I was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the third child of Otto and Yvonne Marguerite (née Wright) Gietz. I lived in the same house on 48th Avenue from the time I was born till I left to pursue my career. What can I say? The location agreed with me.

The first singing I can actually remember was a rousing rendition of ‘One More River to Cross’, the famous Sunday School song about the loading of Noah’s Ark. I sang this as a duet with my father and it involved much vigourous bouncing in my crib. I had one of those body suits with the plastic feet, my ‘bunny bag’. Footwear is key to performance, as Beverly Sills famously remarked. I have never had cause to doubt her word in this matter.

My first public performance took place as part of the First Baptist Church Christmas pageant when I was just five years old. I sang ‘The Little Drummer Boy’. I had a drum and everything. Thus began a lifelong love of props. Put a prop in my hand and I am anyone’s. The eternal quest for stage business is helped mightily by a sword or flagon (or drum, in this case.)

Of course, by this time I was learning to play the piano under the tutelage of Mrs. Hartley, who told my parents that maybe lessons were not such a good idea as I hadn’t any perceptible aptitude for the instrument. This sentiment was echoed by subsequent piano teachers who nevertheless accepted my parents’ money and tried to instill some musical values.

I had a wonderful kindergarten teacher who made singing a joy. I still remember sitting backward on my little chair and waving my arm in a lassoing motion, all the while lustily belting out:

Riding along, singing a cowboy song,
Riding along, singing a song.

I don’t know why this particular memory persists but there it is. Kindergarten was a wonderful time. I also learned to take naps by laying my head on my desk and to wink, though I was only able to accomplish this last feat by chewing my peanut butter sandwich at the same time.

Clinton Ford Elementary School afforded many opportunities for musical expression. We had frequent assemblies, talent contests and shows. When I was ten years old we produced ‘Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and I got to play Joseph.

(An excerpt, not for the faint of heart)

When I was eleven years old I joined the Calgary Boys’ Choir and I sang with them till my voice changed. It is from this time that I truly mark the beginning of my formation as a singer. Our conductor, Douglas Parnham, was a master musician who gave us all a sense of what it was that made a performance memorable. I remember vividly a practice at which each of us was required to stand up and explain the phrasing of a Cherubini canon. Any musicality or artistic sense I possess today had its beginning in Mr. Parnham’s insistence on musical excellence. He gave me a tremendous foundation and, thankfully, the Calgary Boys’ Choir continues its work in the community, training up the next generation of singers.

So now I am in high school (voice changed just in time, as it turns out) and I am involved in the school musicals. We had a wonderful choral teacher, Joan Bell, who was always short of men – for her choral program, I mean – and who produced a major musical every year to bring the young men out of the woodwork, hoping that they would subsequently join the choir. In Grade 10 we produced ‘The King and I’ and I played the Burmese lover, Lun Tha. The big song, ‘We Kiss in a Shadow’, only needed an octave’s range which conveniently was all I had at that tender age. In Grade 11 the show was ‘Bye, Bye, Birdie’ for which I was the rock idol Conrad Birdie (talk about suspension of disbelief – I had braces and a gold-lamé jumpsuit) and my final year of high school saw me as Tevye in ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’. It was that year that I finally succumbed to Mrs. Bell’s charms and joined the chorus. She did not exaggerate the extent of her men problems – I found myself one of four (count ‘em – four) men singing with forty women. We were never asked to sing softly.

Grade 12 was also when I started singing lessons with Ernest Atkinson. I loved musical theatre and wanted to be a better Curly, Tevye or what have you. I never knew what was waiting just around the bend.

After high school I spent the summer at the Banff Centre School of Fine Arts as part of their musical theatre program. I was the youngest person there and I learned a LOT! One valuable lesson was that the material out of which they make dance tights has a peculiar property – when stretched it becomes completely transparent. I only discovered this by chance when the laughter of the dancers crowded into the space behind me became too distracting to ignore. Apparently, my huggy bear briefs (with ‘I love you’ written in French and English) were fully visible and creating quite a stir. My next valuable lesson was about the discomfort of dance belts.

A couple of years later I was asked to join the chorus of the Calgary Opera. Actually, I was hoodwinked into joining the chorus. One of my instructors at the Banff Centre had been James Beer, also chorus master. He had had some mild health problems and so had asked my singing teacher’s wife, Sandra Atkinson, to recruit the singers for the fall season. My name was on the list. Sandy made it seem like Jim’s dying wish was that I sing in the chorus. What could I say? Even though my exposure to opera had been limited to Bugs Bunny cartoons and the Turandot production in which my teacher had appeared, an opera famous for insomnia and an unpronounceable title, I felt that it would be callous in the extreme to ignore Jim’s final plea.

Well, September of 1983 saw me standing (in tights, interestingly enough) on the stage of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, singing in the chorus of ‘Les Contes d’Hoffmann.' After Jim’s miraculous recovery (hmmmmm...) he coached us through the whole experience, wild French lyrics and all. Being a keen youngster, I had a friend help me make up some phrases to add artistic verisimilitude to our otherwise bald and unconvincing onstage ‘rhubarb’ acting. I can still say, ‘The floor needs waxing’, ‘Have you ever seen such an ugly dog’ and ‘Your mother eats army boots.' Great for the production but useless if you are in a bar on the Left Bank and just looking for a café au lait.

After that show I was completely hooked on opera. We did three productions a year and I would gladly have done twenty. The opera company began to give me small roles and so I got a lot of experience during the five years I sang with the chorus.

When I had finished my university studies (I earned a Bachelor of Education degree, intending to be a high school maths teacher) I decided that I had better pursue this singing thing and see how far I could go. I mean, I knew very well that only a privileged few ever had the chance to actually sing for a living. My father was initially very nervous for me, since he had spent his career as a consultant geologist waiting for the phone to ring with his next job and hoping that there would be enough work to fill up his year. He understood very well the obstacles in my path.

My first major stroke of luck was being asked to join the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, a one-year training program for young singers. It was quite a shock to my system: my first apartment (a basement flat with spiders the size of cats and flamenco-dancing neighbours above), a new city, a new language and a completely new way to work at my craft. Instead of squeezing in lessons, coachings and practice between lectures on abstract mathematics and child psychology, I was free to spend my whole day as a singer. Inevitably, this led to lots of billiards. There was a wonderful pool hall with discount afternoon rates located just across the street from the studios where we worked. As long as we left discreetly we were often able to sneak over for a game or two (or eight.)

Our in-house show that year was ‘La Bohème’. Vocally unsuited as we all generally were for our roles, we could not have been more like these characters. We were all best friends. We regularly went out to all-you-can-eat buffets or the Polish restaurant on Prince Arthur for their weekly special. Our warm-up exercises before shows usually involved a raucous game of cribbage. One time we needed a table to play on so I just grabbed the first stool I could find. When places was called we were in the middle of a particularly close game so we agreed to just put down our cards and continue at the half. It wasn’t until Schaunard showed up with the food and the story of the parrot that I realized that my stool was still in the dressing room. Some inventive restaging followed.

After a couple of years at the Atelier I was given the position of Artiste en Residence which sounds really impressive but basically means that if there is a small role for you to do you do it. I sang every comprimario role in the repertoire, it seems, as well as a few choice nuggets in smaller productions. I learned so much and was able to compile a considerable resume, all the while making my living as a singer. Who could ask for more?

During these two years as Artiste en Residence I met my good friend Alison Pybus and we have been a creative team ever since. And the rest, as we say in my adopted city, is histoire!

November-89 Rodolfo La Bohème l'Atelier Lyrique de l'ODM Montréal Canada
February-91 Beppe I Pagliacci l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
November-91 Tybalt Roméo et Juliette l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
February-92 Tebaldo I Capuleti e I Montecchi l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
April-92 Ferrando Cosí Fan Tutte l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
May-92 Paris La Belle Hélène l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
January-93 Alfred Die Fledermaus l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
February-93 Cassio Otello l'Opéra de Monte Carlo Monte Carlo Monaco
July-93 Detlef The Student Prince New York City Opera New York USA
October-93 Frederick The Pirates of Penzance Calgary Opera Calgary Canada
February-94 Pêcheur Le Rossignol (Russian) l'Opéra de Monte Carlo Monte Carlo Monaco
February-94 Pastor Oedipus Rex l'Opéra de Monte Carlo Monte Carlo Monaco
April-94 Hoffmann Les Contes d'Hoffmann l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
June-94 Karl Franz The Student Prince l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
July-94 Tom Rakewell The Rake's Progress Banff Festival of the Arts Banff Canada
November-94 Agenore Il Re Pastore Canadian Opera Company Toronto Canada
January-95 Albert Albert Herring Calgary Opera Calgary Canada
March-95 Frederick The Pirates of Penzance Vancouver Opera Vancouver Canada
May-95 Paris La Belle Hélène (English) Opera Theatre of St. Louis St. Louis USA
January-96 Steuermann Der Fliegende Holländer Canadian Opera Company Toronto Canada
March-96 Riccardo Chérubin l'Opéra de Monte Carlo Monte Carlo Monaco
March-96 Tamino Die Zauberflöte l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
June-96 Paris La Belle Hélène Opéra Français de New York New York USA
July-96 Jacquino Fidelio New York Philharmonic New York USA
September-96 Journaliste Les Mamelles de Tirésias Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto Japan
November-96 Steva Jenufa Vancouver Opera Vancouver Canada
January-97 Bénédict Béatrice et Bénédict Canadian Opera Company Toronto Canada
March-97 Tamino Die Zauberflöte (English) Calgary Opera Calgary Canada
April-97 Duca Rigoletto Hennessy Concert Opera Beijing China
May-97 Bénédict Béatrice et Bénédict Opéra Français de New York New York USA
May-97 Tamino Die Zauberflöte New Japan Philharmonic Tsu, Kyoto Japan
November-97 Alfredo La Traviata Opera Company of Philadelphia Philadelphia USA
March-98 Danceny The Dangerous Liaisons Washington Opera Washington DC USA
July-98 Bénédict Béatrice et Bénédict Santa Fe Opera Santa Fe USA
October-98 Duca Rigoletto Calgary Opera Calgary Canada
November-98 Gerald Lakmé l'Opéra d'Avignon Avignon France
January-99 Steva Jenufa Philadelphia Orchestra Philadelphia USA
January-99 Steva Jenufa Philadelphia Orchestra @ Carnegie Hall New York USA
March-99 Tamino Die Zauberflöte De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam Netherlands
May-99 Duca Rigoletto Hennessy Concert Opera Ha Noi Vietnam
July-99 Idamante Idomeneo Santa Fe Opera Santa Fe USA
July-99 Chevalier Dialogues des Carmélites Santa Fe Opera Santa Fe USA
September-99 Roméo Roméo et Juliette West Australian Opera Company Perth Australia
October-99 Fenton Falstaff New York City Opera New York USA
October-99 Le Mari Le Pauvre Matelot Opéra Français de New York New York USA
November-99 Chevalier Dialogues des Carmélites Dresdner Philharmonie Dresden Germany
January-00 Steuermann Der Fliegende Holländer Canadian Opera Company Toronto Canada
March-00 Tom Rakewell The Rake's Progress Edmonton Opera Edmonton Canada
March-00 Frère Massée St. François d'Assise VARA Radio Amsterdam Netherlands
April-00 Hussar Mavra Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Montreal Canada
June-00 Sam Polk Susannah Grand Théatre de Genève Geneva Switzerland
August-00 Roméo Roméo et Juliette State Opera of South Australia Adelaide Australia
October-00 Kudrjas Kát'a Kabanová Houston Grand Opera Houston USA
January-01 Don Ottavio Don Giovanni Opéra National de Paris, Bastille Paris France
March-01 Steva Jenufa Grand Théâtre de Genève Geneva Switzerland
May-01 Lysander A Midsummer Night's Dream Glyndebourne Festival Opera Lewes England
September-01 Varhinag Arshak II San Francisco Opera San Francisco USA
November-01 Camille Thérèse Raquin Dallas Opera Dallas USA
January-02 Narraboth Salome De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam Netherlands
March-02 Peter Quint Turn of the Screw Nationale Reisopera Enschede Netherlands
April-02 Camille Thérèse Raquin l'Opéra de Montréal Montreal Canada
June-02 Bénédict Béatrice et Bénédict Teatro Comunale di Bologna Bologna Italy
October-02 Rinuccio Gianni Schicchi Vlaamse Opera Antwerp Belgium
December-02 Stingo Sophie's Choice Royal Opera House London England
March-03 Camille Thérèse Raquin San Diego Opera San Diego USA
April-03 Bénédict Béatrice et Bénédict New York Philharmonic New York USA
May-03 Steva Jenufa Théâtre Musical de Paris, Châtelet Paris France
July-03 Don Ottavio Don Giovanni Opéra National de Paris, Bastille Paris France
November-03 Kudrjas Kát'a Kabanová Grand Théâtre de Genève Geneva Switzerland
December-03 Alfred Die Fledermaus Opéra National de Paris, Bastille Paris France
March-04 Chevalier Dialogues des Carmélites Teatro alla Scala Milan Italy
April-04 Fritz Grand Duchess of Gerolstein Opera Company of Philadelphia Philadelphia USA
August-04 Ferrando Così Fan Tutte Mostly Mozart Festival New York USA
November-04 Skuratov Z Mrtvého Domu Grand Théâtre de Genève Geneva Switzerland
December-04 Hoffmann Les Contes d'Hoffmann Opéra de Marseille Marseille France
February-05 Cassio Otello Opéra National de Paris, Bastille Paris France
April-05 Lysander A Midsummer Night's Dream Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona Spain
May-05 Don José Carmen l'Opéra de Montréal Montréal Canada
September-05 Don José Carmen City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Birmingham England
April-06 Yonas Adriana Mater Opéra National de Paris, Bastille Paris France
September-06 Stingo Sophie's Choice Washington National Opera Washington, DC USA
December-06 Camille La Veuve Joyeuse Opéra de Lyon Lyon France
January-07 Prunier La Rondine Dallas Opera Dallas USA
March-07 Zinoviy Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk Grand Théâtre de Genève Geneva Switzerland
April-07 Ananda Wagner Dream Grand Théâtre de la Ville Luxembourg
May-07 Tiberge Le Portrait de Manon Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona Spain
June-07 Ananda Wagner Dream De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam Netherlands
June-07 Ananda Wagner Dream IRCAM Paris France
July-07 Tamino Die Zauberflöte Hyogo Performing Arts Center Hyogo Japan
November-07 Hoffmann Les Contes d'Hoffmann Nationale Reisopera Tour Netherlands
January-08 Heinrich Tannhauser Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Montréal Canada
March-08 Mazal Vlety pana Broucka Grand Théâtre de Genève Geneva Switzerland
April-08 Yonas Adriana Mater BBC Symphony, Barbican London England
July-08 Alfred Die Fledermaus Seiji Ozawa Opera Project Tour Japan
November-08 Don Ottavio Don Giovanni Canadian Opera Company Toronto Canada
December-08 Kudrjas Kát'a Kabanová Teatro Real Madrid Spain
February-09 Nangis Le Roi Malgré Lui Opéra de Lyon Lyon France
March-09 Pinkerton Madama Butterfly Opera Hamilton Hamilton Canada
April-09 Nangis Le Roi Malgré Lui Opéra Comique Paris France
June-09 Lysander A Midsummer Night's Dream Teatro alla Scala Milan Italy
October-09 Ferrando Così Fan Tutte Arizona Opera Tucson, Phoenix USA
December-09 Steva Jenufa Teatro Real Madrid Spain
March-10 Nose The Nose Metropolitan Opera New York USA
May-10 Don José Carmen Opéra de Lille Lille France
August-10 Gonzalve l'Heure Espagnole Edinburgh Festival Edinburgh Scotland
November-10 Kudrjas Kát'a Kabanová La Monnaie Brussels Belgium
January-11 Skuratov Z Mrtvého Domu Gulbenkian Foundation Lisbon Portugal
April-11 Earnest The Importance of Being Earnest Los Angeles Philharmonic Los Angeles USA
May-11 Tambourmajor Wozzeck Oper Köln Cologne Germany
May-11 Oedipus Oedipus Rex Bergen Festival Bergen Norway
October-11 Cavaradossi Tosca Opera Memphis Memphis USA
November-11 Roméo Roméo et Juliette Vancouver Opera Vancouver Canada
January-12 Narraboth Salome La Monnaie Brussels Belgium
June-12 Don José Carmen Vlaamse Opera Antwerp Belgium
October-12 Duca Rigoletto Opera Hamilton Hamilton Canada
March-13 Tambourmajor Wozzeck Houston Symphony Houston USA
April-13 Male Chorus Rape of Lucretia Teatro Romolo Valli Reggio Emilia Italy
May-13 Gatsby The Great Gatsby Emmanuel Music Boston USA
May-13 Male Chorus Rape of Lucretia Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Firenze Italy