A friend of Drake, Ashleigh Semkiw is a songwriter, performance artist and operatic soprano- not to mention drop dead gorgeous! In anticipation for her long weekend show in the Underground, we sat down with her for a quick chat.
Drake: Tell us a bit about yourself, where do you hail from / what keeps you busy during the day?
Ashleigh Semkiw: I grew up in Oakville (a terrifically beautiful, sheltered suburb of Toronto). The currency of life doesn't change much out there.
I've lived for big stretches of time in Chicago, New York and other parts of the US while I've been working, but now I'm settled back in Toronto, living in High Park, which I absolutely love. Music keeps me the busiest; I'm always involved with several different projects at any given time - no matter what genre, whether it's writing, collaborating on new work or performing. I can't say no to work that I feel strongly about.
D: How long have you been performing for? When did you realize that you wanted to be a vocal artist?
AS: I've always been an outgoing person, so my parents would tell you that I've been a "performer" since I could walk. But the music side of performance was a very happy accident that didn't happen until quite late in high school when (like thousands of other young girls), I was cast in my high school musical. Caralyn Tomlin, a retired opera singer, was in the audience and introduced me to a whole new world of classical vocal music. I caught the bug and never looked back. I went on to do both my Undergrad and Masters degrees in Opera Performance. After that, I was able to build on my formal education and explore different music, which has allowed me to branch out in other directions.
D: Will this be your first show at the Drake? What are you most looking forward to?
AS: Yes, it will be my first show at the Drake, and I'm really happy to join the list of talented people who have come before me. The Drake Underground has always been known and respected as a great place for live music, and it's the Victoria Day weekend, so I couldn't imagine a more perfect way to kick off my summer.
D: You’ve been in so many musicals and plays! Do you have a favourite role? If so, which one?
AS: The show I did most recently (Shostakovich's Moscow, Cheryomushki) was a thrill because I got to play the "Vava" the villain, which I almost never get to do (sopranos often play the ingenue, doe eyed type). I'm a devoted Kurt Weill fan, so playing "Polly" in "Threepenny Opera" was also a dream. But the most beautiful music I've ever gotten to sing was when I played "Lucia" in "The Rape of Lucretia" by Benjamin Britten, which is also my favourite opera.
D: Do you have a favourite Drake memory?
AS: Where do I even start? I've seen some amazing shows there, but I have to say that Drake also has outstanding food, and is a great place to meet friends for summertime patio-ing and brunches. Oh, and the photo booth has definitely eaten a good chunk of my change over the years.
D: Other than being at Drake, what's your favourite thing to do in Toronto?
AS: I think Toronto is a unique city - it's hard to articulate, especially for people who don't live here, but there's something really special about all of the neighbourhood spots and hidden gems just under the surface. I think my favourite thing may be that I can wake up with a coffee in the junction, spend the afternoon in Bellwoods, wander around Kensington, go to hear the Opera and end the night in a dark restaurant in the West end all in one day, running into friends at every turn. Toronto is the best for bumping into people.
D: If someone was to record the soundtrack of your life, who would it be and why?
AS: Sarah Vaughan would sing music written by Johnny Greenwood and Gustav Mahler. This question is near impossible to answer - based on my mood tomorrow I could come up with an entirely different combo, but these three represent some of my favourite talent in performing and composing music.
D: If you could invite anyone to a Drake dinner (dead or alive) who would you munch a Drake burger alongside or sip a mojito with?
AS: Lester Young and Sonny Rollins.