Edmonton Opera Blog

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.

Behind the curtain — Hoffmann rehearsals

Thursday, January 17. 2013

In a few short weeks, the constant activity upstairs in the Jubilee rehearsal hall transforms into Offenbach’s dark fairytale, Les Contes d’Hoffmann.

By the time it gets on stage, all the moving parts — stage managing, costume and makeup, direction of the concept — will be neatly hidden behind the scenes, but for now, it’s all on display as the opera comes together.Concept designs and set designs displayed on one wall at the rehearsal hall

And it’s fascinating.

For those who are at the rehearsal hall day and night — literally, because some of the most interesting social media content from rehearsal comes across the Internet at ridiculous hours of the night — the process may seem a little more gradual.

But for those of us who commute from the admin offices at the Winspear Centre to the rehearsal hall on a semi-regular basis, every other night or a few days a week for a couple of hours, the changes are inspiring and exciting.

At the beginning of January, Edmonton Opera staff met the cast and creative team at the airport as they arrived on a handful of flights. It was nice for both parties — staff got a chance to talk to the artists when they weren’t busy with rehearsal, and artists could ask questions about the city they’d be living in for the next four weeks. Even things as simple as grocery stores, good radio stations and arts spaces can be important.

Though rehearsals for both principals and chorus started by sitting in chairs and singing the following Monday, those chairs weren’t for long. Two-thirds of the rehearsal hall is now a duplicate of the Jubilee stage, complete with props; the principals and chorus are learning staging, where to move, when to move and how to move.

As he’s explaining things, director Joel Ivany will shadow the principals, demonstrating where in the scene he wants more emphasis or an added gesture. He also asks questions of the cast, about the feeling of a certain line or moment; they reply and ask questions of their own.

For casual onlookers, the process is really smart — since Antonia, the ailing singer, doesn’t wear a watch, soprano Ileana Montalbetti removes the timepiece on her left wrist. Alternatively, tenor Steven Cole arrives at rehearsal wearing regular shoes, but sometime between then and stepping on the “stage” for his scene, he’s replaced them with overly large, red clown shoes. It’s all part of the character Frantz, who slumps with bad posture because, as Cole says here, “My posture (for Frantz) kind of says, ‘He’s seen better days.’”

The same methodical approach applies to the chorus too: at one point, chorus members have time to list, on paper, the backstory of their character(s); before staging the epilogue Ivany talks through the principals’ parts for the chorus, alternating the French libretto with English translation.

Only so much can happen in the rehearsal hall, however, so some of the effects that Ivany is imagining for the final scene — and explains to the chorus — won’t happen until they move on to the Jube stage.

What is the final, memorable scene? You’ll have to go to the circus to find out. 

Photos courtesy Joel Ivany, Twitter (@joelivany)

Opera wish list

Wednesday, January 16. 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 one opera you really want to see but haven't seen yet?

Stacy Young, special events coordinator: Carmen. It seems like such a well-known opera and a favourite for many.

Tim Yakimec, director of production: An opera I haven't seen but would like to is The Ring Cycle, by Robert LePage at the Met. I am intrigued by the set and costume pictures I've seen, that he came up with to stage such a piece. He is always so inventive to support the story, not just for spectacle sake.

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator: Either L'heure espagnole, by Ravel, or Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass.

Jessica McMillan, administrative assistant: I have always wanted to see a Janacek opera, but if I had to choose one it would probably be The Makropulos Affair.

Lauren Tenney, marketing and fund development coordinator: Carmen is one opera that I'd like to see, because it has some of the most recognizable music. So, knowing the music, I'd like to hear it while seeing the whole production.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: Someone on our Facebook page mentioned Rusalka, and after reading a little bit about it, it sounds really interesting. And, after the discussion Satyagraha created for another blog post, I think I'd really like to see that one too.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: For me, it's The Demon by Russian composer Anton Rubinstein. I heard it live in concert a number of years ago but have never seen it staged. 

Little-known opera

Friday, January 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.

Name a not-very-famous opera that you love

Sandra Gajic, CEO: Ero S Onoga Svijeta and Splitski Akvarel, two Croatian operas/operettas that were so much a part of my early childhood. I am sure no one has ever heard of those on this continent or outside of former Yugoslavia!

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: Platée by Rameau that I saw at the Opera de Paris in 2006. It's a comic opera based on Greek myth.

Clayton Rodney, technical director: Iphigénie en Tauride. I saw it at the COC and loved it. The theatricality of it won me over, and the COC scenery and lighting was amazing. It's not my most favourite, but I don't think it's very well known and I liked it.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: I really like Svadba - Wedding (part of Edmonton Opera's 2012/13 ATB Canadian Series). It's sung in Serbian, which I understand, and it's neat to see and hear something that was inspired by traditional Serbian music and culture. 

Edited, Jan. 14, 2013

Dinner with a composer

Wednesday, December 19. 2012

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 composer would you like to have dinner with, and what would you discuss?
(This question was inspired by this piece talking about the type of dinner guests Verdi and Wagner would have been.)

Sandra Gajic, CEO: Hector Berlioz, as I'm very curious about his opera Les Troyens. He has so many characters in that opera, and they have all been very well thought out with beautiful accompanying music. I'm curious how he came to that, because most small character roles don't get that. 

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator: I'd like to have dinner with Tchaikovsky, because the 1812 Overture was what got me interested in classical music as a kid.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Tchaikovsky as well, because I loved reading all the Russian literature, including Pushkin, in high school. Russian romanticism would be the dinner topic.

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: I'd have dinner with Leonard Bernstein. He composed the opera for Candide, as well as the musical West Side Story, and he was a huge advocate for arts education. He built two schools where he had this great vision of combining arts and education. 

Tim Yakimec, director of production: The composer I'd choose would be Engel Humperdinck, but I wouldn't have dinner with him. I'd share popsicles with him, and ask him what his favourite colour of popsicle was.

Cameron MacRae, creative coordinator: I'd like to have dinner with Benjamin Britten, because along with the anniversaries of Verdi and Wagner, it's his 100th anniversary next year as well. His political views and personality were really interesting, and he wrote some really beautiful music for chorus.

Lauren Tenney, marketing and fund development coordinator: I’d have to say Mozart for the composer I’d like to have dinner with. I have very little musical talent so I’d love to pick his brain on the amazing gift he was born with and how he had such ability at such a young age.

Opera you didn't know you knew

Wednesday, December 5. 2012

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.

Which aria or piece do you find is the most recognizable? 

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Habanera, from Carmen. It's been used everywhere, from Pepsi commercials to Disney movies to Tom and Jerry cartoons (my favourite) and it continuously gains more popularity.

Tim Yakimec, director of production: One of the most recognizable would be Toreador from Carmen. It has been used in commercials, on the Muppet show, I’m sure on Bugs Bunny, etc. I think of late that Nessun Dorma from Turandot is gaining ground — once anyone hears it they know it is opera, not necessarily which one though. Even Aretha Franklin sang her take on it on the Grammy Awards in 1998 because Pavarotti was sick. Crossover to pop in one fell swoop!

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Intermezzo, from Cavalleria Rusticana. It's played at weddings, commercials and in The Godfather.

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator and chorus master: Nessun Dorma, from Turandot, simply because people sing it a lot.

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: Anything from Carmen is really recognizable. Whenever we do outreach events, people always recognize the songs from Carmen.

Stacy Young, special events coordinator: I didn't realize that the overture from Carmen was actually from an operatic piece, but it's really recognizable. 

Kelly Sheard, grant writer: La donna e mobile, from Verdi's Rigoletto.

Cameron MacRae, creative coordinator: It's between two, for me. Musetta's Waltz from La Bohème, and the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute. Musetta's Waltz is comic but beautiful, and when you think of arias, you think of Queen of the Night. She's in an a rage, and you know it.

Jeff McAlpine, assistant technical director: Cameron took mine, but the Queen of the Night aria as well.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, because it's used in a lot of cartoons.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I don't know if it's the most recognizable, but the operatic piece that I not only think is very beautiful, but always, always gets stuck in my head — even if I just read the lyric "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" — is the Barcarolle from Les Contes d'Hoffmann. 


Opera under development — auditions on both sides of the continent

Thursday, November 29. 2012

I’m writing now from New York, where we’re making our pilgrimage to do auditions, along with Timothy Vernon, Patrick Corrigan and Ian Rye from Pacific Opera Victoria. Every November/December is always known in the opera community as “audition season” — maybe because there usually isn’t much opera this time of year, since that’s when ballet companies use the halls to do The Nutcracker. In any case, we’re here to hear three days of auditions with our friends from POV, and to find some exciting young talent that we can bring to our audiences in Edmonton.

We’re especially excited to hear a few members of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Met tomorrow morning.

This is the third set of auditions we've done recently, as we were in Toronto at the end of October and in Calgary in late November. I just wanted to take a moment to say how much Sandra and I enjoyed Calgary Opera’s production of Verdi’s Otello last week. Otello was Verdi’s next-to-last opera, and his final tragedy (his last opera was Falstaff) and it’s an utter masterpiece. It was great to see many artists who have performed with Edmonton Opera before: Gregory Dahl, Colin Ainsworth, and John Mac Master — as well as to hear the orchestra wonderfully led by Robert Tweten, whom our audiences recently heard conducting Fidelio.

While we were in Calgary, we also got a chance to hear auditions of the Emerging Artists at Calgary Opera. What a fantastic group of singers! Every one of them had something really special to offer, and a couple of them are in the finals of the COC Ensemble Studio competition, which is happening this weekend in Toronto.

Young artist programs, like Calgary’s Emerging Artist program, COC’s Ensemble Studio and the Met’s Lindemann Program, are such an important part of what opera companies do, and they’re an essential part of developing the art form of opera. Many talented singers graduating out of college usually aren’t quite ready to begin professional careers — what they need is practical experience. And so the young artist program serves as kind of a bridge between school and the professional world. Once they have all the vocal and theoretical training from the university, a young artist program sets them up with all of the practical stage experience that they will need to be successful — it makes them “stage-smart,” and shows them what it’s like to work in a professional company. They also serve as ambassadors for the art form and for the company in the community by singing concerts wherever they can. It’s a win-win: the artists build their experience, and the city gets more opera!