Edmonton Opera Blog

Introducing Turandot's stellar soprano Othalie Graham!

Wednesday, September 21. 2016

This year's highly anticipated production of Puccini's Turandot will be unveiled at the Jubilee in just one month! Our production is complete with incredible sets, costumes, and a cast of superb singers — including acclaimed soprano Othalie Graham. This Canadian has made quite the impression across the US and beyond in her signature role of Turandot, and now she is set to charm her home crowd with an unforgettable debut!

Othalie took some time out of role preparation to talk about her upcoming portrayal of Puccini's most compelling operatic heroine. Enjoy her insights below! 

We are so excited to have your Canadian mainstage debut be with Edmonton Opera. What are you looking forward to most about performing in Canada?

I am looking forward to singing my favorite role in my own country and I am eager to sing for a Canadian audience. Whenever I perform in other countries, everyone always responds positively about how much they love Canadians, so I am very happy to be singing in what is truly my home country.

What makes Turandot such an operatic treat

Turandot is a very challenging role and the opera has some of the most beautiful, soaring lines and heartbreaking moments for all of the characters. I think that Turandots change from what people perceive to be imperiousness (but I interpret as fear within a sequestered woman) to finding love is one of the greatest moments in any opera.

Having played Turandot numerous times, how do you keep your portrayal fresh and inspiring for each new audience? What aspects of Turandots character do you relate to? 

I can relate to her inner fortitude and her devotion to her father. Turandot is very protective of her ancestors and her family. Every time you re-visit a role its different because your fellow castmates, directors, set and production elements are different. Its always exciting and since I love the character of Turandot so much, I look for new things about her character that I can portray and emulate each time. I also enjoy working with a team that helps me uncover something new about the role or helps me see things in a new way, and I am very open to that in my role preparation and rehearsal process.

Is there a particular part in the opera that youre looking forward to performing?

I truly enjoy the entire opera. Its so well written and there are big moments within it that everyone can appreciate. There are also no small roles in this opera and the music is so exciting, from the overture to the last note. Each character has many poignant moments, and with this incredible cast filled with gifted singing actors, I know the audience will be mesmerized!

Personally, when I portray this role, I always look forward to the heartbreaking moment of Lius death and Timurs anguish. The transition that Turandot undergoes when experiencing this moment is riveting. In addition, Turandot pleading with her father in Act 2 really shows her vulnerability and her soft underbelly, and this also makes her transition in Act 3 more believable.

How might Turandot resonate with a contemporary audience? 

Turandot is really a timeless love story about sacrifice and characters willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for love. Everyone loves a story where love conquers all in the end.

Use 4 words to describe Turandot.

Beautiful, imperious, vulnerable, loving.


To experience Othalie Graham's powerful performance as Turandot, purchase your tickets today starting at just $40! Act fast for the best seats in the house. 

Spotlight: Soprano Michele Capalbo in Turandot

Friday, September 16. 2016

We are thrilled to welcome soprano Michele Capalbo to Edmonton Opera as Liu in Turandot. Liu is one of opera's most memorable and endearing characters — the classic underdog, and a stark contrast to Turandot. She loves Calaf and selflessly serves his aged father Timur, and when the time comes to show her loyalty, Liu does not back down from supporting the man she loves. 

Thanks to Michele's undoubtedly sublime interpretation of this character, we guarantee you will fall in love with the sweet and gentle Liu!  

What do you find fascinating about the opera Turandot?

In general, Puccini’s use of ‘exotic’ themes and melodies is always fascinating. Three of his operas were set outside of Europe, which was somewhat unusual for an Italian composer at the time (La Fanciulla del West – USA, Madama Butterfly – Japan, Turandot – China). He attempted to adopt the musical flavour of these locations, if not the actual music itself to his Italian opera milieu. One could argue that Turandot has the most foreign musical flavour of the three.

What aspects of Liu’s character appeal to you?

What I respect the most in Liu’s character is her loyalty and kindness. The vulnerability she shows throughout in her loving nature and her ultimate sacrifice is very compelling.

Is there a particular part in the opera that you’re especially excited about?

Even a slave girl can have a moment of choice which shapes her destiny. Liu’s fate is sealed when she finds the strength to face-off with Turandot, saying she alone knows the Prince’s name and then she withholds the information. What is fascinating musically, is that Turandot starts to sing more in the style of Liu. The two voices intertwine, if only for a moment. One could argue that as their destinies collide, we begin to see Turandot’s strong belief in her own destiny unravel here. The ice princess begins to melt.

This will also be a moment that I look forward to when I sing the role of Turandot (at Calgary Opera) later this season!

How might Liu's character resonate with a contemporary audience?

Certain character traits are universal – or at least I hope they are. Liu’s characteristics of loyalty, kindness, love and sacrifice are among those universal traits that speak to humanity.

Use three words to describe Turandot (the opera). 

Obsession, sacrifice, and love. 

Having performed with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra before, what are you looking forward to most about being in Edmonton again?

I was in Edmonton for such a short time. I’m really looking forward to having a little more time to explore. I’ll have to see what the symphony is playing and I usually check out an art gallery while I’m in town. I’m also looking forward to working with the Edmonton Opera emerging artists and students at the University of Alberta (Michele is leading a masterclass for the Music department on October 24).


To see Michele work her vocal magic on the Jubilee stage, purchase your tickets to Edmonton Opera's Turandot today! Tickets start at $40 and are selling fast. 

Meet Alex Prior, conductor of Edmonton Opera's Elektra!

Thursday, September 8. 2016

Vibrant, passionate, and wicked smart — that’s how we would describe Alexander Prior, the internationally acclaimed conductor who makes his Edmonton Opera debut with Elektra this season. At the wise young age of (nearly) 24, Prior has conducted at leading opera houses across the world. Edmontonians are familiar with his work, having seen him often over the past few years with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, where Prior’s charismatic stage presence has made him a favourite with the orchestra and audiences alike!

How does our enthusiastic maestro feel about conducting Strauss’s complex and dramatic masterpiece Elektra? Read on to find out.

What are you looking forward to with Elektra?

I am so excited to conduct Elektra. It’s one of those really pivotal, brilliant, and most exciting masterpieces in the repertoire. It is any conductor’s dream to be working on this opera. Plus we have a stellar cast and an incredible orchestra here in Edmonton! It’s going to be a good event.

Is there a particular approach you are going to take?

Strauss is great for conductors — you just have to do what he wrote and everything works. So my approach is to do exactly what Strauss wrote, openly and honestly, and let the music speak. Of course, you have to add excitement, energy, and colour. Especially colour.

Strauss is also very precise about the sound of each word in the German language. So as an orchestra, we will have to be really conscious of the words that are being sung and play accordingly, in order to tell the story very clearly through music.

Where would you place Strauss musically and historically?

He is on the cusp, and I don’t think he can be put in a box. Strauss became much more conservative as he went along, but in Elektra there is a modernist sense of foreboding. Both Elektra (1909) and Salome (1905) are very aware, through story and language, that the world is on the cusp of something terrible. With horrific things happening in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, it was all going downhill. The pinnacle of Romanticism was beginning to fade away.

What makes Elektra great?

Elektra is such a hardcore opera. It offers spectacle, vocal fireworks, and a hugely powerful orchestra. Seriously, just the level of power that Strauss gets in the orchestra is unique. It’s almost two hours of being right at the edge of your seat. Like a roller coaster, there’s not a moment of letting go.

What do you think audiences will love about Elektra?

Elektra is a really good opera for first timers and experienced operagoers alike. It is the orchestral equivalent of heavy metal music — intense, visceral, and immediate. The music is a good head banger at times, which is quite fun, and allows a very physical experience.

Elektra can also be an emotional experience, because it addresses the themes of longing, loneliness, and a desire to find justice when there isn’t any to be found. Like any great opera, it helps us understand ourselves a bit better. Elektra gives you a short, strong dose of opera in its most intense form. There’s no time to get bored, no time to get sleepy. Elektra is just great entertainment!


You do not want to miss the Alberta premiere of Strauss's Elektra, playing March 11, 14 & 16, 2017 at the Jubilee. Get your tickets today! 

Puccini, opera's grandest storyteller

Tuesday, September 6. 2016

Born Dec. 22, 1858, in Lucca, Italy, Giacomo Puccini was the fifth child (of eight) and first son born to Michele and Albina Puccini. His family was musically inclined – in fact, members of his family had held the position of music director at the Cathedral of San Martino for decades. When his father died, the municipality of Lucca not only supplied his family with a small pension, but held the music director position until Puccini came of age.

He was regularly exposed to opera, but it was upon seeing Verdi’s Aida that Puccini decided he wanted to compose for the art form. With the help of a grant from the Queen of Italy, he was able to attend the Milan Conservatory, and studied under Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli.

Puccini experienced both failures and successes during his lifetime, including the premiere of Madama Butterfly, which required the work to be adjusted before premiering again a few months later (and received a much better reception the second time). He did not work easily with librettists, and Manon Lescaut lists only the composer, because approximately seven librettists worked on the piece at some point. Puccini was obsessed with creating the perfect libretto and the perfect dramatic experience.

At the time of his death, Turandot was incomplete. At its premiere, it was performed as it had been written, but by the second performance, Franco Alfano had written an additional two scenes based on Puccini’s notes and sketches.

Puccini’s personal life was also dramatic – he lived with a married woman, Elvira Gemignani, and had a son with her, finally marrying her in 1904 when her first husband died. By 1901, he had been in two automobile accidents, and died at the age of 65 on Nov. 29, 1924, of a heart attack in Brussels, shortly after surgery for throat cancer. A funeral was held in Brussels before his body was moved to Milan, where there was a second funeral. He is buried with his wife and son in Torre del Lago.

Designer Deanna Finnman unveils the costumes for Cinderella!

Thursday, September 1. 2016

                                                                                                                                                          What was the conceptual starting point for the Cinderella costume designs?

We started with 1950’s haute couture. We chose haute couture because, as the highest form of garment making in the European tradition, it is incredibly beautiful, and beautiful is probably the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think ‘Cinderella’. 

But it’s not just about the beauty — there is an incredible amount of skill that goes into making haute couture. It also has the quality of making people think. Really good haute couture can look a certain way at first glance, but when you look again it might reveal something completely different. That’s what the characters in Cinderella are like. The two stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, are beautiful to look at but they are ugly and mean spirited on the inside. This is where the layers come in.

What inspired the haute couture route?

I come from a fashion background and so even though I have worked in costume design for over 25 years, haute couture is the well from which I draw inspiration time and time again. When you picture a Cinderella dress, it often looks like a 1950’s ball gown.

The 1950’s are also interesting because they reflect a time when women were strictly expected to have a certain place. This helps us update the time period Rossini wrote Cinderella in (1817) without losing its thematic significance. In the opera, Don Magnifico is an overbearing father who is trying to get his daughters married. The two daughters are wrapped up in fashion all the time because they are told their looks are all they’re worth.

What kind of colours will we see in the costume designs?

The costumes have really sumptuous colours; in 1950s haute couture they used very complex colour schemes, so a lot of tertiary colours like pinks and purples. We have amped that up for the stepsisters, since they have gone to the far end of “bigger is better” in their clothes. I’m using lots of silks, with 50’s patterns that are much bolder and brighter than you would normally see. This is partly also because our stage is so big that you have to expand what the audience can see.

How do the costumes complement and contrast each other?

With each costume, you get to know something about the characters. The two stepsisters are all about image and trying to be noticed, so their costumes are bright, colourful and bold. Everything including their shoes, bags, and accessories are noticeable. Even within the sisters, there is a contrast: Tisbe is more angular, and Clorinda is far more fluffy and feminine. Cinderella, on the other hand, is much more of a natural beauty. For her we looked a lot more at the natural beauties of the time period like Audrey Hepburn and Princess Grace Kelly. Cinderella isn’t cut out for all this artifice, and her costumes reflect that.

What can Edmonton audiences look forward to with the production of Cinderella?

We are very fortunate to present a new production of Rossini’s opera! We have a fantastic team, including local seamstresses, cutters, and more who will build the costumes here in the shop, and also work directly with singers and their body types to adjust the costumes as rehearsals begin.

The designs for Cinderella are quite magical and fresh. The production elements give singers lots of room to move around and play and be comedic. I think Cinderella will be a fun little treat in the middle of winter for our Edmonton audiences. 

Wrestling With history: the origins of Turandot

Monday, August 22. 2016

                                                                                                                                                       Puccini’s final opera, Turandot (1926), is based on Carlo Gozzi’s play of the same name (1762). Gozzi, however, was himself inspired by a story found in François Pétis de la Croix’s collection of writings from 1712.

Pétis de la Croix was a French traveller who made his way across the Middle East, learning Arabic and translating important cultural works into French. While writing a biography of the great Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, Pétis de la Croix stumbled upon the exciting history of a warrior princess named Khutulun.

Khutulun was a Mongol princess born in 1260. Her father, Kaidu Khan, was the Mongol conqueror of China and the great-grandson of Genghis Khan. Khutulun often joined Kaidu on the battlefield, becoming known for her courage and strength. Her greatest claim to fame, however, was her skill as a wrestler — Khutulun was the undefeated wrestling champion of the Mongol Empire.

Khutlun’s achievements are well documented, including by the Italian explorer Marco Polo. He wrote of Khutulun’s resolve to abstain from marriage, vowing that she would only marry if the suitor could defeat her in a wrestling match. Not only that, Khutulun asked each suitor to wager 100 horses before stepping into the ring. If he lost, she would keep the horses. And she did.

Khutulun’s beauty attracted suitors from far and wide, but she kept winning and ultimately ended up with some 10,000 horses! (That number is likely a slight exaggeration). One particularly arrogant suitor even wagered 1000 horses instead of the usual hundred, but despite putting up a good fight, he lost to Khutulun.

Eventually, Khutulun did marry, but not just for love. Since she had refrained from marriage for so long, rumours started swirling that Khutulun had an uncomfortably close relationship with her father Kaidu. To suppress this gossip and to uphold the kingdom’s reputation, Khutulun chose a man she liked and married him.

When Pétis de la Croix learned of Khutulun’s legendary status, he was inspired to write a story about her. For dramatic effect and to make Khutulun’s tale more fantastical, he significantly altered a lot of details. Firstly, he changed her name to ‘Turandot’, a combination of Persian words meaning daughter (dot) from Central Asia (Turan). Turandot also had nothing to do with wrestling or sport; instead of challenging suitors in the ring, she now threw impossibly difficult riddles at them.

Although Pétis de la Croix created a new character that was very distinct from Khutulun, his story did maintain her portrayal as resolute and strong-willed. In all subsequent adaptations, including Puccini’s opera, Turandot is a figure of authority that cannot be underestimated.

While the story of Khutulun has evolved, passing through centuries of Western orientalist fantasy, her heroism is still the stuff of legend in cultures that trace their roots to the Mongol Empire.

Even in contemporary popular culture, Khutulun has made a comeback — Netflix’s internationally produced $90 million series Marco Polo features Khutulun prominently.

So what makes Khutulun’s story endure? Perhaps it is the sheer defiance with which she lived; an attitude that Marco Polo notes: Khutulun would never let herself be vanquished, if she could help it.


Carnincic, H., A. Penjak, and M. Cavala. "Pink-blue Gender Labelling: An Overview of the Origins of Inequality in Women's Wrestling." Anthropologist 24.3 (2016): 844-52.

Director Rob Herriot talks Turandot

Monday, August 22. 2016

                                                                                                                                                                This October, Edmonton Opera presents the highly anticipated production of Puccini's Turandot, starring soprano Othalie Graham in the title role. This opera, which Puccini left incomplete because of his untimely death, is arguably his best work and has seen thousands of revivals around the world. At the helm of Edmonton Opera's upcoming production is Rob Herriot, who previously directed 2015's The Magic Flute. He shares his thoughts on Puccini's grandest opera, the incredible design, and what audiences can expect from Edmonton Opera's Turandot

What can audiences look forward to with Turandot?

I am very excited about Turandot because it brings a vibrant production to Edmonton Opera that is traditional, yet not traditional. The scenery design reflects the ancient fairytale world that the opera takes place in — the iconic dragon and the pearl of wisdom are focal points that tell the story. We also have a remarkable cast that will make the music come alive and, of course, Puccini’s music itself is one of his best compositions. So when you bring the scenery, music, and stellar singing together, you have a pretty wonderful evening to look forward to.

How do you think the scenery and costumes (originally designed by Allen Charles Klein) support the narrative of Turandot?

From a technical point of view, the set design gives me lots of places to put singers where they can be seen and heard, against a backdrop that is very beautiful and does, in fact, help tell the story. Some sets and costumes are purely functional and sometimes get in the way of storytelling, but this is the perfect example of designs that support the narrative and action in every way, while giving us something pretty to look at.

How do you approach the character of Turandot?

I love the character of Turandot. Her strength and her fierceness are amazing, but what I always find troublesome is her sudden transition from a place of fierceness to this loving, soft woman. The journey I want to see is the ice melting: both elements, the steadfast anger and the loving heart, have to be present from the start in order to make the character believable. Of course, her anger is a lot more obvious throughout the opera, but without multiple layers the character of Turandot can become very black and white. As a director, it is very exciting for me to be given this character as it allows me to work with the singer to try and find those layers.

Have you worked with our Turandot (Othalie Graham) and Calaf (David Pomeroy) before?

I only know Othalie by reputation, and I hear she is a terribly exciting singer. She has performed the role of Turandot many, many times and will bring a world of magic to this production. I have known David Pomeroy for a long time; in fact, we went to opera school in Toronto together. He is a remarkable singer, and he only gets better with age. This is David’s role debut as Calaf, and it is extremely exciting for me to be able to work with him on it.

How does Turandot highlight the best of Puccini’s music?

Turandot was the last opera Puccini wrote, and towards the end, he was able to compose some very dynamic music because he started choosing characters and stories that were strong and interesting. In Turandot, Puccini adds a mixture of anger and softness into a character who cannot admit that she is in love. This infuses the music with a whole new intensity. It captures the terrifying fierceness of Turandot while bringing joyous music in Calaf’s soaring ‘Nessun dorma’. The tender and moving music of Liu and Timur also contrasts with Turandot’s anger. The score is thus full of energy and takes you on a very dramatic journey.

What makes Turandot the must-see opera this year?

The spectacle in Turandot is something that you have to experience live to believe. The music is highly demanding, which for me is like witnessing an Olympic sport. I want to see the singers soar and I want to see them triumph over the music, because when that happens, it is absolutely glorious. Especially if you are a first time operagoer, Turandot is a must-see. It brings an evening of exciting energy and vocal gymnastics, and you will certainly leave the theatre humming Puccini’s sublime tunes.

To watch Rob Herriot talk about Turandot, visit our YouTube channel.

Photo by Reed Hummell, Nashville Opera's Turandot.

Q&A with Summer Arts Administration Assistant Kendra Litwin!

Friday, August 12. 2016

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks to the Canada Summer Jobs program, Kendra Litwin joins the Edmonton Opera team this year as an Arts Administration Assistant. Designed to provide students experience within their field, the program enables not-for-profit organizations like ours to employ young people and further their professional development. This summer, Edmonton Opera has also welcomed Connor MacDonald to the team as a Production Assistant through the same program. 

We asked Kendra to share some insights about her summer as Arts Admin Assistant. Read on to discover how this enthusiastic young professional sums up her experience at Edmonton Opera!

How did you hear about the job posting at Edmonton Opera?

I’m a music student at the University of Alberta, and the Voice Department had shared the job posting with its students. I was chatting with a friend of mine in the Voice Department about having difficulties finding an interesting summer job related to my field, and she told me about the opportunity with Edmonton Opera.

What did you know about the organization beforehand, and how did that factor into your decision to apply?

I didn’t know much about opera before applying – I had been to a couple of Edmonton Opera’s productions, but that was it. Because of my inexperience, there was a small part of me that was actually hesitant to apply, and I questioned if I could do the job, knowing so little about opera. Thankfully there was another part of me that wanted to try something different, learn new skills, and grow personally and professionally.

Describe your educational background and your career interests.

I’m finishing up my Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance this year, after which I plan to enter Bachelor of Education After-Degree program. That being said, after working with Edmonton Opera this summer, I’ve gained an interest in the possibility of pursuing arts administration as a career.

How has working as the Summer Arts Admin Assistant honed your skills, and what new possibilities have you discovered?

This summer I have refined many of my existing administrative skills such as communication, organization and filing, and educational programming, as well as garnered new experiences in contract creation, personnel management, community building, and so much more. I’m looking forward to acquiring training on our database system, and have discovered more about what work in arts administration might look like, should I choose to pursue it.

What do you like best about working with Edmonton Opera?

Well, the office cat certainly brightens my day. In all seriousness, I’ve loved seeing a new side of what goes into a production. In the past, I have been a part of pit orchestras, musical casts, and helped out technical theatre assistants, but never really had the opportunity to see all of the behind-the-scenes administrative work that goes into a production. It’s been a truly incredible experience for me to be even a small part of it all.

How important do you think initiatives such as the Canada Summer Jobs program are? How do young people and arts organizations benefit?

I think programs like this are incredibly important! They present an amazing opportunity for students to get involved in organizations that they are interested in, work in a field related to their study, and gain applicable skills for when they graduate and enter the professional world.

Practically, most arts organizations are not-for-profit organizations and initiatives such as Canada Summer Jobs provide funding for some much-needed help in the summer to prepare for the upcoming season. It also gives the organization a very unique opportunity to reach out to younger generations and to have a direct and unforgettable impact in the personal and professional development of students.

In your opinion, how does opera impact the Edmonton community?

Edmonton is a fairly arts-heavy city: we have the one of the largest Fringe Theatre Festivals in North America, a number of music festivals in the summer, and visits from performance companies like Alberta Ballet and Broadway Across Canada. Opera is one more facet of the rich arts culture present in Edmonton, and one that I wish more people would take the time to discover and experience.

I firmly believe that participation in any form of art is good for the soul, whether you’re watching a play at Fringe, going to the Art Gallery of Alberta, seeing the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra perform, or attending one of Edmonton Opera’s shows this season. Artistic expression is a catalyst for personal development: it provides discussion points and stimulates necessary cultural engagement on an individual and societal level.

I have had the chance to see firsthand just how invested Edmonton Opera is in building community within the city. From planning outreach events in schools and universities, to taking up residence at a few local Farmers' Markets this summer, they are constantly trying to be present in our city. They create educational opportunities by inviting schools to the final dress rehearsal of each production, and provide curriculum-based activities for teachers to do with students to help them understand the opera more. Edmonton Opera is an organization that tries to be as accessible and present in the community as possible. Opera is an incredible art form: the stories presented are fantastic, the sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous, and they often have a very applicable moral or a critical issue to be discussed.

Any concluding thoughts you’d like to share?

My experiences here at Edmonton Opera have been so great – the people here are incredible, and I’ve learned so much. This upcoming season will be awe-inspiring, so I would really recommend to anyone even a little bit curious about opera to attend one of our productions.

To learn more about the Canada Summer Jobs program, visit the Service Canada page or view the 2016 News Release.

Meet the Canadians!

Friday, July 1. 2016

Opera is an international art form, and we bring the finest singers from around the world to the Jubilee stage each season. We are always committed, however, to showcasing Canadian talent as well. In the 2016/17 season, you will enjoy some of Canada's best, and they promise to (politely) bring the house down!

Here are just a few of the Canadians you can look forward to this year!

Othalie Graham

We are so thrilled to have this Canadian-American soprano in the role of Turandot. Othalie Graham grew up in Brampton, Ontario, where she first felt her operatic impulses. After years of training in the U.S. and launching a successful opera career, she marks her Canadian debut with Turandot this October.

Krisztina Szabó

This mezzo-soprano is a familiar face on the Canadian opera scene, having performed in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. She hails from Mississauga, Ontario, and is coveted not just nationally but across North America and Europe. Szabó will charm audiences this February as Cinderella!

Geoffrey Sirett

Award-winning baritone and Kingston native Geoffrey Sirett is now a regular face at Edmonton Opera, having sung in Carmen and The Merry Widow this past season. In the 2016/17 season, he will be part of Turandot as Ping, a member of the comical trio, and Elektra as Orest, the titular character's tormented and vengeful brother. We look forward to his vibrant presence on the Jubilee stage again!

Elizabeth Turnbull

A Voice instructor at the University of Alberta and active member of the arts community, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Turnbull will play Klytämnestra in our production of Elektra. Loved by her students and always beacon of energy on stage, Turnbull is an integral part of building Canadian opera culture, through both pedagogy and practice. 

Artist Spotlight: Othalie Graham

Thursday, June 16. 2016

While soprano Othalie Graham has travelled around the world and sung the role of Turandot to immense acclaim, her performance in Edmonton Opera’s Turandot will be a momentous event for one reason: this production marks Ontario-born Graham’s Canadian debut.

Indeed, after leaving Canada to attend the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, Graham stayed on in the United States, beginning a successful career that took her to opera houses across America and beyond. Her repertoire features a lot of Wagner, with some Verdi influences, but Graham is most widely known for her compelling portrayal of Turandot, a role that is exceedingly difficult to master.

Given the sheer number of times she has been invited to perform Turandot, it is clear that Graham has achieved this mastery. Opera News praised her as “a vocally secure Turandot, her gleaming tones well suited to the ice princess’s misanthropic resolve,” adding that “the part is, in many ways, an unsympathetic one, but Graham’s interpretation was engaging to watch.”

Naturally, Edmonton Opera’s Turandot served as the perfect opportunity to host this soprano star’s homecoming; for the first time, Othalie Graham will grace the Canadian stage, performing her signature role for Edmonton audiences this October. As the cold-hearted princess who torments her suitors and refuses to fall in love, Graham’s Turandot is set to dazzle Canadians with her unique interpretation. In a recent interview with Opera Canada, Graham says that she prefers not to sing Turandot as “this screamy, icy princess,” adding that she likes to keep the character “as youthful and beautiful as possible.”

We are thrilled to introduce this operatic tour-de-force to our audience! Her burgeoning career is poised to make an impact on Canada’s opera scene for years to come. 

Mary Stuart Q&A with Kathryn Lewek

Tuesday, April 12. 2016

The historical figure of Mary Stuart is quite controversial, and there’s always the question of whether or not she deserved to be executed. How do you address this “grey character area” in your interpretation of Maria? 

I’ve always been fascinated with Mary Stuart’s story, not least because it remains shrouded in mystery even after half a millennium. There has been endless speculation over the last 500 years, but to me the evidence remains inconclusive as to Mary’s involvement in the murder of her husband and if she had any intentions of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I. Historians have split in their assessments of Mary over the years, often betraying a bias toward their own religious tradition or general views of English history. I can’t say that either side has convinced me fully. Given that, I’ve chosen to portray Mary in the way that Donizetti has represented her: innocent of any crime, but anxious and guilty of her poor judgement at times. He also sees in her a profound sadness for the misfortunes that have befallen those around her, simply because she exists.

You are one of the most promising coloratura sopranos of this generation. What is the most exciting (or challenging) part about singing Donizetti’s specific style of dramatic bel canto opera?

Having lived so long in Mozart’s perfect universe of specificity, it’s both daunting and rewarding to move to the freewheeling, improvisational world of bel canto. Donizetti allows us singers so much flexibility to shape the role as we see fit, but with that freedom comes responsibility. We have to understand intimately the style of bel canto, Donizetti’s compositional techniques and the character. It’s my job as an artist to excite my audience with a fresh and personal perspective on this role, while acknowledging that pushing the boundaries of expression requires a secure knowledge of those boundaries.


Wednesday, March 16. 2016

The plot of Donizetti’s stellar opera Mary Stuart centres on the meeting of rival cousins Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots), and their subsequent dramatic fallout.

Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart are, of course, important characters from English history and their eventful lives have been thoroughly documented. But while their conflict was real, mostly because Elizabeth suspected Mary of eyeing her throne, the two queens never actually met!

Donizetti based his opera on Friedrich von Schiller’s German play of the same name, which was part of a newfound popular culture obsession with 16th century England. Across Europe in the 1800’s, largely because of a revival of Shakespeare’s plays, people were captivated by the controversial lives of British monarchs. 

Donizetti’s fascination with the queens and their rivalry, however, developed into an operatic “what if?” scenario: the two cousins meet, exchange arguments, invoke jealousy, threaten consequences, and Mary even kneels for forgiveness; giving Donizetti a diverse range of emotions to set to music. For good measure, he throws in a love triangle.

But the drama doesn’t end there. In fact, many of the theatrics around Mary Stuart took place away from the stage.

Donizetti faced a remarkable number of obstacles in getting his opera mounted. Not only did censors give him a tough time, but the sopranos singing Mary and Elizabeth despised each other passionately, and could barely stand to work together. To add to the chaos, when the opera was about to premiere in 1834, the king of Naples happened to check in on a dress rehearsal. His wife, who was a direct descendant of Mary Stuart, was absolutely scandalized by the content and is said to have had a fainting fit! Naturally, the show was cancelled.

Forced to adapt to his misfortune, Donizetti rebranded the opera and created a new title, Buondelmonte, and changed the names of the rival queens. The opera flopped terribly and was cancelled after six performances.

Determined to make his work succeed, Donizetti left Naples and premiered Mary Stuart in Milan in 1835. But the performances were reportedly uninspired, and the soprano singing Mary used the words vil bastarda (vile bastard) to insult Elizabeth during the performance. The censors had warned against singing those words, but the soprano ignored them. Both the audience and censors shut down the production.

Donizetti did not see a successful run of Mary Stuart in his lifetime. It was performed a few times over the years but never left an impression. It remains a mystery as to why audiences failed to pay attention to this highly dramatic and effortlessly crafted bel canto opera; perhaps the timing and circumstances were never right.

But beginning the 1960’s, Mary Stuart was rediscovered and has finally been receiving the appreciation it deserves. In recent years, the rival queens have taken several sold out houses across the world by storm; audiences are enthralled by the queens’ fierce confrontation, and they applaud the liberties Donizetti took with history to create this emotive and extravagant masterpiece.

If the tensions and chaos that went into staging Mary Stuart are any indication, this opera is bound to quench your thirst for drama. 

Edmonton Opera presents the Alberta premiere of Mary Stuart at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Saturday April 16, Tuesday April 19, and Thursday April 21, 2016. Tickets can be purchased online at edmontonopera.com, or by calling our box office at 780.429.1000 from Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Duelling divas in EO's Maria Stuarda

Monday, August 24. 2015

Carmen (February 2016) has only one fiery diva, but trouble multiplies in Maria Stuarda (April 2016) as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth I clash in a fictional, desperate struggle for political power.

Director Maria Lamont said she was intrigued by Donizetti's dramatic storytelling and the way he linked the fates of the two queens. The research required for Maria Stuarda resulted in an overwhelming amount of information about books, biographies, novels, television programs and documentaries, Lamont said. But, she added, she found herself looking at the Tudor-era portraits of Elizabeth and Mary over and over again.

The production is set in a gallery in an old Tudor mansion, and the museum staff are preparing an exhibition on the two queens. Over the course of the story, the design team played with the idea that art becomes life, and life becomes art.

The opera is played out as a love triangle between Mary, Elizabeth and Lord Leicester, Lamont explained, but the real tragedy is actually a love triangle between the two queens and the British throne. Even though Elizabeth realizes that beheading Mary carries implications, Elizabeth is furious that Mary is trying to rob her of both her crown and the man she loves. The story moves along in an exciting and theatrical way, Lamont continued, even though Donizetti took some liberties with the historical story.

Donizetti's opera, considered "singers' operas" are currently undergoing a well-deserved revival, including at Edmonton Opera, with Lucia di Lammermoor performed in April 2015 and Maria Stuarda at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium April 16, 19 and 21, 2016.

Compared to Lucia, which features a coloratura soprano with a tenor and a baritone, the women dominate vocally in Maria Stuarda, Lamont said.

"Donizetti is known as a singer's composer, and this is never truer to be found than in the virtuosic bel canto vocal music he created for these two remarkable women," Lamont wrote in her director's statement.

Behind the characters, the artists are just as remarkable — soprano Kathryn Lewek (Maria) is considered the world's reigning Queen of the Night, and as Elisabetta, Keri Alkema is a powerful, acclaimed soprano, both lending credibility to the explosive rivalry between the two monarchs.

"One is continually confronted by what connects these two queens, and also what made them so different and so unique," Lamont said.

Donizetti knew exactly how to build on a dramatic moment, leaving the audience captivated with the historical legacies featured in his bel canto masterpiece — and the perfect note on which to close the 2015/16 season.

Edmonton Opera presents Maria Stuarda at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Saturday, April 16, Tuesday, April 19, and Thursday, April 21, 2016. Subscriptions for the entire season, as well as single tickets for The Merry Widow (October 2015), Carmen (February 2016) and Maria Stuarda can be purchased online at edmontonopera.com, by visiting the box office in the Tix on the Square building on Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton or by calling the box office at 780-429-1000.

EO announces new concept for 'dangerously seductive' opera

Thursday, August 20. 2015

There are hundreds of images of the same bullring in Spain, but it was the particular perspective of one photograph that caught Maria Lamont's attention when doing research for Edmonton Opera's new Carmen.

"I love that image of the audience and the bullring, and there's this place in between, this curve that connoted to me fate and destiny, and was such a big part of the story as well, so it was just a multi-layered image that spoke very clearly to me," said Lamont, the director for the January 2016 production.

The photo provided the inspiration for the last act of Georges Bizet's four-act opera, and from there, Lamont, along with scenery designer Camellia Koo and costume designer Deanna Finnman, worked backwards to create a new production that places the action within the tumultuous years leading up to the Spanish Civil War.

Not only does the growing political tension at the time heighten Carmen's dangerous and daring atmosphere, but Lamont also drew a parallel on a deeper level.

"It struck me as a metaphor for the relationship between Don José and Carmen," she said. "What happened in Spain in the '30s was incredibly destructive, it was a great tragedy — even though one side technically won, the country lost."

Peter Dala, who will conduct Géraldine Chauvet (Carmen), Jeffrey Gwaltney (Don José), Gregory Dahl (Escamillo), Lida Szkwarek (Micaela) and Catherine Daniel (Mercedes), along with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, added that Bizet's composition has ensured the opera's longevity.

"The interesting thing is that Bizet, as a Frenchman, wrote incredibly Spanish-sounding music," Dala said. "The colourings of the score are really what [have] carried the opera for 140 years. The characters are beautiful, they're universal characters — you have this Carmen who has an agenda, and just burns everything around her for what she wants."

For Finnman to create costumes that are extensions of the characters' actions, Lamont explained that the design team has to get inside the characters' heads.

"For Carmen, I didn't want her to be a conventional seductress, but she has to be incredibly attractive," Lamont said. "We have to understand why she radiates this charisma and draws everyone to her."

Knowing that Carmen's fate cannot be averted, Lamont, Koo and Finnman were also able to incorporate the curvature of the bullring into the different scenery of each act, indicating destiny's path. It also helps to create a cohesive, visual throughline, Koo said.

The conversation between scenery and costume design is constantly ongoing, Koo continued, noting that if Finnman knows what Koo is planning and vice versa, the process is that much smoother. Since the three women live in different cities, they found an unorthodox solution to document their visual research and inspirations.

"I'd never used Pinterest before, and now I'm a Pinterest addict," Finnman said with a laugh. "It's fantastic. There's only so much you can say verbally, whereas a visual gives a much clearer interpretation of what you want."

In her research, Finnman captured an overall idea of what people were wearing at the time, before starting to look at individual characters. She has also read a lot about toreador jackets, and though she says she's far from being an expert, the intricacies of the jackets are extraordinary.

"They have to look beautiful, and there's a lot of history in there, but they also have to perform functionally," she said. "[The toreadors] have to be able to move in them, wear those tight pants and be able to do lunges and kicks, and apparently it's a challenge to get the blood out. So they have all the same challenges that we do in theatre, in a way — it's a theatrical experience."

That description of beauty, history and functionality also works for what the design team is trying to bring to this new production of Carmen — as perhaps the world's most famous opera, it's always worth re-experiencing. 

Lamont — as someone who works in opera, she pointed out — agreed.

"It's one of those pieces, brilliantly constructed and beautifully orchestrated; it has everything going for it."

It's a universal story, she continued, that can be adjusted to reflect perspectives and concerns, and that's what makes it worth seeing again. 

"You come out, not only whistling the tunes, but you feel like you've been through something that tells you about life today, and that's why we go to theatre," she said.

"And I do consider opera theatre, I think it's one thing, I don't think they're separate. I think that opera, it doesn't live if it's not theatrical, and that's when the best productions happen."

Edmonton Opera presents Carmen at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Saturday, Jan. 30, Tuesday, Feb. 2, and Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. Subscriptions for the entire season, as well as single tickets for The Merry Widow (October 2015), Carmen and Maria Stuarda (April 2016) can be purchased online at edmontonopera.com, by visiting the box office in the Tix on the Square building on Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton or by calling the box office at 780-429-1000. 

Merry Widow starts 2015/16 season on whimsical note

Tuesday, August 11. 2015

Join us to experience the operatic scandals of epic proportions in Edmonton Opera's new season, where infidelity, betrayal, power struggles and murder fuel intense emotions.

There's a tantalizing plot that bubbles below the surface of Franz Lehár's light-hearted waltzes, creating an intrigue in The Merry Widow that is augmented by the catchy music.

"Sometimes you go to an opera and it's very psychological, it's based on some character's mental state, and I find that, given the subject matter of [The Merry Widow] and the way the music presents itself, it's very physical," said director Brent Krysa, who will direct in Edmonton for the first time in October 2015. 

"That's where I feel the strength of the piece lies — it lies in the way you feel the music; instead of listening to the music, you feel the movement of the music."

All of Paris' eligible bachelors are begging for a spot on the widow Hanna's dance card — and Canadian soprano Sally Dibblee personifies the charm of the character perfectly — but it would spell financial ruin for Hanna's native country of Pontevedro if she were to fall in love with a foreigner.

Comic attempts to marry her off to the "right" man during the Belle Époque culminate in a raucous can-can at Chez Maxim's, when Hanna reveals that she was ahead of the game all along.

"It's a window into a part of life, into society that you normally wouldn't see," said Peter Dala, Edmonton Opera's resident conductor and chorusmaster. "It's hidden, and anything hidden is worth looking into. It's all very pretty and the music is infectious, with waltzes, can-cans and dreamy melodies, but even in the simplest stories, there's an undercurrent. That's the beauty of it, I think."

The story is silly, added Krysa, but there is a significant amount of spectacle, creating a grand opera experience with a large principal cast and chorus. It's also a similar time period and location as Moulin Rouge, he continued. 

By the time Lehár wrote The Merry Widow in 1905, he was alreadt an established composer, but this operetta was his first runaway success, where he fused comedy, romance and sentiment with a light touch, resulting in a quintessentially Viennese piece.

"I think if you're [also] doing Carmen and Maria Stuarda [this season], in Carmen, the audience is going to expect to hear all the tunes they know, and I think in The Merry Widow, they'll be surprised at how many tunes they know," Krysa said, specifically naming "The Merry Widow Waltz" as a recognizable piece. 

"It's the type of opera you go to, and you say, 'Hey, I know that. I don't know where I know that from, but I definitely know the music." 

Edmonton Opera presents The Merry Widow at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium Saturday Oct. 24, Tuesday, Oct. 27, and Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. Both subscriptions for the entire season and single tickets for The Merry Widow can be purchased online at edmontonopera.com, by visiting the box office in the Tix in the Square building on Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton or by calling the box office at 780-429-1000.