Young Vancouver soprano takes a bow as Christine in Phantom of the Opera

Eva Tavares as Christine in the touring production of Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Matthew Murphy

When she was 10 years old, Eva Tavares’ mother took her to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in downtown Vancover to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera.

Tavares was entranced and after the show was over she told her mom, “OK, I want to do that.”

True to her word, Tavares is indeed “doing that.” She is performing the role of Christine Daaé, the young ingenue who captures the hard heart of the Phantom in the North American touring production of the musical. It is a role that Sarah Brightman made famous 30 years ago. The show returns to Ottawa this week. Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful musicals of all time. It is still on Broadway. The musical has also played London’s West End for three decades. And its many songs are sung in showers around the world.

Tavares got the chance to audition for Phantom’s North American tour while she was working as a swing performer in the Garth Drabinsky musical Sousatzka.

“One of people on the team had worked on Phantom and put in a good word for me,” she said in an interview.

Eventually, “I was asked to come to New York for two more call-backs. It took about a month and a half of auditions before I had booked it. I was then told I had to keep it a secret for two months. Doing that was kind of tough.”

Her auditions in New York were in front of Phantom composer  Andrew Lloyd Webber and the director Hal Prince.

The legendary producer Cameron Mackintosh was not there, however “every audition I did was taped and sent to him. But I did sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was very quick, in the second round of call backs. I was told he was there before I went in. He was very sweet. I went and shook his hand and said hello.

“They have been casting the show for so long that they make decisions very quickly. It was pretty much go in sing the song, do a scene and thank you very much. When I walked out I had a moment of ‘What just happened. I sang Think of Me for the audition. They tell you what to bring in.”

Tavares seems comfortable auditioning before big names. She was cast in Sousatzka by auditioning for Garth Drabinsky in his office where there was no piano. She just winged it and was hired.

At her debut in Vancouver on July 22, her extended family came out as well her music teachers. She’s been on tour now for three months and has performed in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary Winnipeg, Boston and Montreal for far. Next stop after the NAC will be Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tavares studied music at the University of British Columbia where she studied voice with an emphasis on opera. The role of Christine, while not Violetta, does have an operatic feel.

“It’s sung in a classical style and it requires that technique along with the mentality of an actor. It’s such a gritty part. You go into those scary, vulnerable places in addition to making it technically sound. It’s tough.”

The vocal demands are there too. Her musical numbers go very high and very low. For a coloratura soprano who might be more at ease in the higher registers, the low notes can pose a problem especially if Tavares is tired.

Christine is on stage for two hours during Phantom so fatigue does enter into the planning equation.

“After I get off the phone with you,” she said, “I’m taking a nap.”

To maintain her energy, she is “eating a lot.” She also works out.

“I truly dislike running but I love yoga and ballet. I was dancer first and I keep that up. I’m still new to the contract and I am still trying to figure out my rhythm so I’m keeping it very low key during the day to  have enough energy to do the show at night. It is a big part.”

Phantom is full of famous songs but Tavares seems to prefer the scenes where acting has equal importance.

“It’s so funny, the parts I get really excited about aren’t really the big numbers. I love all them Wishing and All I ask of You but I actually really love the lead-up to the roof top scene and I love finale when the Phantom and Christine are just going at each other. That stuff is cool for me to dig into as an actor.”

This is billed as a revamped Phantom, but the big changes are technical such as a new chandelier and other sound and lighting enhancements.

Tavares is only three years from graduating from university and this role is the biggest contract she has had. So where does she herself going?

“I would love to get to Broadway my big dream is to originate a part, to create a role in a new show. Whatever that looks like who knows. I have goals and dreams but I don’t really talk abut them. Sometimes I write them out if I really want to manifest something but I don’t want to restrict myself either. I just go with the flow. That’s how I ended up where I am now.”

That sounds like the kind of answer Christine Daaé might give.

For the time being, Tavares has given up her apartment in Vancouver and her life is now packed into two large suitcases and a trunk.

“It is definitely lonely on the road especially because I have to be self-preserving for this part. I’m not going out every night.

“It’s a job and I have to serve the show and my body and that’s just part of it. There are moments of loneliness. But then you get to the stage door and talk to the people who say Phantom means this to me or it made me want to go and do this that’s what made me want to get into theatre.

“I had a little girl at the stage door the other day, whose sister had passed away from cancer. She was obsessed with Phantom but had never seen it live so they had gone when it came through their city and had brought some things for me in memory of her. That kind of stuff, that’s why we do it.”

“We all need some of that fantasy because life is hard. The story of Phantom has a lot to do wth empathy and love. For me Christine sees the beneath the Phantom’s mask. He is a villain to everyone else, but she sees the wounded person underneath that. She has empathy for him.

“On a deeper level I think that is something people connect with.”

Phantom facts

• Productions include shows in London, New York, Sapporo (Japan), Budapest (Hungary), Hamburg  (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic) and Stockholm (Sweden) The touring production has been travelling North America for four years.

• Phantom has grossed more that $1 billion on Broadway.

• Total Broadway attendance is more than 17 million and counting.

Phantom has passed $6 billion in gross revenues much more that Avatar ($2.8 billion).

• More than 65,000 performances have been seen by 140 million people in 35 countries and 160 cities in 15 languages. 

• The show has won more than 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tony Awards in 1988 (including Best Musical) and three Olivier Awards in London.

• Twenty trucks move the production from city to city.

• More than 1,200 costume pieces used during the show.

• More than 120 wigs travel with Phantom; about 50 wigs are used in the show every night.

• A new chandelier was designed for the tour. It has more than 6,000 beads. It weighs one ton and was designed by Howard Eaton (who designed the Olympic rings for the London ceremonies).

The Phantom of the Opera
Where: Southam Hall
When: Oct. 18 to 29.
Tickets, times and other information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.