Europe.
In February 2019 Spencer won the Gordon Wallis Opera Competition, receiving prize money to be used for educational purposes. Since his voice teacher had been asked to teach in Italy that summer Spencer declared his interest in being part of that. He then auditioned for an opera and was given a lead in Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Mozart.
Don Giovanni is one of many retellings of the famous philanderer Don Juan and follows the impact of his actions on three different families. Murder, revenge and seduction set up an ending in which Giovanni is dragged to hell to pay for his sins. Spencer remarked, “It is a comedy, but it has some very dramatic moments.”
Spencer played Don Ottavio, a role considered vocally challenging. “Mozart roles are all unique in the way they need to be sung,” Spencer explained. “Most of his tenor parts are not overly high, but they do tend to be a bit low for many tenors.” The style itself makes it difficult to get accustomed to. “One thing that Mozart uses a lot in his opera is recitative, which is where most of the exposition happens in the opera,” Spencer explained. “The style of singing Mozart recitative is very different from almost any other recitative.”
The international cast had a good time working together, even amidst a more laid-back approach some were unaccustomed to. “In Italy in the summer – things sort of happen when they happen,” he mused. “If you don’t start a rehearsal on time in North America someone is usually in trouble for that, whereas in Italy it seems most things start a few minutes late and things like props and costumes and sets eventually get done at some point before opening night.”
The performance venue in Vicenza was a newer 910-seat theatre with particularly good acoustics. Spencer had never performed in Italian in front of a primarily Italian audience before so he said that was a little nerve wracking. However, when the reviews came in he was commended for being easily understood.
After the performances of Don Giovanni came to an end Spencer headed to Bologna to compete in an international vocal competition. “I made it to the semifinals, which was extremely exciting,” he said. “I ended up staying in Bologna for a few extra days and really enjoyed the city. It is small enough that you can walk the entire old part of the city in about an afternoon, but it is so full of culture!”
Spencer’s six weeks in Italy were filled with highlights: good food, Pride celebrations in Milan, and two operas at the Verona Arena which is similar to the Colosseum that was completed in 30 A.D.
After returning to Canada Spencer sang the Saint Cecilia Mass by Gounod with the Regina Philharmonic Chorus in November and then Handel’s Messiah with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra in December. Right before lockdown in March he made his TCU Place debut singing the tenor solo in Rebecca Dale’s Materna Requiem with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. “It was an amazing experience, considering the composer came all the way from England to watch and be at rehearsals,” he said.
Although it’s been hard not to be performing due to the pandemic, Spencer has been able to keep working virtually with his pianist creating videos and while it’s not the same as being in front of an audience, it allows him to keep being creative. He is also getting ready to start a voice studio in Outlook and will be welcoming students of all age ranges, 6-99. “My hopes as a teacher are to be able to inspire students and show them how easy it is to sing with good technique,” he explained. “Many young singers think things need to feel like you’re working hard so you know it’s working, but it should feel easy!”
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The chance for aspiring singers in and around Outlook to work with Spencer is indeed a unique opportunity. His approach says a lot about who he is. “My goal is to be supportive and guide them on their vocal journey” adding, “I hope they can expect to have some fun.”