Courtesy of MKM
Courtesy of MKM
A little less than two weeks until we start rehearsals for Fidelio! We left fun and frivolity on the shores of Titipu what seems like only yesterday, and we will venture into a totally different world of where oppression and the joy of overcoming it is realized with Beethoven's glorious music.
The set designed by Bretta Gerecke has begun construction, and the costumes being designed by Deanna Finnman are coming together as you read this. I am always astonished by the creativity of both the scenic designer and the costume designer. There are so many parameters thrown their way in their journey to realizing a design for a show.
Despite any restrictions, whether it be monetary or timelines, these two individuals always surprise me with their approach to create the world the opera needs to live in. Always positive, they remind me of improv performers! Never say no! Saying no only puts up blocks or resists moving forward. Should an issue arise, they dive in, suggest alternatives and forge on usually coming up with something even better that will support the world the opera needs to live in and help tell the story.
I love working with designers!
Take a tour through the Opera Warehouse to see where we store our sets, set pieces, costumes and more!
Paul Lorieau is best known for singing the National Anthem for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League from 1981 to 2011. But did you know Paul Lorieau actually started performing on the opera stage? Mr. Lorieau played the role of Beppe in Edmonton Opera’s 1964 production of Cavalleria Rusticana & I Pagliacci.
Backstage before the performance, Paul met Robert Clark (a local Edmontonian); where they compared notes, as they both played Beppe in Pagliacci. Robert had many questions for Mr. Lorieau asking what it was like to perform with Edmonton Opera back in the 60’s, to which he replied “The same great energy is still here.” The Edmonton Opera Chorus was elated to meet Mr. Lorieau; they surrounded him and took turns asking questions, as cast and crew prepared for the final run of the 2011 Cavalleria Rusticana & I Pagliacci at the Jubilee.
During intermission, Paul Lorieau (Beppe) and Kathryn Forrest (Lola) reunited on October 27, 2011. They reminisced about the production, cast, and crew but most importantly the lifelong memories and friendships made. When presented with the original 1964 playbill, laughter and joy filled the room as everyone flipped through the pages.
When asked what his favourite memory is from performing with Edmonton Opera he stated, “It was a truly memorable experience, from the cast to the costumes, it is a time I will never forget!”
The magic of sharing the experience of grand opera under the stars of Veneto in a 2000 year old Roman Arena in Verona with 14,000 people in the audience is unique in the world. The moment when everyone lights their little candles at dusk as the orchestra tunes is one that still leaves me in awe..... Ever since I heard in one of my family sagas how my great aunt remembers going as a little girl with her mother to the first Aida there in 1913!
So when I heard that this year's Aida was actually the attempt to stage as close to the original 1913 Aida, I had to go and experience this grand spectacle myself. And grand it certainly was in every possible way - a huge spectacle that got everyone in the audience cheering. Vocally - I did wish that some of the lead singers were chosen differently, but then again - you can't have it all! I thought as I drove all day today back to Rome. I believe that everyone needs to experience Aida in the two settings here in Italy at least once in their lives... Arena di Verona is one and the other is the restored Terme di Caracalla in Rome.
The highlight for me this year was seeing two productions designed and directed by the Argentinean super star Hugo de Ana. I love the way he deals with the challenge of staging operas created for small, closed spaces in a gigantic space like the Arena where it is not easy to conduct intimate affairs. His first production for the Arena di Verona was Nabucco in 2000 which was amazingly like the spaceship from "Star Wars". Then came Tosca in 2006 - where in spite of the concept of abstract and focusing the opera on the symbolic, on the atmosphere and the characters' intentions, the run was sold out and in huge demand even by the patrons so used to the traditional way of presenting opera at the Festival in Verona. This year his 2008 Il Barbiere di Siviglia was remounted and it was such a huge treat to see this grand scenic game within a complex miming and choreographic movement. The Greek baritone Aris Argiris was wonderful and stole the "show" as great Figaro!
I had a chance to see the new La Traviata also designed and directed by Hugo de Ana. He used for this opera the concept of huge frames, empty of their mirrors - they help do both - fill the large spaces, reflect luxury but also help us experience the world of degenerating emotions. I saw the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho who had to use the sheer force of her voice to play her role. I wish I was there when her co-patriot Inva Mula did the role. I have seen Inva do the role of Violetta when she both sang and acted it beautifully. The strongest cast member here was Geroge Gagnidze as Georgio Germont.
La Boheme....the concept of this production.... very stark, white, almost empty stage with Nicola Benois wanting us to share in the feeling of profound emotions and not be burdened by the often bothersome and heavy scenery that take away the reason why we are so moved by what we hear. Marcelo Alvarez was the soul of the opera as Fiorenza Cedolina pushed herself out of her comfort zone... she is a wonderful dramatic soprano (I have seen her as an amazing Tosca) and one wonders why she was cast in the role where we wanted to hear a lyric soprano match Marcelo Alvarez's voice and timbre. All I could think about was how I wanted to hear her in Un Ballo in Maschera!
Nabucco - the grand, opulent sets where the Verona Opera's chorus was the biggest star.... Although some of the lead singers were fabulous - Marco Vratogna as Nabucco and Vitalij Kowaljow as Zaccaria deserve a special mention. But the chorus was certainly something else...... they "reinforced" the usual 162 members of the chorus with the additional 60! After they sang "Va Pensiero", the audience lost it... so - what happens next? The conductor rewinds that film.... and they do the whole scene again! The custom of the place allows the audience to sing along when it's an encore! Tears and all!
The power of opera at its best!
Saturday morning the trucks unload at the Jube and in goes the scenery for Cav/Pag! It’s always an adventure to get the set together. It was so long ago that the trailers were loaded , so once everything is pulled out, it is like a giant puzzle to familiarize oneself with all the pieces, sort things out and get everyone working to put it all together. I am always amazed at the co-ordinated teamwork with our TD (Clayton) and the IATSE crew (25+ members) – while lights are being swapped out or changed onstage, the trailers are being unloaded around them and side-stage, bits and pieces of the set are being constructed, the wardrobe crates are being moved into place, the costume maintenance shop is being created – all with a sense of purpose and genuine calmness. Incredible that it all happens in such a short time. With this set – we will have most of the scenery together the first day and a half (within 16 hours) – ready to be lit and be inhabited by the singers for Monday night rehearsal onstage.
It could be chaos at any moment – but because I am in charge of getting donuts for coffee breaks – we avoid any calamities. It’s all good!
Ever have one of those trips that was really, really, great – even better than you expected? Well that’s what Sandra and I did this weekend when we went to Toronto to do some auditions at the COC, Canada’s flagship opera company. We heard dozens of singers over the course of Saturday and Sunday; some were represented by agencies from all over North America, and others were part of the COC’s Ensemble Program, with the auditions taking place in the COC’s sonorous and vast rehearsal hall space at the Imperial Oil Theatre on Front Street. What was so striking about this particular round of auditions was overall exceptional quality of the singers we heard. Sometimes auditions can be a bit of a grab-bag, kind of like Forrest Gump’s metaphorical “box of chok-lits”, where you really don’t know what you’re gonna get; this round however was like one exciting discovery after another, particularly amongst the young artists of the Ensemble program. These young singers, almost all of them under 25, have some of the most wonderfully moving, and expressive instruments I’ve heard in a long time. I think there is great promise and potential here, and in a few more years when this group of young professionals launch out on their own, Canada, and the world, are going to witness the advent of some truly great artists. I can’t wait for us to able to bring some of them to Edmonton so you can hear them too!