Monday, June 11, 2007

Alexandra Babbel:

Super Voice, Super Mom, Superwoman

By Greg Fjetland

Kelowna’s Alexandra Babbel finds perfect harmony in parenting and performing

Last fall Alexandra Babbel of Kelowna made an emotional return to her ancestral village in Ukraine. Accompanied by three family members, she visited her mother’s now empty house and searched the woods for the old bunker that sheltered her family during World War II. Alexandra’s journey has led her full circle from the Okanagan back to Ukraine. “Part of me felt like I really belonged there. The atmosphere was so familiar,” recollects Alexandra. Alexandra is a compassionate, articulate, spiritually fulfilled mother of three who balances a no nonsense approach to life with an infectious sense of humour. An acclaimed opera performer, she is a sterling example of the world class talent that the Okanagan Valley draws from around the globe.
This story really begins back in 1943, where crouched in their crude bunker in the woods, Anton Kosachuk and his family listened to the distant pounding of the artillery. When Russian and German forces collided in Ukraine during WWII, the Kosachuks and other terrified citizens of the village of Salomka fled the conflagration. After three months of living in their crude shelter, they left and headed straight towards Germany. On their incredible journey they overcame the many hardships of wartime, including hunger and crossing through a minefield.
En route, isolated from his family and apprehended by the Russian Army, Anton was thrown into a prison and scheduled for execution. He despaired. An old man who shared his cell asked him, ‘How can you give up hope. I am old yet I’m still full of hope.” Anton found the bars of his cell were rusted and he broke free that night. Later in a refugee camp, he met his future bride with whom he would one day emigrate to America.
After World War II, the Kosachuks settled in what was to become East Germany. Eighteen years later, the family came to the United States to live in Michigan. Little Alexandra was their sixth child. From an early age she loved to sing accompaniment with her father. When she was 17 she began private voice lessons and subsequently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Music.
In 1983 she moved to Edmonton to take her Master of Music. There she met John Babbel, an Okanagan resident. They married and moved to Chicago where Alexandra began her illustrious performing career, including her role in the world premiere of a major new opera. She sang with a variety of companies including the Lincoln Opera and Milwaukee Opera.
Additionally she sang with many symphonies as a featured soloist and toured extensively through the States, Europe and Russia. With her deepening experience and knowledge, Alexandra began to teach at universities in the United States and Canada. Her voice teaching produced several young singers who have gone on to enjoy careers in music. Meanwhile, her own career was taking off like a rocket.
But just before the birth of their first child, a new realization set in. “There are many performers to play the role of Mimi (in Puccini’s La Boheme) but only one person to be my kid’s mom,” says Alexandra. The young family moved straight to Kelowna from Chicago in 1991, a homecoming for her husband John and a new life for Alexandra. They now have three children.
Today, Alexandra balances her busy family life with an equally demanding professional schedule. She practices about two hours per day. “A Mozart a day keeps laryngitis away,” she laughs. She manages a reduced tour schedule. Trans World Radio International sponsored her recent trip to eastern Europe where she made 15 appearances in 11 days but still managed to visit her former family home in Ukraine. She professes to a deep love for eastern Europe. “The people own so little but they’re so happy,” she says. “Materialism and leisure are the two big kings here but they never satisfy our spiritual hunger.”
Alexandra continues to embody her father’s hopes for a future: “It is so important to maintain hope and do your best in pursuing your vision. While one must remain within one’s ability and resources, it is vital to listen to the dream inside. My parents never gave up in the pursuit of freedom. Nor shall I give up in pursuing what is in my heart for the young artists of this city.”

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