Baritone Danlie Rae Acebuque is the first recipient of the Chorney Opera Scholarship
Article and interview by Futian Yao, first year master’s student in Piano Pedagogy
The Ivan Alexandor Chorney Opera Scholarship is one of the largest awards at the Faculty of Music and the first recipient is Filipino-Canadian baritone Danlie Rae Acebuque, a second-year master’s student in the Opera program. Professor Sandra Horst, the director of Musical Studies for the Opera Division, describes Danlie as an “exceptional student who works incredibly hard to learn and perfect his music.” He is also known by peers and mentors for his infectious positive and joyous attitude towards learning.
The supporter of the scholarship, Ivan Chorney, was a person who is described to be full of life, humour, and thoughtfulness—qualities that allowed him to maintain meaningful friendships from earliest years throughout his life. Born into a musical family, Mr. Chorney’s love for music began at a very young age. An amateur violinist himself, his interest in opera grew when he attended Columbia University in New York City for his Master of Business Administration degree and attended opera performances there. His close friend Ron Cohen joked that no-one could ever reach him on Saturdays from 1 to 5 pm, as he was a devoted opera patron and listener to Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Radio.
“I’m still pinching myself every day!”�
- Danlie Rae Acebuque
I had the chance to sit down and talk to Danlie about everything music-related. From the very beginning of his musical journey back in the Philippines, to his lead role in the highly awaited production of The Barber of Seville, to the pressure of being a person of colour in opera, it was Danlie’s vibrant and optimistic personality that became the highlight of the Zoom call.
First off, let me offer you my congratulations on your success! Given the importance of student awards, how will this scholarship aid you and your future goals?
Thank you. I’m still pinching myself every day because I cannot believe that this is real! But it has truly been a blessing. The award will not only help me but my family as well, and it was exciting to be able to send a portion of it back home to the Philippines recently. As many may not know, my dad has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and he cannot work anymore. As a result, I help out financially by working part time at Shoppers during the weekends and weekdays if I have no classes. I also have some singing gigs but even then, paying for things such as transportation, utilities, and food can still be challenging for anyone living in Toronto. The balancing between school and work has taught me a lot about priorities and self-motivation—work hard and keep going!
Tell me about your musical journey. What got you interested in singing and ultimately in Opera?
My first instrument was the flute and I sang in the choir. I also did a few newscasting and poetry competitions because I loved to speak and be on stage. It wasn’t until I was in grade 10, when my high school teacher took us to watch Madama Butterfly at the Canadian Opera Company that I completely fell in love with opera. Watching people sing on that stage was an incredible experience and I found so much joy in singing repertoire that wasn’t in English. Singing has also allowed me to appreciate and explore the flexibility of my own voice that, before then, I never knew existed.
This year, the opera program is doing a production of The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. How does it feel to not only be playing the lead role of Figaro, but playing it as a person of colour?
It's funny because Figaro has been one of my dream roles since I was in undergrad. Since it’s a difficult role, I thought that maybe I would be able to do it when I was 30 years old. Lo and behold, I saw the announcement that I was Figaro this summer when I was doing the Toronto Summer Music Festival with Professor Steven Philcox. I completely flipped out and I’m not even 30 yet! As an Asian playing this white character, I don’t feel too much pressure. I don't like trying to morph myself into someone else. I find things from the character that are relatable to me. I draw from my personal experiences and take it into the dramaturgy of it. I’m just taking it one step at a time and not rushing the process. I spent two months of my summer learning the flow of the language and notes. And now, it’s exciting to see everything come together with the staging.
And you are in your final year of the Opera program. What does the future have in store for you?
Yes, I am graduating (hopefully!). I’m still singing around Toronto with Voice Box Opera. I am also one of the Sidgwick scholars for the Orpheus Choir. I’m thinking of doing a Doctor of Musical Arts for Filipino music but I’m not really pushing myself to do it at the moment. I want to continue focusing on singing and performing in the operatic field. As for the near future, please look forward to U of T Opera’s production of The Barber of Seville which will have its showings on November 25, 26, 27 and 28!
Last year, through a generous bequest of more than half a million dollars by the late Ivan Chorney, a new endowed scholarship was established to support opera students. The Chorney Opera Scholarship is awarded annually as a merit-based award to one outstanding master’s degree in performance student in the opera program at the Faculty of Music.
The Faculty of Music is deeply grateful for the support of donors like Ivan Chorney, who make pursuing an arts education for students like Danlie possible. Information to support students can be found here. You can also support our students by watching them perform!
The Opera Division will be holding four performances of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville from Thursday November 25 through Sunday November 28. Two performances will be streamed on the Faculty of Music YouTube channel. Please visit our events page for details in mid-November.
We hope to see you there!
Photo credit: Ryan Chiu