Opera singer ‘found’ in translation

Music and languages are well known to be close relatives and a good ear is an excellent asset for both. But it is not every day that a successful opera singer decides to broaden his skill set by enrolling in a translation degree program.

Yet that is exactly what tenor James McLennan (left) decided to do last fall, by enrolling in Glendon’s School of Translation, working towards a Specialized Honours BA in translation.

"I love learning different languages – which is partly why I sing opera – and I thought the translation degree at Glendon would be an excellent way for me to perfect my French," said McLennan, a native of Winnipeg. Although his family’s background is Scottish and Ukrainian, his parents recognized very early on the advantage that knowing French would provide to their children. McLennan and his brother were enrolled in French immersion in Kindergarten and by the time they completed their elementary school studies, both were fluently bilingual. Added to this early exposure was the proximity of a large Francophone community in Saint Boniface, Man., which offered the boys many opportunities to use French outside the classroom. "Every year, my school would go to see French plays at Le Cercle Molière [Canada’s longest-running French language theatre]; we also took part in Le Festival du Voyageur. I came to feel very much at home with French culture."

McLennan’s opera career is soaring. His list of credits includes important performances across Canada with prestigious cultural organizations such as the Vancouver Opera, the Banff Festival, the Toronto Bach Consort and Tapestry New Opera Works, to name just a few. He is a recipient of a Chalmers Award and a Canada Council grant. McLennan is also an alumnus of L’Atelier Lyrique de L’Opéra de Montréal, where he performed Ferrando in Cosí fan tutte, Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, and Tonio in La fille du régiment. Last December, he performed to great acclaim in the title role of Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece, Candide, in a production by Toronto Operetta Theatre.

McLennan is pursuing his translation degree for the love of learning, and to enhance his liberal arts background. Although his opera career is his main focus, he likes the idea that he might be able to do some part-time freelance translation work, when he is not busy singing. "I think the discipline of translation offers a lot of opportunities and benefits and I look forward to the challenge of exploring these," said McLennan.

McLennan chose York’s Glendon College for a number of reasons, including its convenient location close to downtown Toronto. He also finds the small classes and the interesting program choices very attractive. 

"Glendon, in my opinion, has its students’ best interests at heart. The programs offered here are academically strong, but they are also very relevant to the outside world and it’s my impression that they do well in preparing graduates for the current job market," said McLennan. "The student body is diverse, and all the professors I have encountered are very dedicated and enthusiastic about their subjects. I’m having a great time."

This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.