Entries by Edmonton Opera

Edmonton Opera Blog

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. 

Groundhog Day of opera

Wednesday, November 28. 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 opera would you see countless times?

Clayton Rodney, technical director: Satyagraha, composed by Phillip Glass and libretto by Glass and Constance DeJong. I saw it in New York, and it's hours of my life that I could just watch again and again.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: The Ring Cycle. I've seen it numerous times, all over the world, I've travelled for it, and each concept is so different and uncovers new layers. I will try to make it to Seattle (in August 2013) for their production of The Ring Cycle.

Cameron MacRae, creative coordinator: Satyagraha, more for the music than anything else. I love Phillip Glass and could just listen to him all the time.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: (When it was her turn, and two other people had already answered Satyagraha, she quipped that she thought she was being original with her choice.) Each of the acts is about a major cultural person who affected the world, and the music is amazing. Before I saw it, I had four espresso to prepare — it's almost four hours long — but I sat there with my eyes wide open throughout the entire thing, amazed.

Kelly Sheard, grant writer: Puccini wrote an opera, La Fanciulla del West, that happened in the Wild West. I don't know about seeing it again and again and again, but I'd certainly like to see it, as something completely different. 

Mandy MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: I saw Madama Butterfly at the English National Opera, and the set and costumes were absolutely beautiful. I could watch that one many times.

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: I have too many I'd watch over and over again. Bluebeard's Castle is one. I love it. It's just so different than anything else, and it's amazing. 

Tim Yakimec, director of production: I would see The Tales of Hoffmann over and over again. I have seen a number of productions of it, and I would see it again because of the music, but also because of different director's concepts working on the piece. I have seen four different perspectives and all have been so interesting because of the director's choice for setting and character development. 

Eight days with Shelter cast, crew and orchestra

Thursday, November 22. 2012

Sunday: Day 1 (Nov. 11)

Edmonton Opera production director Tim Yakimec arrives at my doorstep with a cargo van. Inside is the mini fridge I’d asked to have backstage, a printer and a kettle. The rest of the space is reserved to pick up the double bass at the airport. I’m along for the ride to the airport to become a driver, and bring back the Tapestry New Opera creative team. I don’t know any of them, so I made a sign to hold at the airport like in the movies. It says Edmonton Opera – Tapestry New Opera – SHELTER in big letters. Only one person noticed it. Sadly my life is not a Hollywood film.

Everyone from Tapestry has been working on this show for months; the writing and workshop process took years. As a local stage manager, I’m working just the shows and the week of tech to be backstage and be a local resource.

The van is rented, suitcases are found and we head back into town with the luggage, Ben, Beth and Aaron (video and lighting designers and their new baby!!), Sue (set designer) and Isolde (stage manager, my boss). I am a great tour guide (and a humble one as well) and take everyone to the grocery store to get set up for the week.

Isolde and I chat about what the week will look like over a tasty beverage. I’ve got a list of tasks for the morning!

Monday: Day 2 (Nov. 12)

A brisk walk to the hotel from my place, and I’m again the chauffeur, driving the gang to the theatre. At 8 a.m. It’s early.

Load-in has begun! The projection screen is being assembled and costumes are coming out of suitcases. Turns out that the suitcase is a prop too, not just a suitcase!

Then I’m driving back to the airport to find the orchestra, the cast, the director and maestro! We have two vans and Tim’s truck so luckily everyone and everything fits.

Isolde sent me a whole bunch of paperwork with my copy of the score the week before. Now we just need to make sure I know about the changes in blocking and the cuts to the score. That way I can make sure that all the props and quick-change pieces are in the right place at the right time backstage!

Onstage lights are being hung and focused. Sue is doing small repairs on costumes. Jesse (the bass player) comes to the theatre to make sure his bass arrived all in one piece. It has. It’s a great day.

Tuesday: Day 3 (Nov. 13)

Our props and costume areas are all set up. Lighting cues are being created. Connor, our supernumerary, and Michael, from Tapestry, are champions and are being the light-walkers. It’s not a glamorous job; it’s akin to being a stand-in in a movie. They stand onstage where the singers will be standing and the lights change in intensity around them until it looks perfect. This can take a while, and can be (for the light-walkers) pretty dull. But they hang in there! (And continue to do so for the next couple of days. Champs!)

I’m sitting by my score looking through it in the moments between needing to run to fetch something for someone, making tea and coffee, grabbing the prop/costume piece that’s needed onstage, relaying information from the carpentry shop to backstage and to the audience where the creative team is stationed. Today we are setting the prop house on fire. It takes a while to perfect the mechanism. The CSA fellow, Aidan (Tapestry production manager), and Jeff (EOA assistant technical director), are all working hard to make this piece of theatre magic work. Spoiler alert: The house burns at the end of the opera.

Then the cast arrives and it’s time to do the piano tech! How did that happen so quickly? I finally get to hear the music. All the pieces are coming together. I am trying to remember everyone’s name, what prop they need when and how all the scene changes we’ve worked on fit into the running time of the opera. Hectic, but fun!

Wednesday: Day 4 (Nov. 14)

The orchestra and the cast are all here, and it’s wonderful to hear what the opera will sound like with everyone. And it sounds great. There is one part of the show when I have a moment to groove out and dance backstage to the music. Yup, this is my real job!

We have a dress rehearsal tonight. There are a few invited guests, and they laugh at the jokes. It’s so good to have an audience. I am getting the feeling of the show too, but I’m still checking my notes all the time to make sure I don’t forget anything.

Thursday: Day 5 (Nov. 15)


We have a short rehearsal in the afternoon to iron out the last couple of wrinkles. It’s the last time Keith, our director, and Wayne, the maestro, have to give notes before the big night.

Tonight the Edmonton Opera is treating us all to a small dinner at the theatre. What a wonderful surprise! I’m excited and nervous about the show. I haven’t written my opening night cards yet, so I hide backstage and write Toi Toi Toi to everyone!

But time ticks on, the patrons arrive and suddenly I’m giving the two minutes to show time call. And we’re off! And everything goes well. There are chuckles from the audience at all the right places, the singers are great, the music is soaring, the props are where they should be, the house burns just like it’s supposed to and then: applause! We did it!

I eat a lot of mini-pastries at the opening night reception to celebrate.

Friday: Day 6 (Nov. 16)

I get to sleep in today! What bliss. Plus, my job is to go to work and make the magic at the opera happen tonight. It’s pretty much the best. There are only a couple “day after opening” mishaps. I get to spend time with Maestro in the car as we race back to the hotel to get his score, and arrive back at the theatre to learn that a frappuccino leapt off the table onto Christine’s costume. Michelle, our wardrobe angel, saves the day! Everything is ready for the show, thankfully, and on it goes!

Saturday: Day 7 (Nov. 17)

It’s a two-show day today. Or as cast member Keith Klassen said to me, “Groundhog Day.” You know, like the movie where Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again? And it’s true, part way through the second show I’m looking at my notes thinking “Didn’t I already do that?” and I had done it: during the matinée.

There seems to be a gremlin in one of the moving lights. We will set it during the crew call before the show, and then during the show it has a mind of its own. I’m sure we’re the only ones who notice. We will fix it again tomorrow!

Sunday: Day 8 (Nov. 18)

It’s the last show! Isolde is already handing out taxi chits for some folks to leave right after the show. My mom and dad are coming to see it this afternoon and I’m excited to hear their reactions over birthday dinner tonight. Oh yeah, it’s my birthday — everyone sings to me backstage before the audience comes in. Opera “Happy Birthday” is the best! Wow.

The show runs smoothly and then the work lights are on, the crew has arrived and the screens are coming down, the orchestra is packing up, and I am emptying the coffee maker and packing up all my stage management supplies.

The crew will be working until everything gets cleared and restored to how the theatre was when we arrived. I’m not on that crew however, so once all the dressing rooms have been cleaned out, and my supplies are all packed up, Isolde, Tim and I pack the truck and I’m done.

I drive Isolde back to the hotel to say goodbye. I really can’t believe it’s only been a week. I’ve been so lucky to work with her — what an amazing stage manager and mentor. It’s been wonderful working with the whole company too! We say “until next time, whenever that is.”

And that’s it! The week of Shelter in Edmonton! Whew!

Anna Davidson was the assistant stage manager for the ATB Canadian Series production of "Shelter," at La Cité Francophone Nov. 15-18. She has previously worked with the Edmonton Opera on "The Mikado," "The Barber of Barrhead" and "Carmen." She has also worked as a stage manager for the Citadel Theatre, Northern Light Theatre, Shadow Theatre, Workshop West, Theatre Network, Concrete Theatre and L'Uni Theatre. She is a graduate of the theatre production program at MacEwan and the theatre performance program at Red Deer College. 

Wishlist of opera houses to visit

Tuesday, November 20. 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 opera house would you like to visit some day, and why?

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator & chorus master: The Mariinsky Theatre. I've always wanted to go to St. Petersburg, and Canadian architect Jack Diamond (Diamond Schmitt Architects) is the architect — the same architectural firm who designed the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

Tim Yakimec, director of production: The State Opera House in Prague. It has all the original stage mechanisms, and they all still work — they haven't modernized it. Plus the city is gorgeous. It's incredible that they're still using the original stage mechanisms and yet we're about always looking ahead to the next big thing.

Clayton Rodney, technical director: There's two — an old one, the Paris Opera House because it's in Paris, and the one in Oslo (Tim Yakimec has been there). An old one and a new one.

Tara-Lee LaRose, box office manager: I did lots in Vienna and I walked by the opera house, but I didn't go in, so I'd like to go to that one.

Analee Roman, CFO: Oslo, same as Clayton. Only because I think it would be cool to see opera performed on water. 

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach coordinator: I would love to visit the Sydney Opera House. I really enjoy travelling and visiting different UNESCO heritage sites, and it would be amazing to take a tour through it and watch a performance. It's supposed to be a really stunning building.

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Shanghai Opera, because the original architecture is still on the outside, but they gutted the inside and built a whole new theatre inside.

Lauren Tenney, marketing coordinator: I have three. New York, because the Met is just something you should go to, and it's probably the easiest one that I could travel to. Sydney, because of the building, but I don't know if I'll ever get there. And Vienna, because it's old.

Cameron MacRae, creative coordinator: The same one that Clayton wants to go to, in Oslo. It's become such a destination for tourists, so it's cool that people might go just for the architecture but end up seeing an opera too. And I want to go to La Scala to see opera in a place where it's so much a part of the culture and history.

Jeff McAlpine, assistant technical director: The Royal Opera House, because I really like England, and that's what I think of when I think of England.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: Savonlinna, in Finland. It's an old ancient castle with a summer festival, and I haven't been there yet. 

Kelly Sheard, grant writer: The opera house I want to visit is a little less grand and a lot closer than some. I have yet to see the Canmore Opera House, located at Heritage Park in Calgary. I would like to sit with the resident ghost, Sam, in one of the rows. 

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Mine would be Vienna Opera House, as one of the most famous opera houses that has a different opera performance every day! The quality of productions sounds truly amazing and I'd love to see anything there. 

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I would want to visit the Amargosa Opera House, in Death Valley, Calif., because it is literally in the middle of nowhere. Also, the Savonlinna Opera Festival sounds gorgeous.

Opening night draws near

Monday, October 15. 2012

When I was asked by Sandra at Edmonton Opera to write a blog about my experience in Aida, I feared that I might not have much to say. Well, it turns out that I’ve been writing and editing for quite some time, and I have much to say!

Currently living in Fort McMurray, not only do I consider Edmonton Opera as my “local” opera company, but I am also very familiar with the concept of travelling for work. The principal artists hail from around the world, and I am deeply honoured to be working with them! At every turn they are inspiring me (and making me laugh sometimes, of course). I am finding that I need less sleep, and that I cannot keep from smiling most of each day. I stay longer at rehearsals than I am required to, because this music is exquisite, the process is intense, and I want to soak it all in. Everyone involved is giving 100% of their energy, vision and focus to present Aida with artistic integrity.

Sitting in these rehearsals, I ask myself a series of questions. How can opera not be relevant? How do I communicate to the masses that the stories, although often exaggerated, are about the human condition, about relationships, and are accessible and understandable? How do I describe the sheer power of the human voice and its spectrum of colours that the audience will hear in Aida? How do I tell the story of hundreds of people working from their hearts and minds to bring to you this tragic story? How do I convey the strength of the chorus, the beauty of the dancers, the precision of the music and the incredible visual spectacle that the audience will see? I believe the answer is to invite you to come to the opera with an open mind, to experience the utter magic for which there are no words.

It goes without saying that I miss my husband Mike when I’m away, and there are some lonely times. I am grateful that, although not an opera fan at all, he is ridiculously supportive of my career choices. Thank God, because when I walked out onstage at the first rehearsal in the Jubilee Auditorium, all I could do was throw up my arms to the invisible audience and let out a laugh, especially knowing that in the audience, every night, will be friends and family from Sherwood Park, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and throughout Alberta! This will not be the last time I share opera with amazing colleagues and audiences. In fact, I will go as far as to say that I believe that not only is opera relevant, but that it will become stronger in this generation. I look forward to continuing this amazing journey.

Edited to add: It is production week! The collective energy between the entire team is palpable. If that is any indication at all of what will be created each night when the curtain rises on Oct. 19, 21, 23 and 25, the audience is in for a powerful, visceral experience.

Cara Brown sings the role of the high priestess in the Edmonton Opera's production of "Aida." Originally from Edmonton, she currently lives in Fort McMurray. 

Production facility tour

Tuesday, August 21. 2012

Edmonton Opera's assistant technical director talks about the new production facility, which consolidates three warehouses into one. The first build taking place in the space, "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," is scheduled to begin any day.

Commentary: Opera North's "Die Walkure"

Thursday, July 26. 2012

When one mentions Wagner, Leeds, England, does not immediately come to mind. In fact, when one circumscribes the master’s works to The Ring Cycle, or one of its four operas, one thinks about the major opera houses of the world. Such is the magnitude of effort, financial commitment, singing and orchestral excellence required that only the largest houses can afford it and can attract the quality of performers who can take on this monstrosity of a work, or for that matter, any of his later works

My wife and I were travelling in England in June 2012 and had found that Opera North would be producing Die Walküre, the second of Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas, and for most people, the most popular. Not being a major house, could Opera North produce a credible performance?

Opera North came into existence in 1972 out of a recognition that there needed to be a significant opera company outside of London. Initially under the aegis of the English National Opera, Opera North found its independence a few years later, and currently produces nine operas per year with an annual budget of more than £11 million. This is more than twice as large as Edmonton Opera. It performs in Leeds, Birmingham, Gateshead and Salford Quays. This year, Opera North’s calendar calls for Don Giovanni, Faust, Otello, La Clemenza di Tito, La voix humaine and Dido and Aeneas, with more to follow in the summer program. Clearly, this is an adventurous company.

Its current general director is Richard Mantle, who in the early 1990s held the same position with Edmonton Opera. His reign was known for excellent productions, though not always appreciated by the locals. I remember a Julius Caesar by Handel done on a stage full of sand, and Caesar in a business suit and barefoot (because of the sand, you see). Another was Janáček's Jenufa, for which the tenor succumbed to some illness on opening day. At the last minute, Richard flew in a performer from Chicago who arrived five minutes before the performance was to start, sang the part and was put back on a plane to sing the same role the next night in Chicago. The latter company was furious when they heard what their tenor had done; he was supposed to be resting that day, but for us, it was a memorable performance.

Under-appreciated in the colonies, Richard moved back to his native country and has been producing great opera in Leeds and other centres in northern England ever since.

Richard said staging a full production of The Ring Cycle would bankrupt the company, but producing it in concert version, one opera per year, was achievable. We heard nearly 100 musicians perform Die Walküre, this year’s offering. Opera North has its own orchestra of 53 players, and supplemented this with freelance musicians from the region, making a total of 98, a respectable size for a Wagnerian performance. The violins may have sounded a bit thin at times, but the horns were spectacular, filling the hall with that typically bold, and occasionally overpowering, Wagnerian sound.

The principal singers were dressed in formal wear (their own, so the company saved even on costumes). They were excellent, with Brünnhilde especially standing out. Video and still projection behind the orchestra captured the mood of each scene, and occasionally told the backstory, for those not already familiar with this complex tale.

Other than the fact that the Town Hall is an old building with no air conditioning and it was insufferably hot, especially in the third act, it was a wonderful evening.

We were guests of Richard's at this performance (arranged by Sandra Gajic, the Edmonton Opera CEO) and enjoyed telling him about progress in Edmonton, about which both he and his wife seem to retain favourable memories. As well, we enjoyed the wine and subsequent dinner served during the second intermission. This was typically reserved for donors, but since it is the same people at all the operatic events in Leeds (we have the same situation in Edmonton), we were minor celebrities. People were amazed that we would have come such a distance to see an opera. We have travelled farther for opera and will likely continue to do so. Our dinner was in an elegant room with tuxedoed servers. Others, less privileged, were eating out of picnic baskets they had brought for the long intermission.

By the way, this habit of having one short intermission and one long is typically an English and German custom, and perhaps was dreamed up as an accommodation to the Wagnerian scale of operatic evenings. One cannot endure six hours without eating, so the second intermission is usually an hour or more, and people bring their dinner with them to the theatre, or make other more interesting arrangements. At Glyndebourne, they sit on the grass with their food baskets and bottle of wine, and enjoy the outdoors before going back in to see gods and nibelungs kill each other.

This concert format is something that Edmonton Opera should consider for a larger opera. We have never had the more ambitious works of Wagner here, and perhaps this concert version of the second Ring opera is possible.

Siegmund – Erik Nelson Werner
Sieglinde – Alwyn Mellor
Hunding – Clive Bayley
Wotan – Béla Perencz
Brünnhilde – Annalenna Persson
Fricka – Katarina Karnéus
Conductor – Richard Farnes

Gabe ShelleyGabe Shelley is a management consultant in Edmonton and an opera lover. He and his wife, Connie, travel the world for great opera. He has served on the Edmonton Opera board and continue to support its exciting future. Currently, he is a part of the artistic committee.