by Jim MacDonald
Based solely on a quick glance of the name, its quite conceivable that somebody could purchase an audio compilation put out by Naria and expect to be treated to a spoken-word rendition of the classic works of C.S. Lewis.
Well, there is no wardrobe that is providing passage to another realm but the quartet of songbirds are undoubtedly bringing their audience on a journey that’s crossing borders to a land few believed could exist. The foursome – consisting of Mississauga residents Katya Tchoubar and Annaliese Jelilian, Torontonian Anna Bateman and Michelle Danese of Woodbridge – are slowly but steadily making their presence known in the opera world by providing a modern day touch to the classic style of music and storytelling.
A group of self-professed girly-girls, Naria is helping make the neoclassic euphony popular with a new generation of listeners by presenting it in pop music fashion – going as far as offering it with a remix. With so few other artists even attempting such a crossover of styles, even Danese admits to being sceptical on the plausibility of the band’s success to produce – let alone, gain any measure of success – when she was given the opportunity to join the band back in 2010.
For starters, she didn’t know if she could perform it. “Honestly, I have to say I was a little scared because I didn’t even know if I could sing pop that well because I just had never experimented with it, that genre of music, because I was so focused on the opera voice,” she said, noting she was just wrapping up her studies at Glenn Gould School Of Music followings her undergrad at York University in fine arts.
“I was a little bit worried but I swear, it’s been so amazing because I challenged myself in ways that I never thought I would, or ever have the confidence to. I think doing the whole crossover thing has allowed me to grow vocally and as a musician in general.”
It’s safe to say that by now, those fears have been put to rest. With two albums already to their credit (NARIA Opera Pop Supernova and NARIA Opera Pop Fantasia) they’ve gained a following both at home and abroad, putting in the kind of millage during their first two years that many groups won’t see their entire run.
Vancouver provided experience, as did their gig in the picturesque setting of Cancun, Mexico. But perhaps their biggest hallmark thus far in their brief history was a showcase earlier this year in Cannes, France at MIDEM, which is an international music and technology conference. “It amazes us we’ve been together for two years and we’ve done so much together,” said Jelilian, who like Danese was trained by Tchoubar at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
The journey started for the group on what Tchoubar referred to as an epiphany that she had while driving, listening to a song produce by fellow local band, the Canadian Tenors. She appreciated the way that various styles of music would come across in the music played by the group, finding in comparable to the offerings of Sarah Brightman, a musical juggernaut whose work spanned from pop and techno beats to vintage jazz and high opera. “It pretty much inspired me and in a second, I know what I needed to do,” Tchoubar said. “I thought this was a calling; I could write songs like that, I know I can.”
Referring to the decision to collect the Sirens as a message from God may not be complete propaganda on Tchoubar’s part, despite spending much of her professional career as either a teacher or solo artist.
After all, she knew the talents of Danese and Jelilian by mentoring them in their pursuit in discovering their own voices, and Bateman came with high regards from a fellow singer, whom Tchoubar was close to on a personal level. The friendship allowed Tchoubar to trust Bateman’s credentials even before hearing her sing her first note during the group’s inaugural rehearsal, which turned out to be a recoding I Found A Little Christmas (available on iTunes, Amazon.com and the group’s website, www.nariagroup.com) “The team was in from of me”, Tchoubar said. “All I needed to do was made the decision.”
Much like the notion of opera-pop itself, the name of the group derives from blending the cultures that help define the members. The term “aria” refers to the show-stopping moment in an opera, while the “n” stands for “the north” – a reflection of their national pride in being Canadian.
They’ve gone as far as using their allegiance to their country a somewhat of a new anthem with Canadian Girl, which expresses an appreciation for freedom denied to women in other times or countries. It’s far from far a tale of oppression or tragedy: this opera, presented in a techno pop mix, puts the spotlight on four beautiful women with the world at their feet, all the while listing off elements of Toronto both through voice and scenery.
While locals will be quite familiar with such characteristics of the city such as Dundas Square, The Distillery District, The Beaches and the CN Tower, the women are promoting the features to a new audience across the world, with the video receiving many hits on website such a YouTube.
In essence, shooting Canadian Girl back in June has done nothing but enhance Naria’s position being ambassadors for the country through the gift of song, which is a status that seems to have been pinned out of nowhere to their trademark glamourous evening gowns.
At the start of the year, the quartet went global with their stint in France. On top of the rub they attained through their presence at the prestigious MIDEM event, they first performed “Oh Canada” on behalf of the Canadian Woman’s Society of Paris at The Embassy of Canada. Always one to utilize social media to connect with their fans, the group blogged about the experience and at times, came across as being humbled after their performance. On the bands official website, they wrote in early February: ”One sweet lady said, “I’ve heard the Oh Canada so many times, but this time it really touched me”.
The memories created and shared by the sorority on the trip tightened an already deep bond, which Bateman credits as being prevalent to their success. “We pride ourselves, actually, on the fact we’re all so close and we all have really different personalities. But it works,” she said, noting that applies to both music and personality traits.
Due to the success of projects artists such as Luciano Pavarotti and other tuxedo-wearing male counterparts have undertaken, the public is conditioned to accept tenors composed in grouping of three when not accompanied by an orchestra, or standing alone when reciting the artistic works composed aeons ago. In dissecting the songs, Tchoubar compares the harmony to shift work, where they take turns on vocals as the other three take care of the background sympathy.
“This is like a best of the best; a three-part harmony is great but when you have four, it’s even better”.