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Shining on the international stage

Opera Laurier alumni Stephanie Desjardins (BMus ’12) and Zachery Vander Meulen (BMus ’14) share a Postcard to Home from Amsterdam

Story by Stephanie Desjardins

A career in opera can take you anywhere. My husband Zachery Vander Meulen and I are proof of that. We live in Amsterdam, where we are building careers as opera performers. 

We came to the Netherlands in order to pursue master’s degrees and further our singing careers. Graduate work was something we knew we both wanted and we were encouraged to do so by our undergraduate singing teacher Lynda Mieske and the late Professor Emeritus Victor Martens, whom we both studied with privately after graduating from Laurier. 

Victor strongly encouraged us to consider further study in Europe as opera is very much engrained in European culture.

opera performance

Laurier graduates Stephanie Desjardins and Zachery Vander Meulen perform the husband-and-wife roles of Tiridate and Polissena in a Dutch National Opera Academy production of Handel’s Radamisto.

With several opera houses in each country (Germany having the most – 83 in fact!) as well as many prominent orchestras and concert halls, Europe offers many opportunities to build a career as a performer. Victor was a fantastic teacher and had a profound impact on us. We still think of his wise words and guidance all the time. 

After moving to Amsterdam I initially began in the voice performance program at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam focusing on art song and oratorio, while Zach prepared to audition the following year for the master of opera program in the Dutch National Opera Academy (DNOA). As my studies progressed, I soon realized that opera studies would be a better fit for my development. So Zach and I both applied for the master of opera program at the DNOA and we were both accepted. The next two years at the academy were intense but incredible for both of us. 

opera performance
Stephanie Desjardins (right) showcases her talents.

Each year, the Dutch National Opera Academy presents at least two fully staged operas in which academy students each get a main role. This kind of training allows for tremendous growth in regard to the voice, one’s dramatic skills and especially vocal fluency in multiple languages. We were lucky to work with top coaches, conductors and directors during our time in the DNOA. 

Pursuing this degree has also allowed us to perform together on stage. In January 2019, Zach and I performed the husband-and-wife roles of Tiridate and Polissena in Handel’s Radamisto, which was fun as we are husband and wife off-stage, too. (Luckily, our married life is not nearly as dramatic as that of our characters!)

Studying together was a great experience because we both understand the demands and sacrifices that go along with pursuing a performing career. It was great to be able to support each other while also providing each other the space necessary to grow as artists. We feel blessed that we can continue to do so as we build our careers.

Although our master's program was intense, we felt well prepared because of our experience at Laurier. While in the voice studies program we were introduced to a broad range of music, from oratorio, opera and art song to modern compositions. We also learned how to prepare music in several languages. Laurier’s strong reputation for instruction in musical skills and theory is well founded and we benefited from wonderful teaching and the warm and supportive environment in the Faculty of Music.

Although we’re far from home, connections to Canada find us here in the Netherlands. In February, I met a woman named Dorothy who introduced herself as a fellow Canadian after I performed at the Februari Festival in The Hague. We had a great conversation about music and I told her how I also enjoyed performing Canadian music here for Dutch audiences; particularly the cycle Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs by composer Srul Irving Glick, which was one of the pieces I performed for my graduation recital at Laurier. When I asked if she was familiar with Glick’s work, she said she was – she had been married to him! What a small world. It was a very special moment for me and reminded me of how nice it is to be able to share Canadian content here.

opera performance
Zachery Vander Meulen in performance.

In addition to performing, Zach and I continue to take lessons, audition for future projects, sing in concerts and teach privately in our home. We are both equally passionate about teaching, something that was definitely ignited in us at Laurier. 

The opera industry is always evolving and more than ever it’s important to be versatile and sometimes even look outside the box to find our niches. The industry is highly competitive and hard to break into, but wherever our careers may take us, our relationship is the most important thing. Our years together in Canada allowed us to build a strong foundation with a lot of support and we are forever grateful to all those who invested in us.

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To read more articles from the 2020 Spring edition of Laurier Campus magazine and new alumni stories between editions, visit

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