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October 30, 2014
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Meet Adam Fisher: The Heavy Metal Opera Singer
How one rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody turned a metal drummer into a tenor with Opera Atelier

Adam Fisher “kind of fell into” opera singing. The 31-year old is starring as Pedrillo in Opera Atelier’s upcoming Abduction from the Seraglio. For the White Rock, BC native, it is a far cry from his formative years in metal bands.

At 16, he started playing drums in metal and punk bands. Later, he played drums for industrial metal band Stricken, which was a mix between Rage, Rammstein & Tool. On the heels of a calamitous argument, the band fell apart, coinciding with his admission to the music program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The innovative program has a classical base and focuses on creating working (AKA employed) musicians. Part of the curriculum was joining an ensemble. As a percussionist with a metal background, “I could only play the auxiliary stuff. Like the triangle, or the cymbal. Not many cymbals. A cymbal.” Bored out of his mind, he joined the choir to kill time. His tryout consisted of singing the only song he knew by heart — Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. After the tenor belted it out, his teacher was stunned. “Her face was a mix of bewilderment and trying not to burst out laughing. She said ‘Wow. That’s uh, really good Adam. How ‘bout we take a couple of lessons first and see how it goes?'” A few years later he received a full scholarship for singing at UBC. “Then it was kind of like, OK, maybe I should do this.”

After graduation, he got a job with the Vancouver Opera’s Opera in the Schools program. He worked three seasons and performed over 180 shows. “That was a trip. We were taking opera to communities that have never seen it before. Kids are one of the best audiences you could ever perform for because their emotional reaction to stuff is immediate. If they like you — you’ve got them. You know. But if they don’t they’re nodding off, or they’ve gotta go pee. Every once in a while they’d get up and there’d be a couple of puddles.” One kid stood up and projectile vomited midway through their show. Another lunged onto the stage and started playing with the set. “The teachers had to form this pincer move to grab him.”

The singer joined the Emerging Artist program with the Calgary Opera before relocating to Toronto in January. Seraglio will be his debut with Opera Atelier. It’s a company he’s excited to work with because of their refreshing approach to a medium that’s typically associated with stodgy old rich people. “It’s hyper-stylized, very aware of what their place as an entertainment medium — and what their job as entertainment — is. And so they pull out all the stops. They have fantastic sets, costumes, dancers, it’s a visual feast the entire time.”

While he occasionally thinks opera lyrics are bullshit (“It’s encapsulated emotion. If this were an opera right now we’d be married and planning our first child. It’s been what – 20 minutes?”), he does see one similarity to metal: “It’s very dramatic, emotionally intense music. With metal you’re living on this edge of personal expression and aggression and really trying to suss out your demons. With opera, it’s the same thing — just emotions — heightened emotions are encapsulated in this 2 hour performance where you’ve just gotta bear your soul for people. In that regard, they’re connected. Musically, not so much.”

Opera has also evolved with the increasing physicality of the work. Park and bark-style singers (like Pavarotti in his latter years) are largely a thing of the past. Fisher works out a few times a week, swims and does yoga (in addition to drinking mysterious homemade throat elixirs) to keep up. “Being fit — not being cut, like swimsuit model body — but being able to move around onstage, in a healthy way, and still be able to sing — it’s a lot of work. If you’re not fit, it can really take a toll on you. Our body is our instrument, everything we do to our bodies affects us on a professional level. So I can’t party every second night, even hitting it hard every weekend just sort of resets the whole system and I have to start from scratch on Monday.”

Fisher sees Toronto as being at the forefront of ushering in a new era of opera where ticket prices are less prohibitively expensive, a little more approachable and sur-titles are commonplace. He’s thrilled to be a part of it. “We’re not a bunch of overweight bearded dudes or large women with horns shouting at people. We’re just regular folk that love music. We love a type of music that not a lot of people share an affinity for.” The same could be said for metal, really.

 Follow Adam Fisher on Twitter at @adam_jm_fisher


Tiffy Thompson is a regular contributor to Toronto Standard & The Grid. Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson. 

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