While dreaming up the finer details of The Emerging Project, my friend Russell Wustenberg and I came up with this over-simplification for the state of performing arts today: Opera is old; the world we live in today is not. How, then, do we transport an old artform into a new world? We simply cannot.
I don't mean to say that we ought to only perform new works. I'm a huge fan of all genres of opera. What I'm saying is that to pretend that there was a golden age of opera where performances were pristine and recieved with only glowing praise, and every singer was a glorious exapmle of vocalism is a fallacy.
It is unrealistic and selfish to expect our art form to grow without new art. There was a time when what Handel, Mozart and Beethoven did was new, and was not always positively received. Opera is not, nor has it ever been, everyone's cup of tea. I happen to think that is just fine.
(From left to right) Tenor Aaron Sheppard, Soprano Caitlin Wood, Bass-Baritone Brent Calis, Baritone Cairan Ryan, Mezzo-Soprano Pascale Spinney and Soprano Shantelle Przybylo in A Little Too Cozy at The Banff Centre, Directed by Joel Ivany.
For the past 5 weeks, I have been basking the vastly inspiring and wonderful hub of creativity that is The Banff Centre, attending the Opera in the 21st Century program. We've had the opportunity to attend roundtable discussions with opera's top minds, including Alexander Neef, Marc Scorca and Mark Morris. While each discussion provided a wealth of perspective and varied opinions, there was a common theme throughout every disscussion. Opera cannot survive without new compositions, and it simply does not exist as a historical relic. We can make every informed choice on ornamentation, tempo and authentic dramatic presentation that we possibly can, but we just don't know how it was done in 1750. Our context is right now- we can't perform to a future or past audience.
Tenor Aaron Sheppard as Fernando, and Bass-Baritone Brent Calis as Elmo in A Little Too Cozy
The two operas we have been working on at the Banff Centre are new (or, at least refurbished). Last week, 5 of my outlandishly talented colleagues and I, supported by some of the finest musical and theatrical minds in Canada performed in a workshop premiere of Crush; A gender-bending reimagining of Don Giovanni. The music (by composer James Rolfe) and text (by librettist Anna Chatterton), however, is all orginal. I'll be honest, the music was arduous, and it was a intense and complicated piece to put together. But the process of bringing this new work to life with an outstanding group of artists was immensely satisfying.
This week, as understudies, the cast of Crush has been making the acquiantence of A Little Too Cozy, which is director Joel Ivany's creative conceptualization of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte. The music is Mozart's but the libretto by Ivany spins the romantic comic opera onto the set of a Bachelor-esque reality TV show. When I received the score with the new libretto, I was not on board. But, as I had seen a few of his prdouctions before, I trusted Joel to inspire modern comedy within Mozart's genius.
Mezzo Soprano Pascale Spinney as Dora, Soprano Caitlin Wood as Despina, and Soprano Shantelle Przybylo as Felicity in A Little Too Cozy
Many months later, I'm glad I did. Just as I lament a younger and foolish version of myself for once not liking Cosi fan Tutte, I lament the past version of myself for being such an opera snob. The show is beautiful. The singers are a treat for the senses. The piano + string quartet orchestra with Topher Mokrzewski at the keys is sublime (though, I do miss the horn obbligato in "Per pieta"). It is genuinely funny, and it makes sense. Undoubtedly, it will be an enjoyable and unforgettable night at the opera.
Brent Calis as Elmo, Aaron Sheppard as Fernando, Cairan Ryan as Donald Alfonso, Caitlin Wood as Despina, Shantelle Przybylo as Felicity and Pascale Spinney as Dora in A Little Too Cozy.
The truth is, opera is a really wonderful way to tell stories. That's what I think keeps audiences coming back to the theatre; to experience narrative through the incredible power of the human voice and glorious music. It's amazing and inspiring, but let's think practically and communally as we endeavor into the next chapters of opera. There is no one answer, but a score on a shelf does not an opera make.
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