TORONTO—Elizabeth DeGrazia is free spirited, lighthearted, and fun. Her three boys (four if her husband is included) keep her rooted and content in life. Music does too.
DeGrazia has always felt at home when performing. She noticed the same in her eldest son, 12-year-old Rowan. Watching him play the drums in the last year reminds her of herself at his age, she says.
“I was happy, I was confident, and I was calm,” she said in a phone interview from her Toronto home.
The Nebraska-born singer came to Toronto at age 23, cast in the coveted title role of Christine Daaé in Andrew Llyod Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” She auditioned for the role in New York with producer Garth Drabinski, and within five minutes she got the part that many others underwent gruelling auditions for.
DeGrazia believes she was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, yet luck alone wasn’t enough to win her the part, she says. It is a lesson she now teaches to her children and students.
“If you’re not prepared at that lucky moment, then it might not happen,” she said.
DeGrazia was taught the importance of hard work from a young age by her music teacher mother who insisted that she sing properly.
“It has allowed me to have a long career,” said DeGrazia who developed the ability to easily shift between musical theatre and opera.
“I was sort of the girl who travelled between the two hallways.”
Love of Operetta
DeGrazia’s family gave her another unique inheritance. “I’m half-Italian, half Hungarian—that’s why the operetta lives in me,” she said of one of her favourite musical genres.
“It’s the one art form that combines dancing, singing and acting—because there are scenes that you have to deliver, there is always a dance in operetta if it’s done right, and you have to be able to sing properly—classically trained singing,” she said.
“I enjoy all of that. I enjoy combining those three art forms.”
She particularly treasures her experience with the Toronto Operetta Theatre (TOT) with whom she has performed several works in the past few years.
With audience numbers dwindling, however, DeGrazia’s love for the art form has led her to approach Guillermo Silva-Marin, the TOT’s general director, to become the company’s director of development.
“It is near and dear to me and I don’t want to see it wash away, and I don’t want to see this art form fade away either,” she said, adding that the TOT is Canada’s only operetta company.
While she is aware that the company is not that well known to the public, she believes this can change.
“We certainly can change the landscape of operetta because operetta is just a wonderful art form,” she said.
“It’s full of fun and it’s full of dance and it’s full of silliness and it is an art form that you can play with a bit. Whereas a Mozart opera, or a Verdi or Puccini, you can’t really mess with that too much.”
‘La Vie Parisienne’
This month, DeGrazia stars in “La Vie Parisienne,” Offenbach’s lighthearted critique of the follies of 19th century Parisian nightlife, which is the TOT’s last production of the season.
At the same time, the operetta is also a homage to the fascination held by the City of Lights.
“The idea is, ‘When in Paris, life is beautiful, and that you are different when you are living the Parisian life,’” said DeGrazia.
“We hope to bring that out—that feeling of the life in Paris and the freedom it brings you, and the love.”
A Balanced Life
“La Vie Parisienne” is also the first time that 5-year old Cameron will see his mom perform on stage, and DeGrazia is looking forward to it. Her two older sons, Rowan, 12, and Ewan, 10, love seeing her perform.
DeGrazia is grateful for the opportunity to balance motherhood with singing.
“It’s a gift in this profession that when you’re not performing, you can be with your family and you can be with your children,” she said.
“Most of the time, I’m driving them around, kicking the soccer ball with them, making them breakfast, lunch and dinner, getting their homework done, and then, when they see me perform, I think it’s an inspiration for them to say, ‘Hey mom, wow.’”
“It’s cool. I think it shows them that they can do many things too.”
DeGrazia said she is grateful for the opportunity to perform and bring joy to people through her music.
There is also something else that she is thankful for. “I’m also grateful for red wine,” she said, smiling, adding that she enjoys drinking a glass after every performance.
“I love red wine.”
The Toronto Operetta Theatre’s La Vie Parisienne runs May 2-5 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. For tickets or more details, visit: torontooperetta.com