Edmonton Opera Blog

Love at first aria

Thursday, April 18. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they could sing, conduct, direct, etc., an opera.
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What was the first aria you fell in love with?

Rebecca Anderson, box office supervisor: Mozart's Magic Flute Queen of the Night aria. I ran around the house as a kid squeaking and mimicking that song. (There was a popular film in the '80s about Mozart and that was on the soundtrack.) I loved the craziness of it all. This woman was magnificent. And the fairy-tale-like story of that opera was very appealing to a kid in Grade 1.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: For me it was Vesti La Giubba at the end of the first act of Pagliacci. I couldn't have been more than three years old when my grandmother played it for me, sung it and cried as I sat under her piano full of wonderment. Maybe that's why I cry at so many of emotionally strong operatic performances — came to it honestly.

On Twitter, users mentioned that the Flower Duet from Lakme and Carmen's Habanera ("I still remember where/when/who/why details first time hearing it like a first kiss.") were some of their favourites.

Onegin Opera 101: love, duelling & translation

Monday, April 15. 2013

By the time a production finally opens, Edmonton Opera staff can usually recite the storyline forwards, backwards and sideways. But what about all the context talking about the time period the opera was written in, the nuances of the language used and insight into how Edmonton Opera will put the work on stage?

That’s what Opera 101 is for.

Moderated by Stephan Bonfield, musicologist, the panel on Wednesday, April 10, featured panelists including Edmonton Opera artistic administrator and chorusmaster Michael Spassov, Edmonton Opera CEO Sandra Gajic, and two Russian language and literature professors at the University of Alberta, Dr. Jelena Pogosjan and Dr. Peter Rolland. 

Is love an illusion?

It was the first question Bonfield posed to the panel, and Spassov countered that the whole opera is about this set of characters and their relationship to love. Plus, maybe it’s not necessarily an illusion, but fate at work — an idea that Tchaikovsky was obsessed with. Sometimes the right person comes along at the wrong time in your life, Spassov continued. He asked, what if it’s maybe the wrong people who are together? Would things have worked out differently if Lenski’s fiancée was Tatiana, and Onegin fell in love with Olga?

As a neuroscience researcher, Bonfield explained that neurons in the brain can be programmed to do two completely different tasks. “You can fall in love with two different people, stay with one person, be in love with that one person, but the memory of decades ago will come back,” he said. This explains why Tatiana feels that when she re-encounters Onegin at Gremin’s ball, “it’s as fresh as yesterday,” because she still remembers being in love with him, which we saw in the first act.

The duelling tradition

Every opera has a love story, and Bonfield compared the storyline to that of Verdi, with an added twist — duelling. It just ups the ante that much more. At this time in Russian history, duelling was an important and common practice, and not always deadly. Pushkin was involved in 29 (known) duels before he was killed in one himself, but the intent of duels was to defend honour, to wound or to miss, not to kill. Before he died, Pushkin had never killed anyone in the duels he fought.

A crash course in the Russian language

There are 42 different English translations of Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse that is roughly 150 pages long. Pogosjan’s favourite version, however, is four volumes in English, as each piece of vocabulary is defined with all the possible variations and meanings. Still, she, as a native Russian speaker, described English versions as flat and two-dimensional, adding that “I don’t have enough language (in English)” to talk about the poetry of the original text. The general feeling of the panelists was that despite the number of translations of Eugene Onegin available, there is invariably something lost in translation. There has been a lot of talk (understandably) lately about learning the Russian language — though the majority of the principal singers are native Russian speakers, there are still some cast members and the entire chorus who have had to learn the language for this opera. And there are just some sounds that aren’t made in the English language that are common in Russian.

But if you don’t have time to learn Russian in the next week, don’t worry. We always display English supertitles above the stage, so that everyone knows what’s going on. For what it’s worth though, reading every slide isn’t essential — the cast is that good that if you’ve read the synopsis beforehand, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. And as Sandra Gajic paraphrased director Tom Diamond: “All of these singers have Onegin in their DNA.”

Eugene Onegin moments

Thursday, April 11. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they could create, sing, conduct, etc., an opera. 
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What's your favourite moment in Eugene Onegin?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: I love Act 2, Scene 1 when Lenski gets so mad and sad about Olga dancing with Onegin. It's so sad to watch.

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: One of my favourite moments in Eugene Onegin is Tatiana's yearning theme in her letter during her aria in Act 1 — one of the most powerful solo scenes for the soprano voice. However, my heart breaks for the young poet, Lenski, when he sings Kuda, kuda in Act 2.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations:  Definitely when Onegin falls in love with this beautiful woman, and then realizes it's someone who loved him and he rejected her years ago. I just it's the first moment he regrets rejecting Tatiana's love.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: My favourite moment in this opera is when Lenski waits for an hour for Onegin to show up for the duel. In that winter scene of desolation when Lenski sense that his life has come to an end and those first few notes that will open his aria Kuda, kuda — a sense of wasted youth, life right there in those moments.

Famous choral pieces

Thursday, March 28. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera has taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they could create, sing, conduct, etc., an opera. 
We welcome comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What, in your opinion, is the most famous opera choral part, and why is it so recognizable?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Libiamo, from La Traviata, or the Butterfly humming chorus.

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: Verdi's Triumphal March in Aida represents victory on such a large scale. I believe this is grand opera at its greatest height, and therefore, probably makes it so famous. Also, more on a personal note, there is something really special about Borodin's Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor, as it is such beautifully composed music for orchestra and chorus.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Va, pensiero from Nabucco. It is Verdi's choral work of art, and it is often performed twice because it is so well liked. That was my graduation song so it brings back wonderful memories, and I am always tempted to sing along when I hear it.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I don't know if it's the most famous piece of opera choral work, but I love the chorus parts in Tales of Hoffmann, especially the drinking song and Kleinzach's tale — so much so that when I searched for it on the Internet, I was disappointed that with principals added, it was much less prominent. Staff here are extremely lucky that we get to hear all the pieces of an opera before it comes together — just the chorus rehearsing, just the principals rehearsing, and then the amazing magic they create together! 

A discussion of Russian composers

Friday, March 22. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they conduct, create, etc., an opera.
We welcome comments with your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media. 

While writing the biography for the Eugene Onegin playbill, we found definitions of Tchaikovsky's style — "a combination of his formal Western-oriented training with the Russian style he had been exposed to all his life." Tchaikovsky is called one of the world's greatest/one of the great Russian composers, and with Eugene Onegin in mid-April, we wanted to discuss Russian operas in general. 

What do you like about Tchaikovsky's style that other composers don't do? What is missing in his style that is standard for other Russian composers?

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator & chorusmaster: I'm crazy about Russian music, and there are so many great operas by Russian composers. There's lots of opportunity for us at Edmonton Opera to expand our repertoire when it comes to Russian opera. You can see this dichotomy between the Western and the Russian in Onegin: The peasants’ chorus in Act 1 is a traditional form of Russian folk poetry called a “Chastushka” — humourous poetry that’s sort of a Russian cross between a limerick and rap.  But then we have a story about the love lives of aristocrats, and all these fancy upper-class dances like the waltz and the polonaise. The scenes between Tatiana and her nurse are an interesting example of the split — we see the two styles side by side: Tatiana’s very sophisticated chromatic music of longing, and the Nurse’s direct phrases drawn on Russian folk music. There are so many incredible Russian operas we could look at for the future: Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky), The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky), Love of Three Oranges (Prokofiev), Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Shostakovich), Prince Igor (Borodin), The Tsar’s Bride (Rimsky-Korsakov), Life with an Idiot (Schnittke) — and these are just the greatest hits!

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: In contrast to “The Mighty Five” (Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov) who promoted romantic Russian nationalism (reaction to domination of imported European culture), Tchaikovsky found a more cosmopolitan voice of his own, composing deeply tragic love operas. I think Tchaikovsky’s music has more universal appeal from all of the Russian composers; he is definitely one of the greats! However, there are other Russian composers who composed beautiful melodies as well: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev.

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach manager: While Tchaikovsky met with composers from "The Five," his musical style was very different from that of many of his Russian colleagues. He not only incorporated elements of Russian folk music, but was also largely influenced by his conservatory training and Western styles. 


From novel to opera

Thursday, March 14. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they could conduct, create, etc., an opera. 
We welcome comments with your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What started as a retweet from the Royal Opera House on World Book Day last week has become this week's blog content question. Considering Tchaikovsky wrote Eugene Onegin after a dinner party where they discussed suitable subjects for opera, we think this is an awesome question as we prepare for the final opera of the 2012/13 season. 

If you could stage an opera based on a book, what would you choose? Do you foresee any challenges?

On social media, we had two people reply that they would like to turn Pride and Prejudice into an opera, as well as mentions of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, Memoirs of a Geisha and The Great Gatsby. For Orlando, it was pointed out that either a counter tenor or two artists for one role would have to be cast — we saw similarities that it could be like The Tales of Hoffmann, where both are done (either one artist is cast for the three women or three artists are cast for each of the women that Hoffmann falls in love with). The comment about Memoirs of a Geisha was also fantastic: "The only challenge (would be) that a lot of the dialogue is her private thoughts and observations, but that's what a good aria is for!" One of the chorus members also commented that she could probably write an opera based on the coffee-shop conversations that she was currently overhearing.

And finally, we won't lie: our first thought when someone suggested The Great Gatsby was that if it were an opera, it would be a great outreach project to get high schools involved with our education programs. 

Our technical director, Clayton Rodney, also suggested that How the Grinch Stole Christmas would be a great opera because "it's practically an opera already! So much drama and so over the top — plus building the costumes and scenery would be way too much fun!"

Spotlight on female arias

Thursday, March 7. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What is your favourite female aria, and why?

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Vissi d'Arte from Tosca, simply because it's beautiful and very emotional, sung by someone who "lived for art and love."

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator and chorusmaster: Non monsieur mon mari from Les mamelles de Tiresias by Poulenc. 

Cameron MacRae, creative manager: I can't choose just one! A few of my favourites include Ah! Je veux vivre dans ce reve, from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, Sempre libera from Verdi's La Traviata, and Conduisez-moi vers celui que j'adore from Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe.

It's always interesting when lots of people choose the same piece or composer for their answer, but equally as interesting when there is a variety of responses. Some of the (last-minute) social media responses we got included Caro Nome (Rigoletto), the Flower Duet (Lakme) and Ebben? Ne andro lontana (La Wally). 

Edited: Thanks to everyone who wants to share their favourite female arias with us; it's pretty cool to see the responses we get when we post these questions. More opinions included D'Oreste d'Ajace from Idomeneo and Mi chiamano Mimi from La bohème.

One aria is good, but two's a duet

Thursday, February 28. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Name your favourite duet, and why it's your favourite.

After noticing a trend with Lakme being named often, we asked the same question on social media. Not surprisingly, Lakme was mentioned, but we also had some out-of-the-box thinkers, including mentions of Scherzano sul tuo volto from Rinaldo ("because no one wrote duets like Handel"), Creuse and Jason's duet from Charpentier's Médée, the duet scene Signor deh non partire from Monteverdi's Incoronazione di Poppea, Nocturne at the end of Le Roi Malgré Lui, the duet between Don Jose and Escamillo in Carmen, and of course the flower duet in Lakme. Here's the other thoughts our staff had to share ...

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: The flower duet in Lakme, because it's so famous. Also, the Pearl Fishers' duet — such a beautiful piece.

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator and chorusmaster: The final scene of Eugene Onegin — it's an incredibly powerful confrontation between two people who love each other and can never be together. It's amazing music.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: The flower duet from Lakme and Belle Nuit in Hoffmann. Both are so beautiful and moving. Last year we performed the flower duet at Opera al Fresco, and in the Devonian Botanic Gardens among all the gorgeous flowers, it was one of the nicest things I've heard!

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: My favourite duet is the flower duet from Lakme. It's beautiful and what made it my favourite was hearing Cathy Daniels and Iren Bartok sing it at the Devonian Gardens at last year's Opera al Fresco.

Mickey Melnyk, Stewardship Officer: Ah quelgi occhi, qual occhio al mondo from Puccini's Tosca. It's a beautiful love duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi. The subject of passion and the arts resonates with me very much, and this was my first Puccini opera. 

Mapping the characters of Eugene Onegin

Monday, February 25. 2013

Unlike The Tales of Hoffmann, the characters in Eugene Onegin are much easier to keep track of. In this map, we have tracked the interactions that they have with each other, and how those unfold over the course of the opera.


Deciphering opera

Friday, February 22. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Name an opera that is confusing, and explain why it was so hard to understand.

Sandra Gajic, CEO:  I'm no help in this case ... I don't find opera confusing, ever. 

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: For me it really depends on the synopsis. Sometimes they are dry and confusing to read, which can make for a confusing opera. Multiple love interests and relationships can also make it hard to follow.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: Maybe it's because of my role here, but the more I work through an opera — compiling the playbill, writing copy about it, tweeting links about it — the less confused I am by even the most confusing operas. But the first thing I always do is draw character maps (usually four or five times until I have all the interactions right) when I'm reading the synopsis for the first time. For an opera like Tales of Hoffmann, where there are plenty of characters with nearly unpronounceable names, that's the best (and safest) place for me to start!

A different kind of date night

Wednesday, February 13. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

With Valentine's Day today,we asked our staff for suggestions on which opera would be good for a date night. Need some last-minute plans? A home-cooked meal and a DVD of one of these operas sounds good to us! On Twitter, we also received suggestions of Fidelio, La Traviata, Don Giovanni, Marriage of Figaro and Dialogue of the Carmelites. La Bohème seems to be a fool-proof choice, since it was mentioned twice on social media and another time by our staff. When we noted that on Facebook, however, someone suggested their choices of Daughter of the Regiment and Barber of Seville, because they're "pieces everyone knows and loves, plus no one dies. ...Bohème is a lovely story and the music is fabulous, but it kind puts a damper on the date when the title character dies and you're a crying mess at the end."

Whatever you do today, happy Valentine's Day! 

What's the best opera for a date night, and why?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: La Bohème, because although it is sad, it has a beautiful storyline and music. It makes you feel very emotional, and has a good vibe of the Bohemian lifestyle and date night, so I think it goes well together.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: Madama Butterfly, because it is very emotional and breaks your heart. (If Jelena hadn't picked Onegin, that would be another choice.)

Kelly Sheard, grant writer: Romeo and Juliet.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Eugene Onegin, because it is beautiful and heartbreaking — perfect to see on a date night! And it's full of sentimental quotes such as "My whole life has been pledged to this meeting with you..." Pair that with marvelous music, and you've got a great romantic date.

Cameron MacRae, creative coordinator: Donizetti's bel canto comic opera L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) makes for the perfect date night. Nemorino desperately tries to win the hand of beautiful Adina with the help of Dr. Dulcamara's love potion; simply a half-empty bottle of Bordeaux. The opera features beautiful music (including the famous tenor aria Una furtiva lagrima), plenty of laughs, and the perfect excuse to go for wine afterwards. 

Favourite composers

Monday, February 11. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Who is your favourite composer?

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Philip Glass — I love his music and could listen to it over and over again.

Jessica McMillan, administrative assistant: Shostakovich is my favourite.

Rebecca Anderson, box office supervisor: Rachmaninoff and Henryk Gorecki are some of my favourites. Both are so passionate! I also love Yann Tiersen, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - all excellent composers of music in film, in addition to performin in crossover alternative music groups.

Jeff McAlpine, assistant technical director: Beethoven.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: For me, it's Wagner — need I say more?

Mapping the characters of Hoffmann's tales

Monday, February 4. 2013

As Hoffmann tells the stories of the three women he has loved, he gets progressively more drunk. That, combined with the fact that there are just some crazy characters he associates with, means that it's sometimes hard to keep track of who's who in the circus that is his life. So, we've mapped out the characters of the Tales of Hoffmann, as well as their relation to each other. As you can see, lots of artists appear in different incarnations in different acts.

There is discussion about whether the three women Hoffmann has loved are really facets of one woman, Stella, or if he's really just that unlucky with four different women. We have four artists in the four different roles, though occasionally one artist sings all four roles.

Despite the bizarre turns that Hoffmann's stories can take, there is still a certain pattern to his tales: he loves a woman, who is kept from him by a villain (all four villains are sung by Daniel Okulitch), and a valet who adds a bit of comic relief to the high drama.

The kind of love that Hoffmann experiences progresses through the acts however, as Ileana Montalbetti explained in this interview with Vue Weekly: "You see Hoffmann progress through love in each of the three stories. It's new, kind of fascinating love with Teiya's character (Olympia, the mechanical doll), and then ours (Hoffmann and Antonia) is very pure, very innocent and real, and then because I die, his heart is broken and he kind of moves into this sexual love with Giulietta."

Opera for the first time

Friday, February 1. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What's the first opera you saw, and what were your impressions?

Stacy Young, special events coordinator: Aida was my first opera. I loved the costumes and set, and the chorus numbers were great! We had such great performers for our version as well.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: My first opera was Pagliacci — I was no more than 3. I went with my grandmother who prepared me by playing and singing the entire opera for me time after time. What I remember most is that I cried together with my grandma during and long after Vesti La Giubba! I can still cry the moment I even think about it! The next one she took me to was La Traviata a few months later, and there all I could remember was the gowns. 

Cameron MacRae, creative coordinator: My first opera was Edmonton Opera's 1999 production of Puccini's La Bohème. My Grade 6 teacher brought our class to the education dress rehearsal, and I was captivated by the music and spectacle. Musetta's Quando me'n vo remains one of my favourite arias. It's great to see that our education dress rehearsals continue to expose a new generation of patrons to the art form.

Jeff McAlpine, assistant technical director: My first opera was Edmonton Opera's La Bohème in 2005.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: Aida was the first opera I saw, and I don't know if it's because it's the first scene I saw in rehearsal, but my favourite scene is when Ramfis declares Radames a traitor. With Les Contes d'Hoffmann coming up, it's really interesting to see all the differences between the two, and I love different aspects in this opera — but I definitely think the chorus is always one of the highlights. 

Edited Feb. 4, 2013

Spotlight on male arias

Friday, January 25. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members 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 comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Name your favourite male aria.

Michael Spassov, chorusmaster & artistic adminstrator: Nemico della patria, from Andrea Chenier, the monologue from Boris Godunov, News from Nixon in China or Il balen del suo sorriso from Il Trovatore.

Jessica McMillan, administrative assistant: Mine would have to be Rossini's Largo al Factotum from Barber of Seville — the flute part is hilariously fun to play! 

Sandra Gajic, CEO: Kuda, Kuda, which is Lenski's aria from Eugene Onegin. It breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. 

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I can't remember who commented that Celeste Aida was a hard aria, because it occurs so early in Aida. And for some reason, I didn't expect to like it — but I can't believe how pretty it is and how much I do like it. 

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: The legend of Kleinzach, in Les Contes d'Hoffmann. It's so catchy and gets stuck in my head.