Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
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.
So finally we have dates and casting for the long awaited Oksana G (music Aaron Gervais, libretto Colleen Murphy) from Tapestry Opera. This one has been years in the making. Back when I saw the second act workshop in 2012 there were all kinds of rumours about who would eventually (co)produce it. Now it looks like Tapestry have come up the resources to do it as a standalone. That’s no mean feat as this is a full blown two acter with orchestra and chorus. It will play May 24th – 30th, 2017, at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre of the Canadian Opera Company, 227 Front St. E. (just around the corner from the Kitten Kondo) and the title role will be played by Operaramblings’ favourite crazy lady Ambur Braid. As she showed recently as Dalinda in the COC’s Ariodante she’s now much more than a series of impressive high notes. She’s become a singing actress of real substance and Oksana is certainly a role a girl could get her teeth into. The rest of the casting is also impressive with the always impressive Krisztina Szabó as Oksana’s mother, Adam Fisher as Father Alexander, and Keith Klassen as the baddy Konstantin. Jordan de Souza conducts and Tom Diamond directs. This is one not to miss!
Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns must have seemed old fashioned even when it opened in 1929 in a Berlin that had already seen Wozzeck and Die Dreigroschenoper. With its waltzes and gentle chinoiserie it looks back rather than forward musically and makes few demands on its listeners. Similarly, the plot; a bittersweet romance between an Austrian aristocrat and a Chinese prince had nothing in it to disturb contemporaries though modern audiences might find the cultural appropriation a bit hard to take. However, if Turandot doesn’t bother you this likely won’t either.