The group are readying a jazzy surprise for their Christmas concert
“It’s magical, isn’t it?,” asked Mario Iavarone, a baritone in the Lyric Singers as dozens of serene voices projected harmonically, lending the Montreal West United Church a calm, soothing air.
The Lyric Theatre, a non-profit musical theatre group based in Montreal, is celebrating its 50th anniversary, honouring a rich and blooming legacy that continues to this day. The Lyric Singers, the organization’s award-winning singing troupe founded by Bob Bachelor in 1980, is also celebrating in style with an acclaimed Broadway-themed anniversary show that took place earlier in June. The group are currently readying a Christmas show for the first week of December. It’s no doubt a huge year for the storied group.
Laurie-Anne Jean-Baptiste has been involved with the group for nine years, working on-stage and behind the scenes to ensure its success. “My singing teacher at the time saw that there was an ad in the paper and that [Lyric] were looking for new singers,” she said, describing her origins with the group. “One of our co-workers at the time just passed by and handed me a paper and I said ‘Oh, okay. I guess I’m auditioning for this.’”
Though her start was rather unexpected and sudden, Jean-Baptiste has stayed with Lyric for longer than she had ever anticipated. “Why I came to stay with Lyric is the sense of family and community and we learn so much! There’s not one rehearsal that you don’t learn something. Over the years, through sitting in rehearsals, performing in shows, my repertoire and my knowledge of music have expanded.”
On top of being a soprano, Jean-Baptiste also sits on the Lyric Theatre committee while also being in charge of producing all promotional and press materials. Though she’s been a part of the troupe for nine years, some of The Lyric Singers’ members have been a part of the fold since its inception 25 years ago. “At the end of the day, I think what they keep from all of their years with Lyric is that, regardless of the people who change and the turnovers, some years more than others, there’s still this sense of community and family that’s very present.”
Community plays a huge part in The Lyric Singers’ success, and its numerous performers are continuously rewarded with a true sense of belonging. Though auditions occur every year and new performers join the group’s ranks, the familial dynamic rarely changes under the apprenticeship of founder and musical director Bob Bachelor and his assistant Chris Barillaro.
“I believe that if you’re not constantly challenging yourself, you’re not getting better,” said Mario Iavarone, celebrating his first year with the Lyric Singers. “Music being my favorite outlet for emotions, I said ‘let’s see if I can do Broadway!’” Iavarone had previously performed in a choir rooted in classical and pop, trained to sing as a classical tenor. His arrival at Lyric pushed him to a new register. “When I joined Lyric, I was a baritone. That was a whole different ballgame for me. I didn’t know if I could do it and I was honestly very worried about it.”
Despite having a wealth of anxieties going in, Bachelor and Barillaro’s trust instilled a certain sense of courage in Iavarone. “They convinced me to trust their vision. They were right. I loved the differences that singing Broadway brings. It’s more emotive, it’s much more expressive, it takes up so much more room, which encompasses everything that I am!”
With the holidays coming up, The Lyric Singers is hard at work preparing for its renowned upcoming Christmas concert. Entitled Candlelight Christmas, the show promises to bring a new twist on the Christmas songs we’ve all heard countless times. “When I speak to new candidates about auditions and what to expect from a year with Lyric, I do mention that, yes we do a Christmas show but it’s like no other” said Jean-Baptiste.
Taking place at Loyola’s own chapel, she also detailed how the venue itself had a truly transformative effect on the show: “I don’t know what it is about that space but it really adds to it … it was like, ‘We think this venue will work for us. Let’s see what happens,’ and friday night, people were sobbing after the first song!”
“Last year’s Christmas concert was great and had a really peaceful vibe to it. This year, I find there’s something jazzy about it,” said Iavarone excitedly. “Jazz really reaches for those unexpected harmonies.”
Covering a wide variety of Christmas staples, Iavarone promises that this show will be unlike any other. “These are all very accomplished singers. They can do it and Bob [Bachelor] knows they can do it, so he’s really pushing for that unique sound. Yes, you’re gonna hear ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Jingle Bells’ or ‘The Nutcracker,’ but you’re gonna hear it in a way you’ve never heard before!”
Though Christmas songs definitely aren’t for everyone, The Lyric Singers truly showcase a level of skill and control that’s absolutely undeniable, even going so far as to transcend the material itself. “A significant other of someone who’s in the choir once told me ‘I hate Broadway music but you guys are really good. I hate all of the music that you guys sing but you guys are good,” said Jean-Baptiste. “That’s all she said. I was like ‘Oh! How interesting!’”
“Again, It’s all about the trust that [Bob Bachelor] puts in us and that we give back,” said Iavarone. “We can talk about it for days and days but it really is something that you feel. We’re like magnets.”
The Lyric Singers perform their Candlelight Christmas show at Loyola Chapel on Dec. 3-6. Tickets are $26 for students. The Lyric Singers are also currently accepting auditions. Visit lyrictheatrecompany.com for more info.