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Volume 20 Issue 7 - April 2015

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CONCERT LISTINGS | APRIL 1 – MAY 7 2015PRICELESS! Vol 20 No 7#YouthOperaSARA CONSTANTThe classical music world’s relationship with youth has definitelyseen better days. But it has also seen worse. In recent years,performers, presenters and concertgoers have worked hard atdebunking the myth, resilient to this day, that classical musicis only for those much older and far richer than your average musiclover. There are fatal misconceptions about the type of person you haveto be to listen to classical music; for some, white hair and deep pocketsare the necessary prerequisites for admission into the genre’s innercircle. And with so many musical opportunities out there, no wonderso many younger people eschew the idea of becoming interested in amusic genre that has only ever seemed to belong to the generation oftheir grandparents.Opera is no exception. It can require a large cast, orchestra andproduction team to mount a show of traditional operatic proportions,which means that expenses can run high. So high, in fact, that downthe line it means sometimes catering to the crowds who can affordto pay. It all gives the whole genre an aura of lavishness and grandeurthat it only sometimes deserves.Nothing, however, is so one-sided—and the tide is turning. Inrecent years, a number of smaller opera companies have cropped upin the Toronto area alone that are doing innovative work with fewerresources than might be expected. And often, that innovation goeshand-in-hand with a redirection towards more diverse opera audiences—provingthat opera has the ability to go places that those usedto the grand stage may not have imagined.Metro Youth Opera (MYOpera) is one of those young companies. Itwas founded in 2010 by Toronto-born soprano Kate Applin (her sisterStephanie, who also sings, works as general manager of the company).MYOpera’s mandate involves giving emerging artists and performersthe opportunity to get some meaty professional experience withouthaving to pay the tuition of an expensive school or summer program.“I had done my undergraduate degree and a diploma both in voiceand opera performance,” says Kate, “and then I was back in Torontoand didn’t really know what to do. I was done with school and Iwasn’t pursuing a master’s just yet, because I knew that I needed timeto train and work on technique, as many young singers have to do. Fora young performer, there are performing experiences in the summertimewhere you can pay to sing in summer programs—and they’revery expensive, but you learn a lot and you make really fantasticconnections—and then during the year you’re in school. So I didn’treally understand what the process was for a singer who was out ofschool but still looking for performing experience on a real stage,without spending a lot of money. I realized that this was a gap and thatI probably wasn’t the only person in that position, so I started MetroYouth Opera to help create those performing opportunities.”As a company that focuses specifically on the development of youngprofessionals, MYOpera’s programming fits into an interesting nichein the operatic world. It has to have a small and varied cast; be challengingto sing, but not beyond the vocal capacity of a younger singer;In With The New:BAKER, KRUCKER AND FARAHChoral Scene:PAX'S PARRY'S JUDITHMusic & The Movies:INTRODUCING SEYMOURDISCoveries:LISTENING INON OUR COVER: Metro Youth Opera’sAlison WongThis issue of the magazine features MetroYouth Opera’s stage director, Alison Wong.Says Kate Applin on Wong’s work withthe company:“Alison has been with us since the verybeginning. It’s her fifth season withMYOpera, and she has been one of thefounding creatives, in the sense that she’sbeen with us since the start. She’s done alot of work to establish what Metro YouthOpera’s visual style is and what it offers to audiences, which is a sortof contemporary, more scaled-back version of shows. Especially inthe early season, she has worked with very tight constraints and she’sbeen able to offer unique artistic visions every single season.”and it has to cater to the smallerstages and audiences interestedin less traditional versions ofproductions. With the companynow in its fifth year, Metro YouthOpera alumni have moved on tovarious young artist programsand other smaller companiesacross the continent. Hearingabout their successes, and aboutthe interest in opera from peopleof all backgrounds that KateApplin and her team have seen,provides a peek into who opera’snext generation of performerswill be, and the places—operaticand otherwise—that they willKate Applin, MYOpera have come from.Despite the bleak future thatsome have predicted for the operatic world, both Applin sistershave faith in what the future holds—even if that future looks a littledifferent than today’s traditional operagoing experience. Says Kate:“The stories are what make opera so accessible, generation after generation,whether they’re coming-of-age stories or love stories ... thereare central themes that exist in our lives as they are right now. It’s justa matter of finding the right audiences and engaging them.”Kate continues: “Certainly there are some audiences that expectthat their experience with opera will be going to opera houses andseeing that very traditional idea of what an opera can be, with a fullorchestra, huge sets and costumes, and thousands of people in thetheatre. And while that certainly is one version of opera and there isstill a desire and a need for that in this world, this more scaled-backand stripped-down version of opera that we’re seeing now, especiallyin Toronto, has some innovative ideas ... It’s about recognizingthat these stories are stories that can be told by anyone, in any kindof atmosphere. They can be told by emerging artists in an intimate120-seat theatre where you’re 20 feet away from them, just as well asthey would be performed in a 3000-seat theatre. That’s somethingthat MY Opera offers, ... the immediacy for the audience for theirinteraction with the show ... you’re right there. You don’t need operaglasses to see what the singers are feeling.”And while the future of opera might look a little different than theposh reputation it has come to have, Stephanie Applin clarifies that amore scaled-back and stripped-down future might actually bring thegenre back to its more democratic roots. “Opera sort of became somethingvery elitist where it had once been a very popular art form,” shesays. “If you look at 19th-century Italy, it was the music of the people.There were political undertones to Verdi’s work … it has such a historyof being an art form that is very democratic. There seems to be moreof a focus now generally to try to push that accessibility of opera, and Ihope we do our part in that.”Metro Youth Opera’s 2014/15 production is a take on HectorBerlioz’s Béatrice & Bénédict, and runs at Daniels Spectrum fromApril 24 to 26.Shoestring Opera: While Metro Youth Opera has worked to bridgethe gap between amateur performers and their professional futures,another new company in Toronto has been bringing opera out ofthe theatre—and into the schoolyard. Shoestring Opera is a recentToronto initiative, creating adaptations of famous operas to present inlocal schools.We spoke with Wayne Strongman, who is now working withShoestring after his tenure as founding artistic director of TapestryOpera, about what it’s like to perform operatic classics for children ingrades K to 8. “The children were rapt,” he says, fresh from a workshopperformance of Hansel and Gretel for 200 elementary school8 | April 1 - May 7, 2015

Gillian Grossman and JeremyLudwig, Schoolyard Carmenchildren. “For all ages, theimpact of the sung humanvoice is still the most overwhelming—itgoes right tothe centre of most people.”Shoestring’s mandate,which is one part educationaland one part about creatinginnovative adaptations of theclassics, is a complex one torealize. “What’s so interestingabout this little companyis that they’re adaptingthe structure of opera towhere we are now in NorthAmerica,” explains Strongman.“They’ve done a contemporary Magic Flute, they also do it in a bilingualway, and they’ve even adapted the story of Carmen to being aboutbeing an immigrant in a new school.”When asked about why these kid-friendly re-interpretations matter,Strongman continues: “Why does 19th-century, or early 20th-century,opera continue to exist? It’s the tunes. And they’re a part of oursociety. It’s cross-cultural, cross-generational. If you hear the Toreadorsong you know that you know it. You don’t necessarily know it fromCarmen. But there’s an infiltration in our culture of these wonderfultunes. And I think, what better way for children to learn than whenthe stories are about children, but the music is attached to theemotional state that they’re in. The stories and tunes are cutting rightat the core of what opera is, and why it exists.”The bravery of adapting these classics to resonate with new audiencesliving in different times is, according to Strongman, characteristicof this particular time in our city. “When I started doing this,you couldn’t pay people to cross the street to see something called‘contemporary opera.’ Opera had a lot of baggage, and the falsesense that you needed to have money and that you needed to dressup. Now, there has been a breaking out of the boundaries of thehallowed halls—of the reverence—and I think that’s so healthy. Forthese kids, opera is a learning tool—but beyond that, it has lastingreverberations.”Shoestring Opera’s current production of Bizet’s Carmen, called TheSchoolyard Carmen, is onstage at the Solar Stage Children’s Theatreon April 12.Bicycle Opera Project: Have wheels, will travel! The ability of operato exist in many different forms is a big part of what local groupshave been exploring—and one group in particular has taken operaticinnovation to a very special place. The Bicycle Opera Project,led by soprano and artistic director Larissa Koniuk, is a small operacompany of young professional singers and instrumentalists that tourseach summer to venues across southern Ontario—by bike. With aprogram that features Canadian contemporary opera scenes, Koniukand her team aim to craft an introduction to opera that is relatableand relevant.“The very first opera I ever saw was Wagner at the COC,” saysGeoffrey Sirett, the project’s co-producer and resident baritone. “So,not exactly an easy initiation into the genre. That was a very memorableexperience—but now a part of my passion is building somethingthat’s a bit more accessible and can introduce people to an art formthat I’m very passionate about, and that I think has a lot to offer ayounger demographic.”That accessibility is key to the Bicycle Opera Project’s mandate, andhas a far-reaching impact on the works they choose to program—including the language in which they sing. “A big alienating factor ofopera is that audiences here don’t usually speak Italian, or German,or French, usually,” explains Sirett. “Being connected with repertoirecan be a little more difficult. So the fact that we’re singing in thevernacular with immediate intelligibility creates a different environment.There’s a different way of listening to music when you’re ableto absorb the words aurally, instead of reading them on surtitles. Younotice that an audience is leaning in. There’s a heightened level ofinterest and focus when the words are in your own language.” April 1 - May 7, 2015 | 9

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