Edmonton Opera Blog

Moving "Lucia" into the Jube

Friday, April 10. 2015

Reposted with permission from Production Assistant Life. This round we are doing Lucia di Lammermoor which, in brief, is the story of a young girl forced to marry against her will and the tragic events that ensue. (I'll have more details once onstage rehearsals start on Saturday.)

For this show, we rented the set and costumes from our friends at Seattle Opera. The set itself is made mostly out of steel so it is one heavy beast of a show (I know this not because I lifted anything, but because I listened to eight guys whine about how heavy it was during the truck swap). It's also quite high and wide, so it takes up most of the Jubilee stage, and I'm here to tell give you a rough play-by-play of what all goes into bringing a show like this from our shop to the stage.

We started this morning by hanging al of the motors we're going to be using, to raise the set pieces up into the air. Geoff and his crew worked off of the plot and got it done in a snap.

We then had a couple of hours for lunch (joys of finishing early) and then got right back into it by unloading the three scenery trucks from Seattle and filling the Jube's loading dock to the brim. This is usually where I try to be helpful and point the truck loaders/carpenters in the right direction to drop their pieces off, but this time proved to be a bit more challenging. Not only are the pieces fabricated mostly of (heavy) steel, but a lot of them are the same colour but a different shape, and sometimes though they have the same letter code, they go into different piles.

Thankfully for me (and the guys who would be cursing me if I sent them in the wrong direction), we had the help of Jason, the set supervisor from Seattle. As Geoff (carpentry) and Alison (LX = lights) worked on deck (or the stage) with their crews, Jason and I tried to guide the truck loaders as best as we could — which also meant a lot of shuffling things around in the loading bay. Essentially, a travelling show is like a puzzle that can be put back together in more than one way — in a truck, in multiple piles or on a stage — and the only variable that really matters is space.

Another major part of move-in day is where Alison shines (pun totally intended), and it's the lighting move/hang. At Edmonton Opera (and I'm sure most other places), this typically happens in conjunction with the set install, so there can be up to 40 people on stage during this. The most important part of working on a show like this — as far as I'm concerned, at least — is team work. No one can hang a 50'x50' drop on a pipe by themselves and even if they could, it's much better with a friend, or 39.

Back to lighting. Alison and Bud (her assistant head LX) work together with their crew, the lighting designer (for this show, it's David Fraser) and Kevin, the Jube lighting tech, to make the designer's vision come to life. They start by lowering in pipes (or bridges or booms, depending on the plot) and moving the lamps to wherever their new position is. From there, they connect each lamp to a power source and its DMX channel(s) and then relay that information back to Kevin, who works on the patch. Once everything is plugged, patched and ready to go, we can start programming the various lighting cues actually needed for the show.

So that's a bit of what we did on Thursday! We're about to break for dinner and I'm going to head to the shop tonight to pick up our label maker and then come back for the last four hours of install for today, before starting all over again tomorrow!

10 questions with Simone Osborne

Monday, April 6. 2015

Soprano Simone Osborne makes her role and company debut at Edmonton Opera in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor this April. The Canadian soprano is an alumna of the esteemed Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble, and was one of the youngest winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. 

Have you performed in Edmonton before?

Yes, I have performed in Edmonton before. The first time I was here as a young student taking part in the Opera NUOVA summer training program. I was only 20 years old but had the opportunity to sing the title role in the Czech opera The Bartered Bride. I spent an incredible summer in Edmonton, learned a whole lot of Czech and explored all of the amazing shopping on Whyte Ave. The second time was shortly after that, I had just won the Metropolitan National Council auditions in New York and a big season of engagements came my way. One of them was with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra singing Bach and Mozart. It was a wonderful experience and I was happy to be back in Edmonton.

Do you have a personal connection with Lucia di Lammermoor?

This is a big role debut for me. That comes with some extra excitement. I remember being an undergrad student and picking up an anthology of coloratura arias. I was skimming through it, and came to Lucia's mad scene. I distinctly remember thinking, "Oh, I could never sing that ..." It was so high, so exposed, so many notes! Hopefully, opening night in Edmonton ... it will remind me never say never!

Please describe your character.

Lucia is a young, passionate woman torn between great love and a great sense of duty to her family. She is pushed to the brink over the course of the opera and loses her mind — literally! Cue 20-minute mad scene ...

What first interested you in opera?

When i first started singing lessons I just loved to sing. But when I was introduced to classical music, I fell in love with the challenges the languages and styles presented and the technical ability it took to master the craft of classical singing. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment?

Is there anything else interesting we should know about you?

I'm half Iranian, half Icelandic. My seven-pound Morkie, Gatsby, travels the world with me when I am working.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

I like to wake up as late as possible, go for a nice walk to start my day, do some yoga and stretching to prepare for the evening show. There's lots of hydrating and a good protein-filled meal before heading to the theatre. Every night I stop in the wings, before my first entrance, and thank my lucky stars for the opportunity to step out on that stage ...

Which movie would make a great opera?

To Kill a Mockingbird. Although Zoolander the opera might prove to be comedic.

Which composer is your favourite and why?

That's an impossible question! Mozart, Verdi, Debussy, Schumann, Stravinsky ... I tend to fall in love with whatever I am working on at the time, but it would be impossible pick a favourite.

What is the biggest challenge with being an opera singer?

The most difficult part of what we do is definitely being away from home for important life events. It's hard to keep personal relationships, even family and good friendships together when one spends most of the year on the road, living out of suitcases. I have missed countless birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and celebrations when I was away on a job. But I try to always look on the bright side and be grateful for the opportunity to see the world while doing something I love.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

I never understood this piece of advice when I was a younger singer, but it really is true: unless you have to sing opera, find something else to pursue. This is a gruelling, all-encompassing career. If you do decide to follow your dream, keep your head down, work as hard as you possibly can. Don't worry about what everyone is doing or singing, just stick to your own, individual path and work to become the best musician and artist you can be.

"Lucia di Lammermoor" is at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium April 18 (8 p.m.), April 21 (7:30 p.m.) and April 23 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased online at edmontonopera.com or by calling the box office at 780.429.1000. 

Magic Flute artist Q&A: favourite composers

Wednesday, January 28. 2015

Over the course of three performances, Mozart's Magic Flute characters cast their spell on Edmonton audiences. But what about the stories of the opera singers behind those characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that cast members have submitted.

Which composer is your favourite and why?

I adore Mozart because when I listen to his music, I can't think of a single possible improvement that could be made. –Tanya Roberts (Second Lady)

My favourite composer is Bellini, because I love singing long, flowing melodies. Bel canto is the best. –Adam Luther (Tamino)

It's hard to decide. Top two are Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. –Betty Waynne Allison (First Lady)

I don't think I can pick just one. Strauss, Verdi, Puccini, Stravinsky. –Neil Craighead (Sarastro)

Bizet — his music is very lush and very satisfying to sing. –Catherine Daniel (Third Lady)

I always find this question tricky. There are so many styles of operatic composition that it is impossible to love just one composer exclusively. So, Mozart, Donizetti, Wagner and Strauss. Each one represents a different style. –Rob Herriot (director)

Way too difficult to choose. But if I must, I guess I'd say Mozart is my favourite. I love the forms of his compositions, and find his setting of texts really show the subtext of the characters' thoughts as well. Every time I come back to singing Mozart it just feels right. –Jessica Muirhead (Pamina)

Edmonton Opera's "The Magic Flute" opens with a sold-out performance on Jan. 31, 2015 (8 p.m.), with additional performances on Feb. 3, 2015 (7:30 p.m.), and Feb. 5, 2015 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are available online at edmontonopera.com or by calling the box office at 780-429-1000. 

Magic Flute artist Q&A: opera highlights

Monday, January 26. 2015

Over the course of three performances, Mozart's Magic Flute characters cast their spell on Edmonton audiences. But what about the stories of the opera singers behind those characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that cast members have submitted.

Is there a particular part of in The Magic Flute that you're looking forward to?

I'm looking forward ti the final scene in which the Three Ladies appear. We try to sneak into the temple, only to meet doom and our destruction! I don't know what the director has in mind, but I hope it involves lots of smoke and lightning. –Tanya Roberts (Second Lady)

Working as a trio is always extra interesting and fun. –Betty Waynne Allison (First Lady)

I always enjoy my first entrance to the stage. There's a lot of pomp with a chorus and brass instruments, usually a bright lighting cue. I also really enjoy the fugue at the beginning of the armed guards' duet in the second act. –Neil Craighead (Sarastro)

The first trio for sure! The Three Ladies get to manhandle Tamino and the poor tenor has to pretend to be asleep. –Catherine Daniel (Third Lady)

My favourite scene is my attempted suicide, where the Three Spirits are watching and eventually save me from myself. The music is stunning, and I find I'm always covered in goosebumps when the Spirits are singing! –Jessica Muirhead (Pamina)

Edmonton Opera's "The Magic Flute" opens with a sold-out performance on Jan. 31, 2015 (8 p.m.), with additional performances on Feb. 3, 2015 (7:30 p.m.), and Feb. 5, 2015 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are available online at edmontonopera.com or by calling the box office at 780-429-1000. 

Magic Flute artist Q&A: Edmonton memories

Sunday, January 25. 2015

Over the course of three performances, Mozart's Magic Flute characters cast their spell on Edmonton audiences. But what about the stories of the opera singers behind those characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that cast members have submitted.

Have you performed in Edmonton before? If so, please note the production you were here for, the year and any memories from the trip.

I survived my first winter in Edmonton (Die Fledermaus, February 2014). I left Chicago expecting arctic conditions in Edmonton, only to be greeted with an unseasonably mild winter. –Tanya Roberts (Second Lady)

Die Fledermaus last season. It was such a playful and interesting production combined with a supportive company that it didn't scare me off of returning to Edmonton in January again to brave the cold! –Betty Waynne Allison (First Lady)

This will be my first time performing with Edmonton Opera. I have been to Edmonton only once as a baby when my parents were looking for somewhere to settle in Canada (we are from England originally). My parents loved Edmonton and Toronto, so looked for work in both cities. Toronto was the first place they found work, so that was how we wound up settling there. Otherwise I could be saying I grew up in Edmonton! –Jessica Muirhead (Pamina)

Edmonton Opera's "The Magic Flute" opens with a sold-out performance on Jan. 31, 2015 (8 p.m.), with additional performances on Feb. 3, 2015 (7:30 p.m.), and Feb. 5, 2015 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are available online at edmontonopera.com or by calling the box office at 780-429-1000. 

Making the magic in Flute

Friday, January 23. 2015

With the holidays over, Santa Claus might want to check out Edmonton Opera’s production facility, as the north-end building could be serious competition for St. Nick’s toy workshop.

Since September, nearly every inch of the production facility has been used to build The Magic Flute — carpenters, welders and painters working on the scenery in the shop, while the wardrobe crew builds costumes at the opposite end of the building.

“We have about 15,000 square feet of floor space dedicated to the scenic shop, and sadly, that is about a quarter of what we seem to need,” said Clayton Rodney, Edmonton Opera’s technical and production director.

“So constantly, what happens is pieces go out on the floor, they get cut, assembled, then they have to wait for the next step so they get disassembled, stored against a wall, then brought back for other phases. So it’s a constant ballet of things moving around.”

Rodney plays a middleman role — once scenery designer Bretta Gerecke supplied him with drawings of the scenery pieces to scale, he was able to create technical drawings in AutoCAD that the carpenters referenced to build each piece.

This design is the product of an award-winning Canadian team — Gerecke worked with director Robert Herriot and costume designer Deanna Finnman to create what they describe as an exotic pop-up storybook world, where everything pops up, drops down or slides in to create a world where the audience doesn’t know what is coming next.

Adding metal to the mix

Once the shop had the technical drawings, work began on two pieces used at the top of the show — metal frames that form six panels upstage, midstage and downstage, and a forest cut out of wood.

The panels open and close throughout the performance, each time reshaping the stage and revealing something new. It’s like turning a page in a pop-up book, Gerecke said.

Welding the aluminum frames was a new skill set for the opera’s welders; the metal was not only a stylistic choice, but a practical one too.

“For aluminum, you think, ‘Oh yeah, it’s aluminum, that will weigh nothing.’ No, they’re a few hundred pounds per panel. Our biggest panels, fully assembled, I’m guessing are around 700 pounds. So not as heavy as steel by any means,” said Rodney, adding that there is also consideration to the weight of the fabric on the panels, the paint and the hardware required to slide the panels.

As both the scenery designer and the lighting designer, Gerecke laughed when she said it poses a unique challenge because she can become angry with herself for putting a scenery piece in the way of a lighting cue.

“The set was designed to be lit,” she said. “Translucent panels, and the panels themselves open and close to reveal various locations, so the joy of this set for me is going to be getting to light it.”

In addition to the frames, three arches were welded for the temple scenes. The triangular structures are wrapped with green poly strapping — the same material used to hold pallets together — creating a twisted vine look.

Welding the various shapes took about 14 weeks, so while the welders sometimes took up the entire shop floor, more often than not they shared the space with another part of the process.

“Two-dimensional storybook thinking”

To start, plywood boards were laid out on the floor, and, with the help of a grid, the head of properties traced the outline of the forest to cut.

“There’s a forest depiction, I think it was in [Rudyard Kipling’s] Just So Stories, and it’s absolutely beautiful — similar, but a bit more romantic and curvilinear,” Gerecke said. “We had a great moment of inspiration of, ‘Well, what if we make that a bit more angular and a bit more powerful?’”

Once the majority of the frames were out of the way, work continued quickly on the rest of the wooden set pieces. The palm trees and rocky staircase are theatre-style flats, while the sun is a TV-style flat —more prominently three-dimensional.

“There are six palm trees — a pair downstage, a pair midstage and a pair upstage,” Rodney said. “Basically, everything in this show creates a forced perspective moving upstage, so the legs taper in, the borders drop slightly. We start with this wide box and it gets smaller as you go on. It’s very much two-dimensional storybook thinking.”

Mid-winter colour therapy

And, he joked, the points on the sun are so sharp that when the Queen of the Night is blinded by the light at the end of the performance, the sun’s rays might skewer her.

“The colour on [the sun] is great,” Rodney said. “I love the colour, it’s so bright, and I’ve seen the costumes that go with it as well, and you might want to bring your sunglasses for that moment.”

The colour palette is reminiscent of warm spice tones, and the way that they blend on the angular scenery pieces was a conscious design decision to create contrast, Gerecke said.

“The colours are fairly bold for this production,” she said. “It will definitely brighten the spirit of everyone who sees it, because it will be February in Edmonton, and who doesn’t want a little colour therapy in February in Edmonton?”

At the end of November, the scenery pieces were moved to the side so that the stage deck assembly could begin (the contraption for the Queen of the Night was the last piece built, in late December and early January). In this production, installing a stage deck on top of the Jubilee stage allows for the use of a trap door, knife tracks that keep scenery pieces on a specific course, concealing pyrotechnics and of course, it’s much easier to paint a travelling stage instead of the Jubilee floor itself.

From start to finish, the entire process is layered, as the costume build started in the middle of the set build, in mid-November. The wardrobe crew will be busy right up until opening night, as every clothing article, including headwear, is made from scratch, instead of modifying existing pieces.

All told, by closing night, more than 50 people — shop, wardrobe and running crews, as well as administration staff — will have had some hand in bringing Mozart’s last opera to life (and that doesn’t even begin to include the 16 principals, 32 chorus members and 50 Edmonton Symphony Orchestra musicians).

In an opera where the word magic is right in the title, Gerecke was the first to admit it during a shop tour in late November: “It’s the magic that’s complicated.”

Edmonton Opera's "The Magic Flute" opens with a sold-out performance Jan. 31, 2015 (8 p.m.) at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, and continues with additional performances on Feb. 3, 2015 (7:30 p.m.) and Feb. 5, 2015 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are available online or by calling 780-429-1000. 

Remembering Irving Guttman

Wednesday, January 21. 2015

Not too many people get one change to build an opera company. Irving Guttman was lucky enough to have three opportunities.

Known as the father of opera in Western Canada, Guttman was closely associated, sometimes simultaneously, with the Edmonton Opera (33 years), Manitoba Opera (21 years) and the Vancouver Opera (16 years) either right from the start, or nearly. He also worked with Saskatchewan Opera (10 years) and Calgary Opera (four years) in addition to directing various productions around the world. He passed away on Dec. 7, 2014, in Vancouver, where he had resided on and off for over 40 years.

But Guttman’s legacy remains strong in Edmonton, where his work as the artistic director from 1965 to 1998 influenced numerous chorus members, artists and staff who remain with the company today.

“Stage managing for Irving was a delight — he worked very quietly — having gained great respect from artists and chorus, all who can get loud and unruly in large group rehearsals,” said Tim Yakimec, who, before becoming Edmonton Opera’s general manager and artistic director, stage managed for the company for 10 years.

“A favourite line he used to mutter only loud enough for my ears was, ‘Oh my God, she’s ruining my opera!’ He would then proceed to work with the individual and fix the scene. He had a great sense of hyperbole — and would never panic — he would methodically fix things. This gave a great sense of trust to all he worked with.”

During his tenure, Guttman was regularly able to convince performers to brave the seasonally bitter cold of the Prairies, and in doing so, introduced Edmontonians to the likes of Montserrat Caballe, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Teresa Stratas, Anna Moffo, Ermanno Mauro, José Carreras, Huguette Tourangeau, Judith Forst, Richard Margison, Marilyn Horne, Louis Quilico and more, many in their Canadian debut.

He loved grand opera — Puccini and Verdi in particular, remembered Betty Kolodziej, an Edmonton Opera chorus member who has performed in more than 90 productions since starting with the chorus in 1974. Many chorus members also remember when he directed them to “Just go over there and do something Egyptian!” during the 1989 production of Aida.

Canadian opera director Brian Deedrick said that from the moment he became interested in opera as a kid in Lacombe, he was aware of Guttman.

As an adult, he found himself in Vancouver during Expo ’86.

“I don’t know where I found the nerve, but I tracked down a phone number for the legendary Irving Guttman and called to ask 'the great man of opera' if he would ever find the time to allow an unknown schmedrick like me to meet with him, and ask questions about this ‘opera stuff,’” Deedrick wrote in an email.

To Deedrick’s surprise and eternal gratitude, Guttman and his partner Robert Dales invited Deedrick to their apartment for an afternoon to talk about opera.

“I knew nothing, except that I loved the art form, and we had an extraordinary and illuminating couple of hours discussing how and if a theatre guy like me could break into, train or learn to enter the world of opera,” Deedrick continued.

Guttman’s willingness to mentor others may have come from his own history — without much of a singing voice, he tried many avenues into the industry before becoming an assistant to the director at the Canadian Opera Company, Herman Geiger Torel.

From there, Guttman would go on to assistant direct and direct his own operas, including televised performances for the CBC.

Another instance of his legend is found with the Montreal Festival: Guttman was asked if he could direct The Marriage of Figaro for them. He was confident enough to answer that he could stage it right then, in the board president’s office, if they so desired. The five-performance run sold out by the second night, and another five nights had to be added. He was asked back the following year to direct Don Giovanni, and remained associated with the festival throughout its lifespan.

“I won’t be remembered for directing a couple of good operas here and there,” Guttman told the Globe and Mail in May 1991, days before his 25th anniversary gala at Edmonton Opera.

“It will be for having started this cultural thing in the West, having kept it alive and well. … I’ve loved opera since I was 13 years old. I have my quiet way of working. I love my work and I’m honest. I care about the art more than about me, but the work rewards me tremendously.”

The Irving Guttman Endownment Fund was established in 1991, and has provided funds for young, local artists to pursue opportunities. Donations to the fund in memory of Irving Guttman can be made by calling 780.392.8719 or online.  

Getting a haircut: Barber of Seville life

Wednesday, October 29. 2014
Reposted with permission from Production Assistant Life blog, Oct. 28, 2014

My my what a busy couple weeks of 8-15 hour days it has been! Over at the opera, we did our load-in, install, piano techs, dress rehearsals and have even had opening night! I’m currently sitting backstage during show no. 2, writing to y’all. I have so many good things I don’t even know where to start, so here I go! (Warning: You’ll have to forgive me for gushing a bit. It’s my very first opera and I have nothing but love and respect for the people who have made it possible for me to be a part of this wonderful team and I gotta brag about 'em a bit!)

We loaded our trucks up at our warehouse on Oct. 16th and if you've ever dreamed of playing life-size Tetris, come work at the opera during a load-out. It’s one long game of ‘How can we make this fit?’ and I hear Clayton always wins.

We started our install the next morning, bright and early. Seeing as it was a rental, we brought in a set supervisor who had installed the show in Vancouver years before to help us set it up. As the various rectangular pieces came off the truck and I looked at the set photos, I really had no idea how it would come together… But! As always, everything has a place and it came together mighty quickly thanks to our hardworking IATSE Local 210 crew!

Since I’m still kinda new around here (six months today!) and sort of finding my place during show times, I got to hang out backstage and watch it come to life. I really enjoyed seeing each of the departments bring their very best to the table and seeing how everything tied together. The exquisite costumes — particularly Rosina’s Carmen dress, the elaborate props (who knew one could fashion a tornado out of silk?), the enormous set being complemented by the mood setting lights (Put together by our terrific lighting designer, and my former instructor and program chair in theatre production at Grant MacEwan University, Geoff George), just everything. Even when I fall into my job a bit more, I’ll never be the one crafting any of these spectacular items, but I have to say watching each piece come to life one by one is good enough for me. (And if I can help them stay on budget, that’s great too.)

A small chunk of my week was also spent ensuring the crew had a quick breakfast to go along with their coffees in the mornings. Each morning I had planned to offer them something different, but I learned pretty quickly that most of the IA crew wants doughnuts over anything else. I adjusted my plan a bit during the week and ended up doing two doughnut days back to back, but everyone was happy and that’s what matters. I’m thinking that for the next show I may have one day where I bring a bit of everything and see what fares well, who eats what, and go from there. I remember the good old days of craft services in Vancouver and the crazy lengths I went through to get that perfect, so for now I want to get comfortable and then blow them all away! One step at a time.

As we rolled into the final rehearsal period of our show, I had the opportunity to work alongside our director, Allison Grant, as her note taker. I have to say, I have not written that feverishly in a long time, and through some miracle she was able to read my writing, so we made a great team. Having the chance to work with someone from the artistic side rather than the production team gave me a different perspective on what I saw on stage and I rather enjoyed it. It’s something I’ll get to repeat on our next two shows, Magic Flute and Lucia di Lammermoor, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Each director I've worked with, even in a small capacity, has taught me a lot and gives me even more of an appreciation for the work they do. Each one has a different style and different goal for each show and being fly on the wall when they make their magic happen is something I wouldn't trade for all the doughnuts at VooDoo Donuts.

Opening night approached ever so quickly, and it was time for me to run out to Leduc once again to rent a backdrop from Look Events for our Edmonton Opera photobooth! Our senior marketing manager, Cameron MacRae, came up with the concept and edited a gorgeous photo of Rosina (Sylvia Szadovszki) into a movie poster that’s used in the show and also for our lovely patrons to pose with. Big thanks to Nanc Price for helping us out by taking photos of everyone and to Kristy Benckhuysen (also one of my other awesome bosses) at Look Events for the back drop. The design concept for our next show, The Magic Flute, explores an East Indian motif, and I’m hoping we can design a photobooth to match that. If you’re at the show tonight or seeing it Thursday (Oct. 30, 2014), don’t forget to have your photo taken!

Those are some of my more memorable show moments, but I also got to run errands, pick up some old props, new props, pit extenders, bolts, adjust sponsor slides, and cook for 40 people (spoiler alert : I failed. Ran out of food, but I rectified that of course.) among many other things. It was such a fantastic learning experience for me and even though I felt like I always needed a bit more sleep, overall it was lovely and got me excited for the next show. I feel a bit more prepared with what is expected of me, and in true Patsy fashion, I made myself a list of all the things I did this show so I can prepare ahead of time for next show. Things will still go wrong, but that’s just something I need to learn to deal with. I can’t control everything and those moments of panic are often the ones where I learn the most — or at least the ones I remember not to repeat next time around.

Well that’s it for me for tonight! Hope you enjoyed this backstage look into Barber of Seville, and I will be back soon to post about my adventures in stage management over at St Albert Children’s Theatre. For now, enjoy this photo of the final scene of the show.

P.S. One of the other amazing things that has happened on this show is the opportunity to work (albeit from afar) with Edmonton Opera chorus members, Luc Tellier and Christina O’Dell. Luc was the lead in Young Frankenstein, one of the shows I worked on during my time at MacEwan, and we hit it off instantly. He’s a terrifically talented actor and singer and I know he’s gonna make it big someday soon! Christina is the sister of Jamie O’Dell, the man who got me through Carrie: The Musical. When everything was going wrong, Jamie was the one who kept me focused and his lovely sister has kept me laughing through this show on Twitter. We finally met for the first time about 20 minutes ago though we've been going back and forth for a while now. Like I always say, networking is a beautiful thing.

Barber of Seville artist Q & A: Opera introduction

Tuesday, October 14. 2014

Over the course of three performances, Edmonton audiences will become familiar with the stories of Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio and Figaro, along with other characters that they pull into the drama of The Barber of Seville (Oct. 25, 28 and 30). But what about the stories of the opera singers behind these characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that members of the cast have submitted.

What first interested you in opera?

I have loved expressing myself through singing since I was five years old and I have always admired people who have the courage to be performing on a stage. I saw my first musical at age eight and knew I wanted to be up on stage someday. The grandeur of the sets, the costumes and the orchestra is what drew me into the opera world. The ability of the human voice to convey so much emotion is what astounds me in opera and keeps me interested. - Sylvia Szadovszki, Rosina

The natural way of projecting the voice. -Alexandre Sylvestre, Bartolo

When I first went to college for music, my instructor loved opera and shared her love with me. -Cara Brown, Berta

I first became interested in opera mid-way through my BMus, around the time when I took my first voice lessons. If I were to pick a moment when I realized how great opera can be, it was on my first-year listening exam for music history. The surprise excerpt, which turned out to be Birgit Nielsen singing the Liebestot, from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, had me weeping, completely overwhelmed. - Phillip Addis, Figaro

Opera got under my skin at age 16, after seeing Carmen in Vancouver. I disliked it, actually! But a few years later, my college music history teacher suggested I join the chorus at Pacific Opera Victoria for their production of Eugene Onegin. I'd never spoken in Russian before, much less tried to sing it, and here I was, dancing Russian folk dances and living in Pushkin's world. The opera bug bit, and continues to bite me every time I open a score. -Aaron Durand, Fiorello/Sergeant

I started singing in musicals and school choirs when I was a kid. But when I started my music degree in university, it was a piano major. I discovered opera in my school's music library, watching opera films and recordings of live performances — Theresa Stratas in La Traviata and Salome, Placido Domingo in Carmen. Seeing the video of The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano, which the Metropolitan Opera commissioned in the early '90s, had a big impact on me. I was immediately struck by the theatrical possibilities of opera, which I had never been exposed to before. When I finally heard a recording of Jussi Bjorling singing Una furtiva lagrima (the famous tenor aria from l'Elisir d'amore), I got hooked on the sound of the operatic voice. Something about it just resonates deeper inside of you than any other type of singing or instrument. And when it's coupled with great acting, opera is just a phenomenal experience. -James McLennan, Almaviva

Barber of Seville Q & A: previous endeavours

Thursday, October 9. 2014

Over the course of three performances, Edmonton audiences will become familiar with the stories of Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio and Figaro, along with other characters that they pull into the drama of The Barber of Seville (Oct. 25, 28 & 30, 2014). But what about the stories of the opera singers behind these characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that members of the cast have submitted. 

Did you have a former career?

I used to be a guitarist and a song writer. -Alexandre Sylvestre, Bartolo

Yes, I was in office administration and was a legal secretary. - Cara Brown, Berta

This is the only career I've ever had. - Phillip Addis, Figaro

Not unless you count scooping ice cream and singing for tips at my mother's store! - Aaron Durand, Fiorello

I actually have a current second career. I have a degree in French translation and I freelance a translator specializing in academic writing, public administration and corporate communications. I love working with languages, which is partly why I went into opera, so it's a great fit. -James McLennan, Almaviva 

Barber of Seville artist Q & A: Dream roles

Tuesday, October 7. 2014

Over the course of three performances, Edmonton audiences will become familiar with the stories of Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio and Figaro, along with other characters that they pull into the drama of The Barber of Seville (Oct. 25, 28 & 30, 2014). But what about the stories of the opera singers behind these characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that members of the cast have submitted.

Which character would you love the opportunity to play in an opera? 

I would love to sing Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier because the music is drop-dead gorgeous. On a completely different note, I would also love to play Carmen. I think that is a dream role for a lot of mezzos.  (Editor's note: since this production of "The Barber of Seville" is set on a movie studio backlot, the film star Rosina is shooting scenes for a movie version of the opera "Carmen.") -Sylvia Szadovszki, Rosina

I would love to sing the role of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd. I used to maintain and sail on tall ships as a teenager and I have sung Britten's music at practically all stages of my life, from his children's songs to the War Requiem. This story of a tragic dreamer aboard a ship of the line really resonates with me and the music fits my voice like a glove. -Phillip Addis, Figaro

I'd love one day to play Rigoletto. You run this gauntlet of emotions, playing a father, a jester and a vengeful employee. - Aaron Durand, Fiorello

There are a few! One of the greatest tenor roles Mozart ever wrote is Tito in La Clemenza di Tito. He's a Roman emperor who gets betrayed by his friends and has to reconcile his conscience with his duties as king — the plot reads like an episode of Game of Thrones. His music is just thrilling and it's one of those roles that my voice just loves to sing. I also love the role of Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore. On the surface, he's a simple guy, but his too-beautiful music and the words he sings reveal a really deep character with enormous heart. It's a role that's both comic and dramatic in its scope. What's not to love? Finally, I'm not sure what this says about me but I really like playing bad guys. There are only a few opera villains written for tenors — it's mostly baritones who get to be mean on stage! I'd love to play Begearss in The Ghosts of Versailles. He's hilariously evil and I completely adore him. Seeing that show was also a big part of why I went into opera! Herod in Salome is another great role. I don't know that I'd ever fit it vocally, but a guy can dream! - James McLennan, Almaviva

Barber of Seville artist Q & A: favourite composer

Thursday, October 2. 2014

Over the course of three performances, Edmonton audiences will become familiar with the stories of Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio and Figaro, along with other characters that they pull into the drama of The Barber of Seville (Oct. 25, 28 & 30, 2014). But what about the stories of the opera singers behind these characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that members of the cast have submitted.

Which composer is your favourite, and why?

My favourite composer is Richard Strauss. I am enamored with Der Rosenkavalier, and could listen to the closing trio on repeat all day. I also love Mahler for his Symphony No. 5. -Sylvia Szadovszki, Rosina

Puccini. So many beautiful stories. -Alexandre Sylvestre, Bartolo

Probably Mozart, because not only do I enjoy singing his repertoire, I find his intrumental music comforting and it often makes me smile. -Cara Brown, Berta

It's hard to name one; there are so many giants in the pantheon. Greatness comes when a composer finds their own voice and a new way to make a lasting statement. -Phillip Addis, Figaro

My favourite composer never wrote an opera. George Butterworth. He can say so much with so little. -Aaron Durand, Fiorello

That's such a hard question, but I'll stick to opera composers to narrow it down! Mozart is glorious, but for the sheer fun of singing, Rossini can't be beat. I also love Richard Strauss. He writes music on a galactic scale. -James McLennan, Almaviva 

Barber of Seville artist Q & A: Interesting facts

Tuesday, September 30. 2014

Over the course of three performances, Edmonton audiences will become familiar with the stories of Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio and Figaro, along with other characters that they pull into the drama of The Barber of Seville (Oct. 25, 28 & 30, 2014). But what about the stories of the opera singers behind these characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that members of the cast have submitted.

Is there anything we should additionally know about you that would be interesting to audiences?

I'm a keen (hobby) photographer, dabbling in subjects astronomical to microscopic, as well as on the human scale. - Phillip Addis, Figaro

I'm an avid hiker, a sucker for breakfast food and Breaking Bad, and if you saw my iPod playlist you wouldn't believe I sing opera (read: way too much classic rock and rap on there!). - Aaron Durand, Fiorello

I studied improv at the Second City Training Centre in Toronto for two years. I still take classes and clinics when I can. I say it's the best training for opera! It was also where I developed my killer impression of Morgan Freeman. - James McLennan, Almaviva 

Seven reasons to go to the opera this season

Wednesday, September 24. 2014

If there's a silver lining to the end of the summer, it's that Edmonton's performing arts organizations are once again getting into the swing of things! Here's seven reasons why you should join us at the opera this season.

7. This is the season to be impressed by opera. Listen live to some of the most difficult arias in opera, as each production has one aria listed on the Top 10 Horrifyingly Difficult Opera Arias.

6. Hear bel canto twice, with The Barber of Seville and Lucia di Lammermoor. With bel canto style opera, every song starts easy but then gets hard, challenging the audience to listen for musical statements and vocal colour, as Seattle Opera explains in this blog post.

5. Introduce someone else to the opera. Explorers members (18-29) can purchase a $25 membership  and receive two $20 tickets to each production this season, while encore! memberships (30-40) are free, and offer great discounts on subscriptions! An outing to the opera is a great reason to have a stylish night out with some friends or as a date. (And, might we add — if you're hoping for a fun night out where no one dies, The Barber of Seville is exactly that!)

4. Canadian soprano Simone Osborne, who was recently named by CBC as one of 30 outstanding classical musicians under 30, will make her role and company debut in the title spot of Lucia di Lammermoor in April. An intense drama, this classic opera explores madness and the dark edges of beauty.

3. Experience a really, really cool set for The Magic Flute, where, in the style of an exotic pop-up book, the audience is constantly confronted with something popping up, sliding down or dropping in to change the setting and mood. (By the way, our tech director keeps tweeting top-secret photos of the set design and build!)

2. Rossini's chattering rhythms in The Barber of Seville are infectious, plus, the melodies have been made famous by one particular wascally wabbit. Allison Grant (Die Fledermaus, February 2014) returns to direct this stylish comedy set on a movie studio backlot in 1940s Seville.

1. Subscriptions offer a great way to save on all three operas (up to 30 per cent compared to single tickets) and single tickets are also affordable, starting at $40 on the main floor. However you choose to escape to the opera with us, be sure to leave enough time to once again take advantage of the complimentary parking in the Jubilee parkade! 

Less-liked arias

Thursday, July 11. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on their 30-question challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit or their opinion on a genre. We welcome your own opinions about the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Week 26:

Name an aria you dislike, and why. Is it because it's an earworm, or too long, maybe?

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: Interesting question. The aria Nessun dorma from Puccini's Turandot was popularized by the Three Tenors who sang their debut concert on the eve of the 1990 World Cup. Unfortunately, when I hear Nessun Dorma, this soccer visual is what I remember. Having not seen Turandot itself, I am afraid when I do get the chance, the drama will be lost as I will visualize soccer fans, Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti singing "vincero!" (I will win!)

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator and chorusmaster: I'm not too fond of Rodolfo from La bohème. Think about it: this guy's girlfriend is dying of tuberculosis, and all he does is sit around writing poetry and complain that she's cheating on him. The poor girl isn't, of course, and she might have had a chance of beating the TB if he'd actually gotten a job and bought her some medicine. Maybe some firewood to heat their freezing apartment. Instead, all he does is sing an aria about how cold her hands are. (Che gelida manina)