Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jan Rubes, one of the founding members of the COC, dead at 89

Jan Rubes, one of Canada's great talents, died today. Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Rubes came to Canada in 1948 where he became a member of the Opera Festival Company of Toronto, which became the COC. He became well known for his many, many bass roles, including Bluebeard, Boris, Figaro, and Kecal - 90 roles in all, singing along side some of the greatest singers in the world, including Joan Sutherland. He also ran the COC touring program from '74-'76 and directed at Stratford, the COC and Vancouver Opera.

He also had an enormous life off of the opera stage. He taught at Wilfrid Laurier, appeared in 36 movies (including "Witness" and "Snow Falling on Cedars,") dozens of TV shows (including the X-Files, ER, Stargate, and Due South,) the president of the Family Channel, and was the National Seniors Tennis Champion. Order of Canada, Genie awards, Queen's Jubilee Medal winner. Amazing.

He was an amazing talent, one I sadly never got to meet. He leaves behind a footprint the size of which won't be filled soon and his influence on so many singers of the current and previous generation is undeniable.

No cause of death was given. (UPDATE: It is being reported as a stroke.)

Jan Rubes in Witness (sorry, no singing clips available):

Dora Award winners announced

The Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts held their Dora Awards last night. The Outstanding Opera Production award, where the COC had four out of the five noms, was given to War and Peace, and the Outstanding New Musical/Opera Category went to the amazing Sacntuary Song who could have just as easily taken the Best Opera category. Paolo Gavanelli took the Outstanding Performance in an opera award for his appearance in Simon Boccanegra. A pretty good year for opera in Toronto, when you look at it! The full list of winners should be up on the TAPA website later today.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Random CD of the Day

Found this at Amazon while looking for recordings of basses. My kind of album:


Opera Birthday

Sort of. It's Antoine de Saint Exupéry's birthday (or would be if he hadn't gone missing in WWII.) He just happens to be the writer of the story of one of my favourite operas of the last ten years, Portman's The Little Prince. Enjoy!

The More Things Change....

From TIME magazine:

"Singer, musician and stage official will have ten minutes of leisure. During those minutes the singer, musician or stage official smokes a cigarette, and is a picture of negligent loafing. He tells stories among his fellows, plays pranks and howls with laughter. Seemingly, he is constitutionally incapable of effort. But you may see him glance at the clock, and move quickly away. The clock is the slave-driver. Everything moves by exact timing. On the minute the singer hurries backstage for a rehearsal, the assistant conductor to play the organ or direct the trumpets behind the scenes, the stage official to give the signal for the curtain or the descent of the dove or the collapse of the temple. The amount of work done, especially by the men who coach the singers, lead the orchestra and direct the details of production, is enormous, and they are driven with precision and discipline that, with all the air of ease around the opera house, is nerve racking."

May 5, 1923 but it could just as easily be today. The article also talks about the new Met house to be built, and a Metropolitan Opera profit of $200,000 a year - a huge sum of money for the time. I just thought that it made for interesting reading.

Friday, June 26, 2009

New Art Song Podcast

Pianist Erika Switzer and Soprano Marth Guth have launched a podcast (songcast!) that takes a look at art song from both a singer and pianist perspective. It sounds like there will be some great performances as well as insightful discussions on the genre, interviews, and more, updated every two weeks. Check it out at Sparks and Wiry Cries via one of my favourites The Collaborative Piano Blog

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Measha Brueggergosman's emergency heart surgery

The CBC is reporting that Measha Brueggergosman underwent open heart surgery last week immediately after a tear in her aorta was diagnosed in Toronto. The cause in her case was not revealed but causes can range from congenital defect to extended history of hypertension. She's been ordered to rest for a month but plans to perform at the Shaw festival on August 9th though she has (understandably!) had to cancel dates with the TSO and also a Progy and Bess in Graz over the next month. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery!

The Met's new Canadian conncection

Christopher Dennis, Lighting Designer for the National Ballet is making a move to The Met this summer. After 14 seasons with the NBC he will take over as Assistant Lighting Designer in New York on July 13.
-via Globe and Mail

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Now if only I could get my health plan to cover my Mozart....

Pavia University in Italy has released the results of a study on the effects of different types of classical music on heart activity. What they've found is that crescendi increase blood pressure and heart rate while diminuendi did the opposite. Fair enough. What they're saying though is that for recovering stroke patients, music like "Nessun Dorma, full of crescendos and diminuendos is best and could help stroke rehabilitation."

Now we'll never hear the end of it from the tenors.....

Edmonton Opera's "Encore" looking for subcommittee members

"Encore!", Edmonton Opera's youth (25-40. Hey, in opera audiences that's youth!) outreach group has selected a board to fill two year positions. They're still looking for people to help out though in the areas of communications, membership, events, and others. The group is responsible for some pretty cool events related to opera in Edmonton so if you're an opera lover in "The City of Champions," get in touch with them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Scores! All the Scores You Could Want! Free!

Last year I moved to Burlington, ON from Toronto. It was a small move but resulted in, among other things, an interesting inconvenience: There's not an opera score to be found in the city library, nor those of the surrounding cities of Hamilton or Oakville. By contrast, I was used to a public library system with a monstrous number of scores spanning the entire vocal repertoire. Can I order scores online, or go into Toronto to buy them (there's no real music store to speak of here either)? Sure. But when I'm just doing some research, listening to a new (to me) work, or figuring out if a role I've been offered is right for me, the cash outlay is just not always viable. Luckily for me, there's an incredible (really, there's no other word for it) wealth of free opera and vocal scores available online.

One of the most popular is the Indiana University database. Available in quick scan versions or in larger copies that one can work from, their list is amongst the best for commonly performed opera. They're not easily downloadable as the images are all in .gif format but when I need to take a look at Massenet's Don Quichotte at 3am, there's no better place. In the same database, there's also a huge listing of scores for art song, choral, piano and more.

IMSLP's database has lists of hundreds of composers with thousands (more than 30,000 to date) of works, a huge number of them operas, with (typically) PDF formats of scores. One ofmy favorites simply because of the PDF format allowing easy download and portability. A list of composers is here.

The yummiest colletion around is the Mozarteum's complete works of, well, Mozart. The treat here is that they are all scans of the notoriously beautiful and highly accurate Baerenreiter scores. If you just click on "view" then youget jpg versions but if youfirst go to the scores' Tables of Contents, the downloadable PDF versions become available.

There's the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek online ,which has it's English site here. It can be tricky to navigate as parts of the site haven't yet been translated but if you can get through the site your rewarded with nice scans of some beautiful scores. For an example of what I mean, here's a complete list of Handel works. Click on the links to see the scores.

If that's still not enough there's the Eastman Music Library's online collection, also in PDFs.

Finally, UCLA hosts the Sheet Music Consortium (sounds kind of sinister to me....) but has a searchable database of not only the above mentioned IU database but also of UCLA's, Johns Hopkins', and Duke's digital holdings.

That's a pretty good list to get you started. UCLA also has a list of other, smaller, resources thatis a fantastic treasure trove if you can find what you're looking for above. Happy hunting!

Mmmm, new church music

Okay not really. But I'm a sucker for music competitions of any stripe. Apparently The Anglican Foundation held a competition to address what is a common complaint by folks like U of T organ prof John Tuttle: "Much of what is sung in parishes these days is appallingly dull." Fair enough. I do like the Xmas carols though.

Well they have a winner. Dr. Derek Holman's setting of the Eucharist took the $5,000 prize this year. Both his and second place winner Andrew Ager's (who, interestingly, is apparently working on a "Frankenstein" opera,) pieces are being published as we speak for distribution out to churches soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Opera Hamilton Chorus Auditions

Opera Hamilton is having auditions for their chorus on Saturday, June 20. They're by appointment only so get in touch with the folks listed on their site, here. Two contrasting pieces are required.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer opera encores in Cineplex theatres

The list of the operas that Cineplex will be encoring this summer has been released today and it's a pretty good mix of the bevy of beautiful music that we had the chance to see this year. No repeat of "The Audition" or "Cenerentola" but there will be limited Can-con in John Relyea in two of the performances and opera hotties Nathan Gunn and Anna Netrebko are back as well. There is also nice (for some of us, I guess) announcement in that kids 3-13 are going to be admitted free to the summer performances where as the adult prices are going to be only $9.95. The movies and the dates are:

Saturday, June 27, 2009: I PURITANI - International sensation Anna Netrebko sings Elvira Walton in Bellini's I Puritani, tenor Eric Cutler is Arturo, Franco Vassallo is Riccardo and John Relyea is Giorgio. Patrick Summers conducts.

Saturday, July 11, 2009: THE MAGIC FLUTE - Directed by Julie Taymor and conducted by James Levine, Mozart's The Magic Flute stars Erika Miklosa as the Queen of the Night, Ying Huang as Pamina, Matthew Polenzani as Tamino, Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Rene Pape as Sarastro.

Saturday, July 25, 2009: EUGENE ONEGIN - Valery Gergiev conducts Tchaikovsky's most beloved opera with Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role opposite Renee Fleming as Tatiana, with tenor Ramon Vargas as Lenski.

Saturday, August 8, 2009: IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA - Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, in a production by Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher, features Joyce DiDonato as Rosina, Juan Diego Florez as Count Almaviva, Peter Mattei as Figaro, John Del Carlo as Dr. Bartolo and John Relyea as Don Basilio. Maurizio Benini conducts.

Saturday, August 22, 2009: LA FILLE DU REGIMENT - Donizetti's comic opera stars Natalie Dessay as Marie, Juan Diego Florez as Tonio, Felicity Palmer as the Marquise of Berkenfield, Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice and Marian Seldes in the speaking role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Marco Armiliato conducts.

Saturday, September 5, 2009: LA BOHEME - Franco Zeffirelli's production of Puccini's La Boheme features Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi, Ramon Vargas as Rodolfo, Ainhoa Arteta as Musetta, Ludovic Tezier as Marcello, Quinn Kelsey as Schaunard, Oren Gradus as Colline and Paul Plishka in the dual roles of Benoit and Alcindoro. Nicola Luisotti conducts.

Monday, June 15, 2009

To Equity or not to Equity

Often (okay, occasionally I'm asked about my decision to avoid, at all costs, getting an Equity card early in my career. It's one of the biggest questions that a young artist faces when they're starting out if only because it has real, immediate-to-moderate term effects on how much you can work. Let me start by saying, I'm a big union fan. I think that they're really valuable and the only way that a large percentage of both the artistic and non-artistic populations make a livable wage, along with having reasonable working conditions.

But an Equity card isn't for everyone who just left University, in my opinion. Anecdotaly (which really is what I have to go on, there not being really great stats on this sort of thing,) I've seen a number of friends who are offered a professional chorus contract or single show right out of school only to have it be the only thing that they are able to perform in for the foreseeable future. A number of times this is because a number of the smaller opera companies in Canada, which are the lifeblood of stagetime for the bulk of singers who aren't accepted into a major Young Artist Program (YAP) directly out of school, won't even hear Equity singers as a simple matter of affordability. You need to continue to pay dues whether you're working or not, and you'll also be a new singer, up against, funtionally, every other professional singer in the country in your voice type, including your teacher, idols, and that woman you saw at the COC least week; A pretty daunting proposition.

All the more disconcerting, once you become an Equity member, you can't un-ring the bell. That said, you can put your membership on Withdrawl, but that only allows you to work for the handfull of small companies not covered by any form of Equity agreement and once on withdrawl, you must stay on it for at least a year, meaning you can't jump in and out on whim.

Personally what I feel that we, as opera singers, need is what the Theatre branch of the union has: an apprenticeship program, that lets singers accumulate credits over a three year period to gain exposure slowly, and doesn't require them to become full members right away. Unfortunately that isn't an option right now so until it is, it's an all or nothing game and for me, nothing seemedto make sense. I've been very, very fortunate with the results of this choice. I had opportunities to perform in a number of operas, (3-5 full operas a year since leaving school while holding a full time day job), some with larger companies that are able to engage non-union singers along side full Equity members, and some with companies that don't have the budget to hire Equity singers but nonetheless put on fantastic shows and give opportunities to perform in full length lead roles that most people don't have the chance to do outside of school when they're in their 20s. In the end, it's a decision that everyone needs to make for themselves but is one that requires carefull consideration. From the Equity website:

A Word of Advice

It is important to realize that becoming a member of Equity is a big step in your career. So it is equally important to know when to take that step. Membership opens up opportunities, but at the same time it closes off others. Membership gives you certain rights and protections, but it also means certain responsibilities. Becoming a member at the first available opportunity may or may not be to your advantage. So take advice. Think about it. Make the decision that serves your interests best. Remember Equity will always be there. If you dont join today, you can tomorrow. And if tomorrow is better for you, then in the end it is better for us. We want to help, not hinder.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cinderella in Kitchener Waterloo

As I mentioned on Wednesday there's a free outdoor performance of Cenerentola (in English) at the Waterloo Public Square today, Saturday June 13, at 3pm. Cosutmes, orchestra, me, the works! If you're in the area, come on down. Did I mention that it's free!?!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Space Opera. The real thing, not a sci fi plot device.

The Canadian Space Agency has released the list of music that the latest Canadian astronaut, Julie Payette,will be bringing with her when she takes off for the International Space Station scheduled for June 13 and there's opera (or at least classical vocal music) on it. Measha Brueggergosman's 2008 album "Surprise" is along for the ride, along with discs from Tafelmusik and the Montreal Symphony (although the latter isn't of vocal music but is nice to have on there anyway.) It's not the first bit of opera in space, (most notably the Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, is bringing Der Holle Rache to whatever aliens might find it. I shudder at the thought and hope that they don't seriously question the parenting abilities of our entire planet based on it,) but I'm glad it's going up there anyway. Tres cool.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Montreal International Musical Competition broadcast date

It sounds like highlights from the MIMC final round are going to be broadcast on Canada Day on RDI (French CBC) on the program Espace Musique at 8p.m. EST. Check the website here for local stations,times, and the link to listen online if the program isn't being broadcast in your region. You can also find video clips from the semi-final round there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fighting Harleys in Kitchener-Waterloo

This Saturday at 3pm there will be a free, outdoor performance of Rossini's Cenerentola in English, with orchestra by Opera Kitchener. In an article today the Artistic Director brought up his biggest concern in that there's a traffic light right next to the performance space, Waterloo Public Square: “Any Harley Davidson that stops and has to fire up on a green is going to completely destroy us.” Improv in outdoor theatre is interesting at the best of times but with 22 orchestra members to follow along it should be doubly so. Oh, and your humble blogger is making an appearance as Don Magnifico so get your tickets, or not, as it's a free, non-ticketed show!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Félicitations to André Bourbeau

I've just heard that M. Bourbeau, the Chairman of the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada Foundation and President and co-founder of the Montreal International Musical Competition, has been named a Chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec. The ceremony will take place June 17. Definitely a well deserved honour!

Alexander Neef: One year in

Later on this month will be the one year anniversary of Alexander Neef's appointment to head the COC. Neef, who came from the Paris Opera, had a sizeable handful of stated goals for the company when he arrived and, as the month goes on we'll talk about how he's fared with them. Just to remind you, some of the goals he mentioned to the Toronto Star were:

• Collaborating with other companies, especially in North America

• Presenting important operas that have never been seen in Toronto, such as Wagner's Parsifal

• Commissioning new operas that will make a long-term contribution to the art form

• Bringing more opera stars to Toronto

I'm curious about your thoughts on how this has gone. It's only been a year and in an industry that works a minimum of 2 years ahead he's had to hit the ground running to be sure! Leave a comment below and we'll chat.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Opera New Brunswick competition winners

Jillian Bonner, soprano, of Saint John; Mary-Claire Sanderson, soprano, of Rothesay; Carol Léger, soprano, of Dieppe; Annie Levesque, soprano, of Grand Falls; and Christianne Bélanger, mezzo soprano, of Grand Falls are all winners in the Opera New Brunswick Young Artists Summer Recital Series Competition. The prizes, which include recitals and cash was open to New Brunswick born singers 18-30. Congrats!

Off to the movies

For those of you who missed it, Saturday's Met broadcast into the 83 movie theatres across the country was not, as has been for the past two years, a full length opera. The Audition featured a behind the scenes look at last year's Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, or the Met Competition as it's known to singers across North America. This was a chance for young singers (and old) as well as the general opera-going public to see just what goes on back stage at a high level competition where thousands of dollars and major career opportunities are on the line. A definate must watch. Find show times and get tickets (if they're not already sold out,) for the repeat performance on June 15, 7pm (EST, I think,) here.

Opera by democracy

Tapestry New Opera Works has decided on a pretty cool way to choose next season's operas to be included in the 30th anniversary Opera To Go revival in March 2010: They're going to hold a vote. Anyone can go to their site and take a look through the choices and cast a vote for the show that they want to see come back. Chicago Opera Theater announced something similar earlier this year except that their votes need to be purchased in what is one of the more innovative opera fundraisers that I've seen. I love these vote-things because not only do companies get feedback into what their audience wants to see but, from the company's standpoint, they develop a built in audience as the people voting will not only become aware of what the company is mounting, they'll also be far more invested in it personally and therefore more likely to buy tickets. Everybody wins!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Crazy opera CDs and DVDs

Okay, I love this site: Premiere Opera has some of the wildest recordings of opera in both CD and DVD formats around. The thing is that they don't have regular recordings: They are by and large bootlegs of a variety of sources from live to radio and others. Why is this on a Canadian Opera blog you might ask (You: "Why?") Because they're doing worldwide free shipping for a week whereas normally it's $3-$6/ item. With DVDs from $1.00 and CDs from $6.95 you can pick up some very cool things. In the past I've grabbed DVDs like the 1989 Cardiff competition (Terfel and Hvorostovsky) and, when I was learning the role, the CD of John Relyea's Bluebeard at Edinburgh. They also have some real rarities like Corelli's last public performance, recorded by someone in the audience.

Toronto's Dora nominations announced

The nominations for Toronto's Dora awards were announced this week and the opera category is, as in previous years, a bit of a David and Goliath story (from a budgetary, not artistic perspective). Of the five nominees in each of the two opera specific categories, the COC managed 4 out of 5 nods in both Outstanding Production and Outstanding Performance.

War and Peace Canadian Opera Company / English National Opera
Simon Boccanegra Canadian Opera Company presents Royal Opera
Sanctuary Song Tapestry and Theatre Direct in partnership with Luminato
Rusalka Canadian Opera Company presents Theater Erfurt
Fidelio Canadian Opera Company / L'Opéra national du rhin / Staatstheatre Nürnberg

Mikhail Agafonov War and Peace
Paolo Gavanelli Simon Boccanegra
Inês Santos Inês
Adrianne Pieczonka Fidelio
Laura Claycomb A Midsummer Night's Dream

No real surprise there but I'm left wondering about Tapestry's Opera To Go which takes nominations in both Outstanding Music Direction (Wayne Strongman) and 3 out of the 5 noms in the New Musical/Opera category leaving me to wonder why it was left out of the Outstanding Production category, particularly given that all four of the COC's entries into the category are co-productions with (mostly) major European houses. I'm a little conflicted by it, to be sure. The COC's nominated productions were all fantastic, but I have a significant soft spot for pure local productions I guess. The issue, for opera anyway, is that the Dora rules require a production to have a minimum run of four performances, making most of the opera in the city (which tend to run 1-3 performances) ineligible. Regardless: Congrats to all of the nominees! Everyone of them deserve the recognition.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Choose your venues carefully

It's being reported that the incredibly cool sounding premiere of R. Murray Schafer's "The Children's Crusade" is being delayed for a day, from Friday until Saturday. Apparently the 1930's "dilapadated"warehouse that the production is being held in as a part of the Luminato festival, has sprung a leak and done some minor damage to the set. It's too bad really because with limited seating, and an incredible sounding concept, I imagine that one fewer performance of such a highly publicized event will be missed by organizers and audiences wanting to see it.

Irving Guttman at UBC

The man who was almost singlehandedly responsible for developing opera in Western Canada was honoured at UBC last week (May 21) with an honourary degree. Mr.Guttman, (who I had the honour of working with once at UBC in my first attempt at La Boheme,) not only started the opera companies in Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, and Vancouver, but he also brought serious talent into those regions with early appearances by artists like Joan Sutherland all the way back in 1958. Truly a man deserving of this recognition.

Elvis Costello's "opera"

Elvis Costello's new album dropped yesterday and you couldn't do an internet search for "opera" without it coming up. "Why?" you might ask? Because in addition to it being a new album from a rock icon, it's also being touted as the first recorded release of arias from Costello's new opera commissioned by Royal Danish Opera. The story revolves around Hans Christian Andersen's infatuation with Jenny Lind (he reportedly wrote "The Nightingale" with her in mind) and was due to be premiered in 2007 but remains unfinished. Here's the catch: although it was scheduled to be performed with Danish soprano Sine Bundgaard, with Costello singing the tracks on this album, I just can't hear it as opera.

The tracks, which can be heard here in sample format, are tracks 6 through 9 and sound to me right in line with the rest of the album's country music vibe. Am I alone here? Am I the only one that thinks that Ted Neely is an amazing rock singer but that neither Jesus Christ Superstar, nor Tommy are operas, despite the "rock opera" monikers? I've never really thought of myself of a traditionalist, and I love 20th and 21st century oepra as much as the next guy (well more actually - I'm quite fond of a lot of it - and the guy next to me at the moment is my four year old son so.....) but having the Globe and Mail describing those tracks as opera seem to me to be a stretch. What do you out there think?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

HSBC a Wagner fan

I love any time I can see an opera reference in day-to-day life. Stewart Hall, HSBC's Canada economist describing the first quarter of 2009: “A dismal quarter, yes, but not quite Götterdämmerung,” He went on to say "While financial stocks are expected to continue falling like Tosca from a parapet and energy stocks should see a Mimi-like decline throughout the year, prcious metals will start to rise faster than Escamillio's chest around a chorus girl." Okay, not really.

Vancouver Opera Contest

Every wanted to animate an opera? Vancouver Opera's decided that they want you to and have teamed up with YouTube to start an opera animation contest. The contest (here) asks potential musicoanimators to do 4 minute versions of their next season operas: Norma, Nixon in China, The Marriage of Figaro, and Madama Butterfly. Most directors I know have trouble cutting Figaro down to 3 hours so a 4 minute version should be really interesting! There are some really cool prizes including a Wacom Intuos 4 and some more bizare ones like a PS3 games package. If you love opera and know how to animate (you know who you are!), I guess that this is the contest you've been waiting for! No entries yet but I'm kind of excited to see what comes up. VO had a hit with last season's manga series (click here, select "read," then "manga") of ten well known operas. Hopefully this garners the same kind of attention and discussion. Have any of you seen the comics? What do you think of them?

Monday, June 1, 2009

New Canadian Opera to be funded by Ont. government

In a press release last week it looks like the Ministry of Culture is going to fund, to the tune of $50,000, a new opera based on the life of Chief Joseph Brant. Interestingly it's going to be funded directly from the Cultural Strategic Investment Fund (a Ministry fund) instead of via the Ontario Arts Council. This is important, and great to see, because it not only allows for additional funding from the aforementioned OAC for this project, but it also shows that, unlike the disaster that some areas have been facing, there's still some political will to fund opera and the arts in general.