Rose-Ellen Nichols has gone from small town girl to globe-trotting diva. The Pender Harbour High School alumna will be returning to the Coast as part of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, August 18-20. Nichols, a mezzo soprano of Coast Salish heritage, made a name for herself when she premiered in the title role of Pauline, the story of Pauline Johnson as a chamber opera produced in Vancouver in 2014. “I was hoping for anything,” recalls Nichols of the auditions for Pauline. “It was very exciting to represent this woman. It’s an important role, an important story about people from our past that are being forgotten.”
Nichols started singing lessons when she was just 10 years old. “My mom likes to say I sang before I talked,” she laughs. At 17, she left the Coast to study music at Kwantlen University where she toured with a jazz band before transferring to the University of British Columbia and focussing on opera. There she continued her studies with Dale Throness and the renowned Nancy Hermiston, earning a Masters of Opera. “I enjoy how difficult opera can get with all the layers in there,” says Nichols. “The added layer of working on a different language while singing then getting into acting. The harder it is the more fun it is.” While at UBC, Nichols met and worked with Canada’s most celebrated mezzo, Judith Forst. “She’s been a strong person to follow,” says Nichols. “Watching her perform, you see how she practices, how she works on set. She is a very loving and inspirational person. She makes you feel like you belong.”
Nichols had the opportunity to pay that kind of inspiration forward when she toured BC schools as part of Vancouver Opera’s Opera in the Schools program. “It was an exciting time getting to perform for young children,” says Nichols. “A lot of them had never heard of opera [and now] they realize this is something they can pursue.” Nichols has also sung in the Czech Republic, Germany, and the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland. “I’ve been able to go places and perform in places that I suppose I wouldn’t have thought of going if I hadn’t got into opera,” muses Nichols.
With her parents “embarrassingly proud” of her, Nichols looks forward to singing in front of her hometown. “I don’t get to come home that often so when I do its pretty lovely,” says Nichols. “It’s comfortable to be home and singing.” For her return to the Coast, she’ll be performing with another local, baritone Louis Dillon, performing works by Rossini, Mozart, Puccini, and Berlin among other well-known composers. “It’s going to be fun, entertaining,” says Nichols. “Perhaps emotional at times, and hopefully inspiring.”
The Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival runs August 18-20 at the Madeira Park School of Music. Tickets $15/$30 by calling 604-989-3995. Rose-Ellen Nichols and Louis Dillon perform a free concert on Friday, August 18 at 1:30pm as part of the Rising Tide program. More info at penderharbourmusic.ca.