Wendy Nielsen, ONB, a renowned soprano and teacher, was born in Harvey. She has gained acclaim as an opera, concert, and recital singer, performing major roles at the Metropolitan Opera and across Europe and North America, including appearances at Carnegie Hall and with the New York Philharmonic. In Canada, she has performed with companies such as the Calgary Opera, Vancouver Opera, Opera Lyra Ottawa, and the Canadian Opera Company (COC). Since the mid-1990s, she has been an accomplished voice teacher, working as a full-time lecturer in voice and opera at the University of Toronto, and as the head vocal consultant for the COC Ensemble Studio since 2012. Wendy now serves as an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto.
Until she was 16, Nielsen sang in church choirs and school musicals in her hometown of New Brunswick, where she attended Harvey High School. Her musical talent was recognized and fostered by Mabel Doak, her music teacher in Fredericton. Nielsen then pursued formal music education at Mount Allison University and the University of Lethbridge, earning a Bachelor of Music in 1984 under the guidance of her mentor, bass-baritone George Evelyn.
Nielsen’s career began modestly. After obtaining a master’s degree in music (opera) from the University of British Columbia in 1987, her application to the University of Toronto’s Opera School was declined, and the Canadian Opera Company (COC) Ensemble program was at capacity. Fortunately, she was able to attend COC classes as an apprentice and joined the program in the following season. In 1990, Nielsen made her opera debut as Kate Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly with the COC Ensemble.
She later took on her first significant role as Fiordiligi in the COC’s Cosi fan Tutti (1992), a role she reprised at festivals in New Jersey and Banff. In 1996, she made two other debuts: as Emma in Schubert’s Fierrabras at Carnegie Hall and at the Metropolitan Opera as Fiordiligi once more. Since then, she has returned to the Met for roles in Carmen (Micaela), Don Giovanni (Donna Elvira), and The Marriage of Figaro (Countess Almaviva).
In recitals, Nielsen has worked alongside oboist Suzanne Lemieux, pianist/composer Peter Tiefenbach, and pianist Michael McMahon. With pianist Robert Kortgaard, she premiered “Between the Salt Water and the Sea Sand,” a song cycle based on Maritime folk melodies by Martin Kutnowski. Nielsen has recorded for Marquis Classics, ASV Sanctuary Classics, and CBC Records.
A dedicated voice teacher and clinician since 1994, Nielsen has taught at the Calgary Opera Emerging Artist Program, the University of Toronto’s COSI summer program in Italy, the St. Andrews Opera Workshop (which she founded in 1995), and privately. As a guest faculty member, she has given masterclasses at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School, the Orford Arts Centre, McGill University, Dalhousie University, the Ontario chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and more. Since 2012, she has been a full-time lecturer in voice and opera at the University of Toronto and the head vocal consultant for the COC Ensemble Studio.
Nielsen frequently serves as an adjudicator and is known for mentoring young singers. Some of her notable students include Claire de Sevigne (soprano), Miriam Khalil (soprano), and Iain MacNeil (baritone).
- Distinguished Alumnus, University of Lethbridge (1996)
- Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters, University of New Brunswick (1999)
- Honorary Degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, University of Lethbridge (2008)
- Order of New Brunswick, Government of New Brunswick (2009)
- Honorary Degree, Doctor of Laws, Mount Allison University (2011)
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