Ken Lavigne and Michelle Koebke, Sunday, Oct. 6, 4 p.m. at Kay Meek Centre, 1700 Mathers Ave., West Vancouver. Tickets: $25-$35 available online at kaymeekcentre.com or by calling 604-981-6335.
When Canadian tenor Ken Lavigne was invited to perform at a "top secret" event at Government House in Victoria, he didn't expect to end up getting parenting tips from royalty.
But that's exactly what happened when he arrived at the heavily secured venue, which, as it turned out, was hosting a reception for Prince Charles and Camilla as part of the couple's 2009 cross-Canada tour. Before the concert, Charles greeted Lavigne and his wife Alice, who had just given birth to their third child, a son, two weeks prior.
"Where is the little lad now?" Lavigne, putting on a posh British accent, recalls Charles asking.
When Alice replied she had left the newborn at coat check (he didn't clear security) Lavigne says the prince doubled over with laughter.
"He couldn't stop laughing, he thought it was hilarious."
After composing himself, Charles turned to Lavigne in earnest.
"He grips my hand, he pulls me in really close and he says 'You know, the thing you have to understand about boys is you have to bond with them early.'" The unexpected words of advice left Lavigne speechless. "For all intents and purposes, he's a really great guy and he was just a really neat person to meet and it's something I will certainly remember forever."
Lavigne's brush with royalty is one of many memorable moments the Vancouver Island singer has had over the course of his career. And he hopes to create more memories on Oct. 6 when he takes the stage at Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. Copresented by City Opera Vancouver, the concert will also feature soprano Michelle Koebke and pianist David Boothroyd. In the first half of the program, the performers will present popular arias and duets from Romantic opera, including numbers by Puccini and Donizetti. The second half will focus on Broadway favourites, such as "Tonight" from West Side Story and "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables.
"Our whole approach for choosing the repertoire is, essentially, let's just choose the hits and choose the most accessible ones," Lavigne says. "Not to say that we're dumbing it down at all, because all of these songs are incredibly difficult to perform, but we just want to make sure that people come away with something memorable."
For someone who's enjoyed singing his whole life, Lavigne admits he had a relatively late introduction to classical music. It was while studying voice at the University of Victoria that he first got his hands on a Pavarotti album.
"I had never heard him sing, really, so I popped it in the CD player and I was mesmerized from the opening note. I couldn't believe that any voice could be so powerful and beautiful and so passionate," he says. "I went to my teacher and said 'I have to sing like this guy,' and she said 'You'd better start practising then.'" And practise he did. To date, Lavigne has accumulated a long list of highlights on his operatic résumé. He co-founded The Canadian Tenors in 2004, with whom he gave more than 40 performances, made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2009 with the New York Pops, and, in addition to singing for Prince Charles, he has also performed for Queen Elizabeth II and Grammy-Award winning record producer David Foster.
This Sunday, he shares the stage with Michelle Koebke, who recently settled in Vancouver with her husband and four young children after several years spent dividing her time between Italy and North America. Koebke is particularly excited to be performing Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" at Kay Meek.
"That was one of my first introductions into heavier classical singing," she says, recalling the many music competitions she entered in her teens.
An advocate for live entertainment, she hopes this weekend's concert will attract people who might not otherwise go to the opera.
"You're creating an experience for your lifetime by going out to these live events," she says. "I remember concerts I went to when I was a child, but I don't really remember what TV shows I watched on TV last week."
Koebke was 12 when her parents took her to see The Phantom of the Opera.
"I remember getting my hair all done up and we went out for dinner and we got the little gummy bears at the intermission and read the program notes and I was just in awe of everything," she says. "It's very fulfilling as an audience member because you're part of something that is a live thing."
A symbiotic relationship exists between the audience and the performer, Koebke says, explaining she feeds off the energy of the crowd.
"When I have a positive supportive audience, sometimes things come out that I didn't even expect at all and it's magic because it's live."
Looking forward, City Opera already has plans to return to West Vancouver in the new year.
"What we're doing on October 6 is the first in what we hope will be a long-lived series," says City Opera conductor and artistic director Charles Barber.
The company's next Kay Meek show on Feb. 23, 2014 is entitled Meeting Mozart. Like the rest of the series, it is intended to appeal to a wide demographic.
"Kids are entitled to discover this extraordinary music, and people who are older than kids are entitled to rediscover it, and we try desperately to be welcoming to both," Barber says.
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