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If childhood pursuits were any indication, it would have been obvious that Kimberly Barber would have a bright future on world stages and in the hallowed halls of academe. Favourite early roles were Catwoman and alter ego (strongly modelled on “It” girls of the day, Lulu and Petula Clark) Lynn Warner, played out to excess in her suburban Willowdale basement. A close second in the make-believe sweepstakes was the role of teacher, probably because she was so bossy.
A brief sojourn as a courier for a large Toronto law firm revealed that it was the drama of the courtroom that captured her imagination rather than the reading of masses of casebooks and studying of legal precedents. Thus, rather than following in her father’s legal footsteps, she decamped to U of T’s Faculty of Music, forging her way through theory and skills courses to land on the operatic stages which soon became her stomping grounds. It was around this time she discovered the world of opera—a heretofore-uncharted territory. An unforgettably thrilling performance of La bohème at Covent Garden in the late 70’s, with a then at-the-cusp-of-stardom Kiri te Kanawa in the title role, sealed her fate. She was hooked. A lifelong fan.
Accepted directly out of her Opera Diploma program as a member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble, after losing out in the second round of the Metropolitan Opera auditions to the likes of Ben Heppner and Adrianne Pieczonka (OK, not so bad…) she heeded the advice of numerous gurus and headed for the wilds of the German opera house system, garnering a soloist position at Frankfurt Opera and a husband into the bargain.
She rarely got out of trousers for many years, making her mark as some of opera’s most loveable characters—Cherubino was a particular favourite—Hansel, Strauss’s Composer, Idamante, Nicklausse, Chabrier’s Lazuli and Handel’s Xerxes (for which she was nominated for a Dora award for best actress in a musical) are other notables on the list. Never one to rest on her laurels, she continued (and continues to this day) to push musical boundaries, performing lots of new music—much of it written for her—as well as reimagining standard repertoire, often with innovative smaller companies. A major career highlight was recording the role of randy Spanish housewife Concepción in Ravel’s L’heure espagnole under André Previn with the LSO for Deutsche Grammophon—after learning the part on 48 hours notice!
Steven Blier and his New York Festival of Song have been a keen inspiration, and Kimberly has collaborated with them on many thrilling projects, not least of which involved her debut at Wigmore Hall and even more tantalizingly, duo recitals with her idol, Frederica von Stade—How ’bout those mezzos and The Life of a Mezzo is Ever So Hard.
Kimberly Barber has managed to continue to marry her love for dressing up with her love for bossing people around by singing opera and concerts everywhere they’ll have her (by now all around Japan, throughout Europe, Canada and the United States) and acting as the coordinator of Opera Laurier (Wilfrid Laurier University), where she recently became a full Professor and is Associate Dean, External. There she’s been teaching wonderful groups of enthusiastic young singers in her voice studio since 2002. She also manages to act silly whenever it’s possible, while at the same time imposing her views on Body Mapping, the future of the operatic art form and holistic performance to anyone wise enough to listen.