A Canadian tenor who studied under the world renowned Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé is now calling Maple Ridge home.
Dustin Hiles has just returned from Europe where he has been working for the past six months.
He has performed for the queen and is good friends with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Hiles grew up in Mission. He studied at École Mission senior secondary and St. John Brebeuf regional secondary in Abbotsford before attending the University of Manitoba and then travelling to Toronto and Europe.
But he was only 14-years-old when he realized he had a gift.
“I was really loud when I was a kid and my cousins always told me I was loud. I was really energetic and I was a dreamer and role player,” said Hiles.
When he was in Grade 8 someone told him he had a good voice and that he should see the choir director.
So he asked the choir director if he would teach him.
“He said no,” laughed Hiles, but the director’s daughter was an up-and-coming opera singer singing in Eastern Europe.
Hiles studied with her until she sent him to her teacher who was head of voice and opera at the University of British Columbia.
He did the summer program but his voice was already quite developed.
He made his debut as a soloist when he was only 15-years-old with the Vancouver Symphony at the Orpheum Theatre.
It was George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah.
“It was amazing. I remember it very vividly because it’s such a beautiful theatre,” said Hiles.
“I remember the sound it was like a cloud. I was nervous walking to the centre of the stage and sitting down. Then when I stood up to sing, it was like,” Hiles paused, closing his eyes to remember the night.
“Everything just came off,” he continued.
Even though there were around 1,500 people in the theatre that night, Hiles compared the experience as simply talking to a friend.
“You could hear a pin drop when you are singing and it’s just an amazing experience,” he said.
Hiles is a tenor, which is a very rare type of male singer. There are ten female sopranos to one tenor.
“There’s a misconception that music in general isn’t a masculine thing,” said Hiles
“So it’s rare that tenors will come up. You have to have a family member whose taught you to like music, classical music,” he said.
Hiles practises 45 minutes a day. He used to practise three or four hours a day the technique and languages. However, he says, it is not good to sing a lot because the muscles the will become tired and damaged.
Hiles is a regular performer at Liberal Party fundraisers, a special invite by Prime Minister Trudeau.
They first met back stage at a 2008 gala.
“We hit it off. We had drinks and became friends and talked about music,” he said.
Hiles has sung at every Liberal Party caucus dinner for the last nine years, with the exception of last year.
He also used to sing Danny Boy with the late Jim Flaherty, the former federal Minister of Finance under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He met Queen Elizabeth the Second through another political friend, former Speaker of the House of Commons Peter Milliken.
Milliken sent him a text and asked him if he would like to go to brunch. He told him to wear a suit.
“We ended up at Rideau Hall. He didn’t tell me it was the Queen’s Brunch,” chuckled Hiles who was asked to sing O’Canada and God Save the Queen accompanied by a string quartet.
He didn’t want to at first because he was nervous but he obliged and found himself in the receiving line alongside the late Jack Layton, former leader of the federal New Democrat Party and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
Hiles was wearing a tie with a picture of Ludwig van Beethoven on it that the Queen took a special liking to.
“She actually touched it. We talked for about four or five minutes then she moved to the next person,” said Hiles of the event.
Hiles has been performing off and on in Europe for the past six years. He has been splitting his time between Rome, Italy and Toronto and Ottawa singing concerts, recitals and operas.
His European debut was in Barcelona last summer in front of 11,000 people.
He finds a big difference between opera fans in Europe compared to those in North America.
Hiles says North Americans are very respectful in their applause. In Europe, he says, the fans act like they are at a movie.
“They are involved. If you hate the villain and by the curtain call you don’t get booed for being the villain you haven’t done your job. This is in Italy and in France,” explained Hiles.
“The Germans are very, they are very appreciative. The Austrians and Germans, their ovations are quite loud. But they are very proper,” he continued.
Famous opera singers even have groupies called Operaphiles.
”They’ve memorized the scripts, they know everything. They are just ridiculous. They follow us around and they stand at the stage door for two hours waiting for us to come out,’ said Hiles, adding that if you are really famous they will follow you around to different theatres.
“They will have one hundred different pictures that you didn’t know existed of you performing,” he laughed remembering the first opera he performed with Vancouver Opera.
There was an Asian man in the audience with the entire score in front of him who would make noises during the dress rehearsal and opening night if the performance was not perfect.
“They’re eccentrics. It’s good for us. It’s healthy adulation,” said Hiles.
Hiles has also studied under Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé who most famously teamed up with Queen’s Freddie Mercury to sing Barcelona, the song of the 1992 Olympic games.
He did about 100 hours of work with her last summer.
“I feel like it was a revolution for me. I felt like I didn’t know how to sing until I met her,” said Hiles.
“She tore everything down and rebuilt it,” he said.
The lessons were intense.
At one lesson he was told to leave the studio and go have babies because he had gone to the beach.
“She said you never go to the beach because the sun dries the vocal chords, it makes the body tired, the muscles are all tense,” said Hiles, adding with a smile that she warned him if he went to the beach again he might as well go back to Canada.
Hiles would love to follow in the footsteps of Caballé and collaborate with a famous pop star like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.
But, locally he is planning to start a vocal studio and a summer program from young artists.
He also wants to become involved with the Maple Ridge arts scene. Perhaps performing an opera or a Christmas concert at The ACT theatre, a theatre he described as beautiful.
Hiles will be back in Europe where he has performances scheduled between December and June, 2018 in Berlin, Munich and Rome.
His next performance at home will be a free concert April 20 at the Festival of India at Second Beach in Stanley Park.
That’s right, Hiles still enjoys going to the beach.