Edmonton Opera Blog

Barber of Seville artist Q & A: Interesting facts

Tuesday, September 30. 2014

Over the course of three performances, Edmonton audiences will become familiar with the stories of Almaviva, Rosina, Bartolo, Basilio and Figaro, along with other characters that they pull into the drama of The Barber of Seville (Oct. 25, 28 & 30, 2014). But what about the stories of the opera singers behind these characters? Through a series of blog posts, we'll share some of the most interesting answers that members of the cast have submitted.

Is there anything we should additionally know about you that would be interesting to audiences?

I'm a keen (hobby) photographer, dabbling in subjects astronomical to microscopic, as well as on the human scale. - Phillip Addis, Figaro

I'm an avid hiker, a sucker for breakfast food and Breaking Bad, and if you saw my iPod playlist you wouldn't believe I sing opera (read: way too much classic rock and rap on there!). - Aaron Durand, Fiorello

I studied improv at the Second City Training Centre in Toronto for two years. I still take classes and clinics when I can. I say it's the best training for opera! It was also where I developed my killer impression of Morgan Freeman. - James McLennan, Almaviva 

Seven reasons to go to the opera this season

Wednesday, September 24. 2014

If there's a silver lining to the end of the summer, it's that Edmonton's performing arts organizations are once again getting into the swing of things! Here's seven reasons why you should join us at the opera this season.

7. This is the season to be impressed by opera. Listen live to some of the most difficult arias in opera, as each production has one aria listed on the Top 10 Horrifyingly Difficult Opera Arias.

6. Hear bel canto twice, with The Barber of Seville and Lucia di Lammermoor. With bel canto style opera, every song starts easy but then gets hard, challenging the audience to listen for musical statements and vocal colour, as Seattle Opera explains in this blog post.

5. Introduce someone else to the opera. Explorers members (18-29) can purchase a $25 membership  and receive two $20 tickets to each production this season, while encore! memberships (30-40) are free, and offer great discounts on subscriptions! An outing to the opera is a great reason to have a stylish night out with some friends or as a date. (And, might we add — if you're hoping for a fun night out where no one dies, The Barber of Seville is exactly that!)

4. Canadian soprano Simone Osborne, who was recently named by CBC as one of 30 outstanding classical musicians under 30, will make her role and company debut in the title spot of Lucia di Lammermoor in April. An intense drama, this classic opera explores madness and the dark edges of beauty.

3. Experience a really, really cool set for The Magic Flute, where, in the style of an exotic pop-up book, the audience is constantly confronted with something popping up, sliding down or dropping in to change the setting and mood. (By the way, our tech director keeps tweeting top-secret photos of the set design and build!)

2. Rossini's chattering rhythms in The Barber of Seville are infectious, plus, the melodies have been made famous by one particular wascally wabbit. Allison Grant (Die Fledermaus, February 2014) returns to direct this stylish comedy set on a movie studio backlot in 1940s Seville.

1. Subscriptions offer a great way to save on all three operas (up to 30 per cent compared to single tickets) and single tickets are also affordable, starting at $40 on the main floor. However you choose to escape to the opera with us, be sure to leave enough time to once again take advantage of the complimentary parking in the Jubilee parkade! 

Less-liked arias

Thursday, July 11. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on their 30-question challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff 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 your own opinions about the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Week 26:

Name an aria you dislike, and why. Is it because it's an earworm, or too long, maybe?

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: Interesting question. The aria Nessun dorma from Puccini's Turandot was popularized by the Three Tenors who sang their debut concert on the eve of the 1990 World Cup. Unfortunately, when I hear Nessun Dorma, this soccer visual is what I remember. Having not seen Turandot itself, I am afraid when I do get the chance, the drama will be lost as I will visualize soccer fans, Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti singing "vincero!" (I will win!)

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator and chorusmaster: I'm not too fond of Rodolfo from La bohème. Think about it: this guy's girlfriend is dying of tuberculosis, and all he does is sit around writing poetry and complain that she's cheating on him. The poor girl isn't, of course, and she might have had a chance of beating the TB if he'd actually gotten a job and bought her some medicine. Maybe some firewood to heat their freezing apartment. Instead, all he does is sing an aria about how cold her hands are. (Che gelida manina)

What opera did you have to give a second chance to?

Thursday, June 20. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-question challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff 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 your own opinions about the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Week 25:

Is there an opera you initially didn't like but now enjoy? What made you finally come around to it?

Clayton Rodney, technical director: Falstaff. I didn't find it funny the first few times I saw it. Now it cracks me up when staged well.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Fidelio. I saw it on DVD first, and didn't like it too much, but then I saw Houston Grand Opera's production that changed my mind, and finally, when we did it last season (2011/12), I fell in lovewith it!

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: This is judging a book by its cover, but I was sure I wouldn't enjoy Eugene Onegin. Turns out there were a lot of things I really, really enjoyed about it (especially the second act). 

Opera in unexpected places

Friday, June 14. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff 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 your own opinions about the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Week 24:

What's the most memorable or most unique place you've seen an opera? Why that place?

Tim Yakimec, interim business manager & director of production: Verona, Italy. Saw Turandot. The outdoor coliseum opens to the air, and utilizing the architecture of the stadium to house the stage at one end, and the tiered stepped seating behind to hold minor set pieces and chorus, etc., was amazing. The sound, incredibly, was excellent, and what they did with literally hundreds of singers and supers was extraordinary. The ceremony at the beginning where 20,000 people all lit a candle to start the production was unifying and really lent itself to a ritual that connected you to the spectacle in itself created. Cool walking around the coliseum prior to see the large set pieces for the other shows in rep lying about. I would love to go again.

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach manager: My most memorable experience was seeing a performance at the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil. It is located in the heart of the rainforest and we were lucky to catch a performance during their annual opera festival after a 10-day trek in the Amazon. After sleeping in hammocks with was quite a culture shock to be in a lavish theatre.

On social media, it was very cool that someone else mentioned the Verona Amphitheatre as their most memorable place to see opera (sounds like they saw Aida there, while Tim saw Turandot). We also had submissions of the Sydney Opera House and a school gym in northern Alberta. 

Want to hear more opera in unexpected places? Be sure to join us for Opera al Fresco on June 21, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Devonian Botanic Garden. There'll be wine, appetizers, and four different performances throughout the gardens!  

Lots of choices for first-time opera-goers

Thursday, May 30. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff 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 your own opinions about the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Week 23:

What's the best opera for a first-time opera-goer?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: The Barber of Seville. Many people know the tune from Bugs Bunny and it's fun.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I think it depends what someone in particular likes, determines what a good opera is for them. Any of the 2012/13 operas were good first-time operas, if they had the right appealing elements for someone: Aida was a fairly simple storyline with grand staging, Hoffmann was more complicated but there was so much to constantly look at with all the circus characters, and Onegin was wonderful music and Russian culture. Same thing for next season: Salome has the literary and historical connections, Fledermaus is an operetta with a mix of spoken and sung parts and lots of comedy, and Butterfly has traditional Japanese elements with a heartbreaking, universal story.

On Twitter, we had answers of The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro as good first operas to see. We also had a great discussion on Facebook, with answers including La Bohème, La Traviata, Tosca, The Magic Flute, Madama Butterfly and Carmen.  The common theme? That these were all familiar operas, with music that was easily recognizable. Another interesting pattern also appeared: often, people's favourite opera was also their first opera. 

Supertitles: built-in translation

Thursday, May 23. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they could direct, sing, conduct, etc., an opera.
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either in the comments or via social media.

Week 22:

During the Opera America conference in Vancouver at the beginning of May, Opera Omaha did a great job of tweeting during the conference (especially, and understandably, during the social media sessions, using the hashtag #operaconf). One of the questions they brought up was

Supertitles — yes or no? Do they affect how you hear the music?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Yes, you need supertitles. Without it you sometimes do not get what the story is about.

Lauren Tenney, marketing and fund development co-ordinator: Yes. It's nice to have the option of them there to read, and if you don't want to read them or if you get caught up in the music, you don't even notice them.

Catherine Szabo, communications co-ordinator: Yes and no. I'm really glad that I saw Aida twice, because the first time I was so overwhelmed trying to take everything in — the cast, the staging, the set, the music and the supertitles — it was really nice to go a second time and just enjoy everything, and watch the supertitle screen for the lines that I really liked and thought were really beautiful translations. I think supertitles are essential because even if you know the story, it's nice to have direct translation, but at the same time, you have to be able to ignore them sometimes. 

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach manager: I do appreciate supertitles, but find getting informed beforehand allows me to enjoy the music more and not be always looking up. Read the synopsis, attend a pre-opera talk before the show, search wiki — it all helps to better understand the opera from all sides. 

Did you know? The Canadian Opera Company's production of Strauss' Elektra on Jan. 21, 1983, was the first opera in history to be titled. 

Memorable opera

Thursday, May 9. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they could conduct, direct, sing, etc., an opera.
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either in the comments or via social media.

Week 21:

What's your most memorable opera experience?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung — Robert LePage's productions. We did this with his assistant a while ago, and it was such a cool concept.

Cameron MacRae, creative manager: My most memorable opera experience was my first visit to the Opera national de Paris at the Bastille. I had the chance to see Janacek's Makropulos Affair, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski. The staging and design made allusions to Hollywood, and the brilliant soprano Angela Denoke played the leading role of Emilia Marty. In one scene she wore a Marilyn Monroe-inspired dress complete with updraft, and later carried onstage by a 10-metre tall King Kong bust.

Rebecca Anderson, box office supervisor: I spent some time in Europe just after high school and decided last minute to go to the opera in Vienna. It was a performance of Salome and as a student of German I confess I was a bit confused. 

On Twitter, it was nice that users named a couple Edmonton Opera productions as most memorable — the 1974 production of Carmen was one user's first introduction to opera, while more recently, Tales of Hoffmann was another's most memorable opera experience. Photographer Nanc Price named her backstage experience shooting Eugene Onegin as most memorable, and we can certainly understand that — it's a chance that not a lot of people get! Someone else also named the 2007 Met production of Lucia di Lammermoor as most memorable ("I've signed my death warrant" — ink appeared as blood).

Operas with good characters

Thursday, May 2. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do it if they could sing, conduct, direct, etc., an opera.
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

This is the 20th question in a series of 30 — thanks for sticking with us!  

Which opera has the best characters?

Jelena Bojic, director of commuity relations: Satyagraha. Based on Ghandi's life and philosophy of non-violence, the opera has three acts and each act is based on people who changed the world — Tolstoy, Tagore and Martin Luther King. These characters are so compelling and thought-provoking, and you want to memorize everything they say because it's so powerful.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: So many operas have great characters, but I am simply going by my first association and come up with Don Carlos, where history and Shiller get both re-written. Having said that, on second thought, the multi-layered relationship between Wotan and Brunnhilde and how it evolves during Die Walkure is my favourite.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: Just of the three operas this season, I think Tales of Hoffmann has the best characters, especially because of the four villains, who reappear in each of the acts in different forms. To separate direction from character description, however, I think I would have to see different versions of the same opera to determine which characters I really liked the best. 

See-it-again opera

Thursday, April 25. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they could sing, conduct, direct, etc., an opera.
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

Which is the opera you've seen the most often?

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: Carmen. At least three times.

Amanda MacRae, education & community outreach manager: Tales of Hoffmann. When we presented it in February I saw it four times. The singing was wonderful!

Jeff McAlpine, assistant technical director: La bohème.

On Twitter, Aida got a mention as the most-viewed opera, because "our opera house loved producing it ... plus, the triumphal march is the music played at our graduation ceremonies. It just means a lot. I was happy to see it in #yeg."

Love at first aria

Thursday, April 18. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they could sing, conduct, direct, etc., an opera.
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What was the first aria you fell in love with?

Rebecca Anderson, box office supervisor: Mozart's Magic Flute Queen of the Night aria. I ran around the house as a kid squeaking and mimicking that song. (There was a popular film in the '80s about Mozart and that was on the soundtrack.) I loved the craziness of it all. This woman was magnificent. And the fairy-tale-like story of that opera was very appealing to a kid in Grade 1.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: For me it was Vesti La Giubba at the end of the first act of Pagliacci. I couldn't have been more than three years old when my grandmother played it for me, sung it and cried as I sat under her piano full of wonderment. Maybe that's why I cry at so many of emotionally strong operatic performances — came to it honestly.

On Twitter, users mentioned that the Flower Duet from Lakme and Carmen's Habanera ("I still remember where/when/who/why details first time hearing it like a first kiss.") were some of their favourites.

Onegin Opera 101: love, duelling & translation

Monday, April 15. 2013

By the time a production finally opens, Edmonton Opera staff can usually recite the storyline forwards, backwards and sideways. But what about all the context talking about the time period the opera was written in, the nuances of the language used and insight into how Edmonton Opera will put the work on stage?

That’s what Opera 101 is for.

Moderated by Stephan Bonfield, musicologist, the panel on Wednesday, April 10, featured panelists including Edmonton Opera artistic administrator and chorusmaster Michael Spassov, Edmonton Opera CEO Sandra Gajic, and two Russian language and literature professors at the University of Alberta, Dr. Jelena Pogosjan and Dr. Peter Rolland. 

Is love an illusion?

It was the first question Bonfield posed to the panel, and Spassov countered that the whole opera is about this set of characters and their relationship to love. Plus, maybe it’s not necessarily an illusion, but fate at work — an idea that Tchaikovsky was obsessed with. Sometimes the right person comes along at the wrong time in your life, Spassov continued. He asked, what if it’s maybe the wrong people who are together? Would things have worked out differently if Lenski’s fiancée was Tatiana, and Onegin fell in love with Olga?

As a neuroscience researcher, Bonfield explained that neurons in the brain can be programmed to do two completely different tasks. “You can fall in love with two different people, stay with one person, be in love with that one person, but the memory of decades ago will come back,” he said. This explains why Tatiana feels that when she re-encounters Onegin at Gremin’s ball, “it’s as fresh as yesterday,” because she still remembers being in love with him, which we saw in the first act.

The duelling tradition

Every opera has a love story, and Bonfield compared the storyline to that of Verdi, with an added twist — duelling. It just ups the ante that much more. At this time in Russian history, duelling was an important and common practice, and not always deadly. Pushkin was involved in 29 (known) duels before he was killed in one himself, but the intent of duels was to defend honour, to wound or to miss, not to kill. Before he died, Pushkin had never killed anyone in the duels he fought.

A crash course in the Russian language

There are 42 different English translations of Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse that is roughly 150 pages long. Pogosjan’s favourite version, however, is four volumes in English, as each piece of vocabulary is defined with all the possible variations and meanings. Still, she, as a native Russian speaker, described English versions as flat and two-dimensional, adding that “I don’t have enough language (in English)” to talk about the poetry of the original text. The general feeling of the panelists was that despite the number of translations of Eugene Onegin available, there is invariably something lost in translation. There has been a lot of talk (understandably) lately about learning the Russian language — though the majority of the principal singers are native Russian speakers, there are still some cast members and the entire chorus who have had to learn the language for this opera. And there are just some sounds that aren’t made in the English language that are common in Russian.

But if you don’t have time to learn Russian in the next week, don’t worry. We always display English supertitles above the stage, so that everyone knows what’s going on. For what it’s worth though, reading every slide isn’t essential — the cast is that good that if you’ve read the synopsis beforehand, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. And as Sandra Gajic paraphrased director Tom Diamond: “All of these singers have Onegin in their DNA.”

Eugene Onegin moments

Thursday, April 11. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they could create, sing, conduct, etc., an opera. 
We welcome your comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What's your favourite moment in Eugene Onegin?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: I love Act 2, Scene 1 when Lenski gets so mad and sad about Olga dancing with Onegin. It's so sad to watch.

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: One of my favourite moments in Eugene Onegin is Tatiana's yearning theme in her letter during her aria in Act 1 — one of the most powerful solo scenes for the soprano voice. However, my heart breaks for the young poet, Lenski, when he sings Kuda, kuda in Act 2.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations:  Definitely when Onegin falls in love with this beautiful woman, and then realizes it's someone who loved him and he rejected her years ago. I just it's the first moment he regrets rejecting Tatiana's love.

Sandra Gajic, CEO: My favourite moment in this opera is when Lenski waits for an hour for Onegin to show up for the duel. In that winter scene of desolation when Lenski sense that his life has come to an end and those first few notes that will open his aria Kuda, kuda — a sense of wasted youth, life right there in those moments.

Famous choral pieces

Thursday, March 28. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera has taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they could create, sing, conduct, etc., an opera. 
We welcome comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What, in your opinion, is the most famous opera choral part, and why is it so recognizable?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Libiamo, from La Traviata, or the Butterfly humming chorus.

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: Verdi's Triumphal March in Aida represents victory on such a large scale. I believe this is grand opera at its greatest height, and therefore, probably makes it so famous. Also, more on a personal note, there is something really special about Borodin's Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor, as it is such beautifully composed music for orchestra and chorus.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Va, pensiero from Nabucco. It is Verdi's choral work of art, and it is often performed twice because it is so well liked. That was my graduation song so it brings back wonderful memories, and I am always tempted to sing along when I hear it.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I don't know if it's the most famous piece of opera choral work, but I love the chorus parts in Tales of Hoffmann, especially the drinking song and Kleinzach's tale — so much so that when I searched for it on the Internet, I was disappointed that with principals added, it was much less prominent. Staff here are extremely lucky that we get to hear all the pieces of an opera before it comes together — just the chorus rehearsing, just the principals rehearsing, and then the amazing magic they create together! 

A discussion of Russian composers

Friday, March 22. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. 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 an open-ended question about what they would do if they conduct, create, etc., an opera.
We welcome comments with your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media. 

While writing the biography for the Eugene Onegin playbill, we found definitions of Tchaikovsky's style — "a combination of his formal Western-oriented training with the Russian style he had been exposed to all his life." Tchaikovsky is called one of the world's greatest/one of the great Russian composers, and with Eugene Onegin in mid-April, we wanted to discuss Russian operas in general. 

What do you like about Tchaikovsky's style that other composers don't do? What is missing in his style that is standard for other Russian composers?

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator & chorusmaster: I'm crazy about Russian music, and there are so many great operas by Russian composers. There's lots of opportunity for us at Edmonton Opera to expand our repertoire when it comes to Russian opera. You can see this dichotomy between the Western and the Russian in Onegin: The peasants’ chorus in Act 1 is a traditional form of Russian folk poetry called a “Chastushka” — humourous poetry that’s sort of a Russian cross between a limerick and rap.  But then we have a story about the love lives of aristocrats, and all these fancy upper-class dances like the waltz and the polonaise. The scenes between Tatiana and her nurse are an interesting example of the split — we see the two styles side by side: Tatiana’s very sophisticated chromatic music of longing, and the Nurse’s direct phrases drawn on Russian folk music. There are so many incredible Russian operas we could look at for the future: Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky), The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky), Love of Three Oranges (Prokofiev), Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Shostakovich), Prince Igor (Borodin), The Tsar’s Bride (Rimsky-Korsakov), Life with an Idiot (Schnittke) — and these are just the greatest hits!

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: In contrast to “The Mighty Five” (Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov) who promoted romantic Russian nationalism (reaction to domination of imported European culture), Tchaikovsky found a more cosmopolitan voice of his own, composing deeply tragic love operas. I think Tchaikovsky’s music has more universal appeal from all of the Russian composers; he is definitely one of the greats! However, there are other Russian composers who composed beautiful melodies as well: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev.

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach manager: While Tchaikovsky met with composers from "The Five," his musical style was very different from that of many of his Russian colleagues. He not only incorporated elements of Russian folk music, but was also largely influenced by his conservatory training and Western styles.