Edmonton Opera Blog

Wrestling With history: the origins of Turandot

Monday, August 22. 2016

                                                                                                                                                       Puccini’s final opera, Turandot (1926), is based on Carlo Gozzi’s play of the same name (1762). Gozzi, however, was himself inspired by a story found in François Pétis de la Croix’s collection of writings from 1712.

Pétis de la Croix was a French traveller who made his way across the Middle East, learning Arabic and translating important cultural works into French. While writing a biography of the great Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, Pétis de la Croix stumbled upon the exciting history of a warrior princess named Khutulun.

Khutulun was a Mongol princess born in 1260. Her father, Kaidu Khan, was the Mongol conqueror of China and the great-grandson of Genghis Khan. Khutulun often joined Kaidu on the battlefield, becoming known for her courage and strength. Her greatest claim to fame, however, was her skill as a wrestler — Khutulun was the undefeated wrestling champion of the Mongol Empire.

Khutlun’s achievements are well documented, including by the Italian explorer Marco Polo. He wrote of Khutulun’s resolve to abstain from marriage, vowing that she would only marry if the suitor could defeat her in a wrestling match. Not only that, Khutulun asked each suitor to wager 100 horses before stepping into the ring. If he lost, she would keep the horses. And she did.

Khutulun’s beauty attracted suitors from far and wide, but she kept winning and ultimately ended up with some 10,000 horses! (That number is likely a slight exaggeration). One particularly arrogant suitor even wagered 1000 horses instead of the usual hundred, but despite putting up a good fight, he lost to Khutulun.

Eventually, Khutulun did marry, but not just for love. Since she had refrained from marriage for so long, rumours started swirling that Khutulun had an uncomfortably close relationship with her father Kaidu. To suppress this gossip and to uphold the kingdom’s reputation, Khutulun chose a man she liked and married him.

When Pétis de la Croix learned of Khutulun’s legendary status, he was inspired to write a story about her. For dramatic effect and to make Khutulun’s tale more fantastical, he significantly altered a lot of details. Firstly, he changed her name to ‘Turandot’, a combination of Persian words meaning daughter (dot) from Central Asia (Turan). Turandot also had nothing to do with wrestling or sport; instead of challenging suitors in the ring, she now threw impossibly difficult riddles at them.

Although Pétis de la Croix created a new character that was very distinct from Khutulun, his story did maintain her portrayal as resolute and strong-willed. In all subsequent adaptations, including Puccini’s opera, Turandot is a figure of authority that cannot be underestimated.

While the story of Khutulun has evolved, passing through centuries of Western orientalist fantasy, her heroism is still the stuff of legend in cultures that trace their roots to the Mongol Empire.

Even in contemporary popular culture, Khutulun has made a comeback — Netflix’s internationally produced $90 million series Marco Polo features Khutulun prominently.

So what makes Khutulun’s story endure? Perhaps it is the sheer defiance with which she lived; an attitude that Marco Polo notes: Khutulun would never let herself be vanquished, if she could help it.


Carnincic, H., A. Penjak, and M. Cavala. "Pink-blue Gender Labelling: An Overview of the Origins of Inequality in Women's Wrestling." Anthropologist 24.3 (2016): 844-52.

Director Rob Herriot talks Turandot

Monday, August 22. 2016

                                                                                                                                                                This October, Edmonton Opera presents the highly anticipated production of Puccini's Turandot, starring soprano Othalie Graham in the title role. This opera, which Puccini left incomplete because of his untimely death, is arguably his best work and has seen thousands of revivals around the world. At the helm of Edmonton Opera's upcoming production is Rob Herriot, who previously directed 2015's The Magic Flute. He shares his thoughts on Puccini's grandest opera, the incredible design, and what audiences can expect from Edmonton Opera's Turandot

What can audiences look forward to with Turandot?

I am very excited about Turandot because it brings a vibrant production to Edmonton Opera that is traditional, yet not traditional. The scenery design reflects the ancient fairytale world that the opera takes place in — the iconic dragon and the pearl of wisdom are focal points that tell the story. We also have a remarkable cast that will make the music come alive and, of course, Puccini’s music itself is one of his best compositions. So when you bring the scenery, music, and stellar singing together, you have a pretty wonderful evening to look forward to.

How do you think the scenery and costumes (originally designed by Allen Charles Klein) support the narrative of Turandot?

From a technical point of view, the set design gives me lots of places to put singers where they can be seen and heard, against a backdrop that is very beautiful and does, in fact, help tell the story. Some sets and costumes are purely functional and sometimes get in the way of storytelling, but this is the perfect example of designs that support the narrative and action in every way, while giving us something pretty to look at.

How do you approach the character of Turandot?

I love the character of Turandot. Her strength and her fierceness are amazing, but what I always find troublesome is her sudden transition from a place of fierceness to this loving, soft woman. The journey I want to see is the ice melting: both elements, the steadfast anger and the loving heart, have to be present from the start in order to make the character believable. Of course, her anger is a lot more obvious throughout the opera, but without multiple layers the character of Turandot can become very black and white. As a director, it is very exciting for me to be given this character as it allows me to work with the singer to try and find those layers.

Have you worked with our Turandot (Othalie Graham) and Calaf (David Pomeroy) before?

I only know Othalie by reputation, and I hear she is a terribly exciting singer. She has performed the role of Turandot many, many times and will bring a world of magic to this production. I have known David Pomeroy for a long time; in fact, we went to opera school in Toronto together. He is a remarkable singer, and he only gets better with age. This is David’s role debut as Calaf, and it is extremely exciting for me to be able to work with him on it.

How does Turandot highlight the best of Puccini’s music?

Turandot was the last opera Puccini wrote, and towards the end, he was able to compose some very dynamic music because he started choosing characters and stories that were strong and interesting. In Turandot, Puccini adds a mixture of anger and softness into a character who cannot admit that she is in love. This infuses the music with a whole new intensity. It captures the terrifying fierceness of Turandot while bringing joyous music in Calaf’s soaring ‘Nessun dorma’. The tender and moving music of Liu and Timur also contrasts with Turandot’s anger. The score is thus full of energy and takes you on a very dramatic journey.

What makes Turandot the must-see opera this year?

The spectacle in Turandot is something that you have to experience live to believe. The music is highly demanding, which for me is like witnessing an Olympic sport. I want to see the singers soar and I want to see them triumph over the music, because when that happens, it is absolutely glorious. Especially if you are a first time operagoer, Turandot is a must-see. It brings an evening of exciting energy and vocal gymnastics, and you will certainly leave the theatre humming Puccini’s sublime tunes.

To watch Rob Herriot talk about Turandot, visit our YouTube channel.

Photo by Reed Hummell, Nashville Opera's Turandot.

Q&A with Summer Arts Administration Assistant Kendra Litwin!

Friday, August 12. 2016

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks to the Canada Summer Jobs program, Kendra Litwin joins the Edmonton Opera team this year as an Arts Administration Assistant. Designed to provide students experience within their field, the program enables not-for-profit organizations like ours to employ young people and further their professional development. This summer, Edmonton Opera has also welcomed Connor MacDonald to the team as a Production Assistant through the same program. 

We asked Kendra to share some insights about her summer as Arts Admin Assistant. Read on to discover how this enthusiastic young professional sums up her experience at Edmonton Opera!

How did you hear about the job posting at Edmonton Opera?

I’m a music student at the University of Alberta, and the Voice Department had shared the job posting with its students. I was chatting with a friend of mine in the Voice Department about having difficulties finding an interesting summer job related to my field, and she told me about the opportunity with Edmonton Opera.

What did you know about the organization beforehand, and how did that factor into your decision to apply?

I didn’t know much about opera before applying – I had been to a couple of Edmonton Opera’s productions, but that was it. Because of my inexperience, there was a small part of me that was actually hesitant to apply, and I questioned if I could do the job, knowing so little about opera. Thankfully there was another part of me that wanted to try something different, learn new skills, and grow personally and professionally.

Describe your educational background and your career interests.

I’m finishing up my Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance this year, after which I plan to enter Bachelor of Education After-Degree program. That being said, after working with Edmonton Opera this summer, I’ve gained an interest in the possibility of pursuing arts administration as a career.

How has working as the Summer Arts Admin Assistant honed your skills, and what new possibilities have you discovered?

This summer I have refined many of my existing administrative skills such as communication, organization and filing, and educational programming, as well as garnered new experiences in contract creation, personnel management, community building, and so much more. I’m looking forward to acquiring training on our database system, and have discovered more about what work in arts administration might look like, should I choose to pursue it.

What do you like best about working with Edmonton Opera?

Well, the office cat certainly brightens my day. In all seriousness, I’ve loved seeing a new side of what goes into a production. In the past, I have been a part of pit orchestras, musical casts, and helped out technical theatre assistants, but never really had the opportunity to see all of the behind-the-scenes administrative work that goes into a production. It’s been a truly incredible experience for me to be even a small part of it all.

How important do you think initiatives such as the Canada Summer Jobs program are? How do young people and arts organizations benefit?

I think programs like this are incredibly important! They present an amazing opportunity for students to get involved in organizations that they are interested in, work in a field related to their study, and gain applicable skills for when they graduate and enter the professional world.

Practically, most arts organizations are not-for-profit organizations and initiatives such as Canada Summer Jobs provide funding for some much-needed help in the summer to prepare for the upcoming season. It also gives the organization a very unique opportunity to reach out to younger generations and to have a direct and unforgettable impact in the personal and professional development of students.

In your opinion, how does opera impact the Edmonton community?

Edmonton is a fairly arts-heavy city: we have the one of the largest Fringe Theatre Festivals in North America, a number of music festivals in the summer, and visits from performance companies like Alberta Ballet and Broadway Across Canada. Opera is one more facet of the rich arts culture present in Edmonton, and one that I wish more people would take the time to discover and experience.

I firmly believe that participation in any form of art is good for the soul, whether you’re watching a play at Fringe, going to the Art Gallery of Alberta, seeing the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra perform, or attending one of Edmonton Opera’s shows this season. Artistic expression is a catalyst for personal development: it provides discussion points and stimulates necessary cultural engagement on an individual and societal level.

I have had the chance to see firsthand just how invested Edmonton Opera is in building community within the city. From planning outreach events in schools and universities, to taking up residence at a few local Farmers' Markets this summer, they are constantly trying to be present in our city. They create educational opportunities by inviting schools to the final dress rehearsal of each production, and provide curriculum-based activities for teachers to do with students to help them understand the opera more. Edmonton Opera is an organization that tries to be as accessible and present in the community as possible. Opera is an incredible art form: the stories presented are fantastic, the sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous, and they often have a very applicable moral or a critical issue to be discussed.

Any concluding thoughts you’d like to share?

My experiences here at Edmonton Opera have been so great – the people here are incredible, and I’ve learned so much. This upcoming season will be awe-inspiring, so I would really recommend to anyone even a little bit curious about opera to attend one of our productions.

To learn more about the Canada Summer Jobs program, visit the Service Canada page or view the 2016 News Release.

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.