Edmonton Opera Blog

Meet the Canadians!

Friday, July 1. 2016

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

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

Othalie Graham

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

Krisztina Szabó

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

Geoffrey Sirett

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

Elizabeth Turnbull

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

Artist Spotlight: Othalie Graham

Thursday, June 16. 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Stuart Q&A with Kathryn Lewek

Tuesday, April 12. 2016

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 16. 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duelling divas in EO's Maria Stuarda

Monday, August 24. 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EO announces new concept for 'dangerously seductive' opera

Thursday, August 20. 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Widow starts 2015/16 season on whimsical note

Tuesday, August 11. 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.