Photographs by: Paul Leisz
Avis Picton as Miss Todd in "The Old Maid and The Thief" by Gian Carlo Menotti
with Stephanie Manchulenko as Miss Pinkerton.
Avis Picton is a late, loud bloomer, a spinto soprano who rocks a 3-octave range (one of them better suited to a bass.) She first saw Lucia di Lammermoor in Grade 7, and she was thrilled to sing in it 40 years later with Opera Pro Cantanti. Although she spent plenty of years in university in the interim, none of them involved music training, and as a high school oboist she was atrocious (although her teenage forays into playing acoustic guitar on the beach did, at least, succeed in getting her kissed for the first time.) However, she has done her best to make up for this lack of formal education by studying voice with classical teachers Bertha Gunson, Carole Davis, and currently, Richard Williams, and by going to vocal workshops over the years with jazz folk such as Phil Mattson, Kate Hammett-Vaughn, and Jay Clayton. And, of course, by singing in the live lab that is OPC, where she enjoys trying low roles, high roles, and everything in between.
Inspired by Miss Gardner, her Grade 5 teacher, Avis has also played the piano since age 9, starting on a fold-out piece of cardboard with a keyboard painted on it – ear training par excellence. She took classical lessons at the urging of her mom, then learned jazz and popular styles to impress her semi-pro trombonist dad. Her education in chords, scales and what makes music great was gleaned from many sources: Faust Pinto, an eccentric New York expat who lived down the street and was as apt to discuss Zen Buddhism or Scientology as he was music theory; her dad’s musician friends; cute guys at school (featuring Mike J); and, later, occasional lessons with local jazz pianists such as Lloyd Abrams, Ron Johnston and Bob Murphy – not to mention countless nights sitting up late attempting to transcribe Chick Corea piano solos using a reel-to-reel tape recorder set on half speed.
vis has performed in rock bands, country bands, big bands, and jazz ensembles, and in venues from wedding chapels to clubs, yet nowhere famous at all. Some of her more unusual musical activities have included singing and arranging harmonies for a musical called Country Love, writing and arranging parody songs for a gospel style choir she led at Medical Skits Night at the Commodore Ballroom, and performing jazz tunes as part of her keynote speech, "Aging Well." She once won 2nd prize (a coffee-table book and CBC radio mug) in a Saskatoon songwriting contest, in which she used the names of 55 places in Saskatchewan in the lyrics of her song, “The Ballad of Val Marie.” She lost, with bitter disbelief, to the winning entry, “Stand By Your Pan (in Estevan)”. More recently, she did an 8-year stint as the poor man’s Diana Krall, singing and playing in her jazz group, the Avis Rae Trio, which performed live locally and also recorded a demo CD.
Avis has also been a chorister with a number of groups, including the Aurora Court Singers, Good Noise Gospel Choir, and Sweet Adelines, but never quite got the hang of “blending in” vocally. She has been delighted to find in OPC a musical venue where the musical challenges never end and singing too loudly is impossible.
In her non-musical life, Avis works as a physician and, occasionally, as a freelance journalist.
Avis has been with Opera Pro Cantanti since 2007. Her roles include:
Macbeth ((Lady Macbeth, Dama, 2nd Witch, 2nd Apparition)
Nabucco (Abigaille, 2nd virgin, 3rd virgin)
The Old Maid and the Thief - (Miss Todd)
La Traviata - (Annina, Baron Duphuol, Flora, Gaston)
Lucia di Lammermoor - (Alisa)
I Puritani - (Bruno)
Rigoletto - (Page)
Currently she is preparing the role of (Amelia) in Un Ballo In Maschera.
Avis Picton as Abigaille in Opera Pro Cantanti's October 2015 performance
of "Nabucco" by Giuseppe Verdi