As previously noted the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists is once again running its program for young professional singers in Toronto. The program is in two parts. There was an “Encounter” (career workshop) with Brett Polegato on October 20th and there will be a concert at 7pm on November 6th at the Zoomerplex which will be broadcast by Classical 96.3. Yesterday I spent some time talking with Brett about the program, its rewards and challenges and, inevitably, we drifted off into some broader issues about careers in the opera world.
A couple of days ago I sat down to chat with Natalya Gennadi who will sing the title role in Tapestry’s upcoming premiere of Oksana G by Aaron Gervais and Colleen Murphy. It’s a story about a Ukrainian girl who gets caught up with a sex-trafficking ring; an all too real phenomenon in Eastern and Central Europe as the Soviet system disintegrated. For Natalya it’s a very personal piece. She is Ukrainian and much the same age as Oksana would be. It’s her era and Oksana is, she feels, a similar sort of person from a similar background and there but for…
Thankfully, Natalya’ “career path” has been rather different. She didn’t set out to be a singer. In fact she trained in linguistics before applying to, and being accepted by the Moscow Conservatory though she never studied there. Instead she moved to Ottawa with her husband where she began to study music formsally. With a degree from the University of Ottawa she came to Toronto to study for her masters. Along the way she appeared in a number of student productions and since graduating has been keeping busy with roles mainly with opera companies and orchestras in the Toronto suburbs(*); most recently in the title role of Suor Angelica with Cathedral Bluffs and the countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Brott Festival. The latter representing something of a vocal shift from Puccini and the like to lighter rep. This is something that she sees as an important (if slightly unusual) career direction. There have also been competitions and the Karina Gauvin scholarship and a “career blueprint” award from the IRCPA.
I met with Tapestry Artistic Director Michael Mori earlier today to talk about the upcoming co-production with Scottish Opera of Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh’s new opera The Devil Inside. I’m not familiar with the work of either composer or librettist but each are well regarded in their own spheres; Welsh having made a name for herself with a number of psychological crime novels. And that seems like a good background for adapting Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp on which the opera is loosely based. The story itself is extremely creepy. Right up there in fact with, say, James’ The Turn of the Screw, which got turned into a pretty decent opera!
GGS and Ensemble Studio graduate Wallis Giunta will be returning to Toronto in early February for Tapestry Opera’s New Opera 101 program and the two concerts of Tapestry Songbook VI. Basically, she will be working with Jordan de Souza and a group of emerging artists on a three day series of workshops in contemporary opera which will include two concerts open to the public on February 5th and 6th. I spoke to her via Skype yesterday at her current digs in Leipzig.
Liz Caballero is an American soprano of Cuban origin. Like many successful professional singers she never really planned to be one. Opera wasn’t part of her childhood experience as a Cuban refugee in Southern Florida. Like many young people she sang in school and church choirs and often got to take solo roles but she didn’t have a voice lesson until she was at university. Her break came in 1995 when, on a whim, she entered the Pavarotti International Voice Competition in Miami and made it to the finals in Philadelphia. Pavarotti encouraged her to develop her raw talent which led to stints in young artists programs in Miami and San Francisco and to her current busy career mainly singing Puccini and Verdi roles in US regional houses.
I met with Adam Scime and Amanda Smith of FAWN Chamber Creative today to talk about chamber opera in general and their upcoming show L’Homme et le Ciel in particular. There are several questions that are exercising the minds of many people in the opera community as they try to create in and for the space that lies between the COC and an out of tune piano in a pub and that has value beyond providing performance opportunities for the participants.
There’s probably a rough consensus that the answer lies in “chamber opera” but less unanimity on what that means either in terms of forces employed or repertoire. Equally, there are differing views on where the potential audience is to be found. So where does FAWN sit on these issues?
I met with Michael Mori of Tapestry Opera on Friday ostensibly to talk about their upcoming season but, as these things tend to, we covered a lot more ground than that. As far as the season goes I have only a little to add to the previous piece I wrote on this subject. I can confirm that there will be no LibLab or Tapestry Shorts in 2015/16. Michael feels that the process has already produced enough composer/librettist connections to allow it to be scaled back to every other year which frees up more time/funds for other projects. This is clear from this season’s exciting line up with two fully staged chamber operas.