Sally Dibblee takes a turn as Lucia for Calgary Opera

For the first time coloratura soprano Sally Dibblee is singing Lucia in Calgary Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor . Debuts are major milestones in the careers of opera singers and typically a singer has learned the music and yearned wheedled and plotted to land the role from one of the major opera companies but Dibblee’s arrival at the role was slightly less willing.

Dibblee (pronounced dibble) had listened to a recording of Beverly Sills singing Lucia and decided the role was not for her despite a love of meaty emotional roles. The fragile Lucia — who is promised by her brother to a man she doesn’t love — goes from joyful innocence in love scenes to writhing-on-the-floor lunacy as she is tormented by her situation.

“Part of what happened is that Beverly Sills was the vocal pyro-technician of the century and I think I scared myself off” says Dibblee. “Up until this point Traviata is the most florid role I’ve sung. I’ve been mostly a Puccini girl.”

Bob McPhee general director and CEO of Calgary Opera called Dibblee to persuade her to take on the role by pointing out her strengths. Dibblee turned to YouTube karaoke and sang a number of selections from the opera along with various artists.

“I surprised myself that I was hitting the marks and able to do what they were doing. I was really shocked. I thought ‘If someone is asking me to do this and I’m not scaring myself then let’s go.’”

After agreeing to take on the role Dibblee dove into learning the words and music. When the work became difficult she would remember the confidence placed in her by McPhee. And of course the real challenges come in rehearsals.

The character of Lucia demands the full spectrum of emotions and relies on acting skills as much as vocal prowess. Helping her along with the taxing role is stage director David Gately.

“I’m loving working with him” says Dibblee. “I’m so on the same thought pattern with him. He knows the journey that it takes for a debut in this role. He doesn’t push and because he is as clear as he is it’s come together quickly.”

Dibblee is delighted with the team’s collaboration in which each voice is being heard.

“You feel like people are feeding off each other and the freedom is there to follow another’s instincts” she says.

Gately says there is no added pressure on him when guiding someone towards a debut but notes that Lucia is under enormous pressure being in the middle of the feud between two powerful families. She has already secretly married her lover and fears the wrath of her brother (Theodore Baerg) if she doesn’t marry the family enemy and end their troubles.