Friday, July 31, 2009

Toronto Symphony holds sale

It's no secret, I'm kind of, um, frugal, as some previous posts will attest to. The TSO just sent out information today that they are putting their season on sale next week. I love sales! $39/ticket to any show when you buy three, including Measha, Messiah, Verdi Requiem, and Beethoven 9.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Canada building Russia's newest opera house

Diamond + Schmitt, the Toronto firm behind the new Four Seasons Centre, the opera house that the COC calls home, will be building St. Petersburg's new house as well, it is being reported today. At 2 1/2 times the budget of the COC's house, it should be impressive! It's scheduled to open in 2011.

story, and pics, via Globe and Mail

Battlestar Galactica at Vancouver Opera?

Nerd alert!

Okay, I loved Battlestar Galactica. I thought that it was one of the best thought out tv series in a long time. Now there's talk of a BSG/Vancouver Opera collaboration.

The good folks who run San Diego Opera took in last week's Comic Con and had a chance to talk with Bear McCreary who is the composer for both BSG and Caprica. He mentioned that he would love the chance to work with Vancouver Opera, and the folks at San Diego Opera, knowing folks up at VO, put the two in touch via Twitter. VO apparently would love to see something come of it, so we'll see.

I've asked VO if they have any more news on it - I'll let you know as I find out.

Filumena librettist strikes again

John Murrell, who wrote the libretti for "Fulumena" and "Frobisher" is about to premiere a new libretto to an old work. The Banff Opera as Theatre program will be doing Janacek's "Cunning Little Vixen" this summer and they asked Murrell to set the opera in the Rocky Mountains.

He's also currently writing an opera with one of my favourite conductors: Bramwell Tovey.

via CBC

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Making opera portable

A tech blog that I follow occasionally ran an article today on audio file formats that I clicked through to with a thought to talking about the best way to convert your audio collection to digital and keep it sounding great (better than mp3 great,) without taking up a whole hard drive while doing so. Unfortunately the article was awful, mostly because it only covered a couple of options and not all of the good ones.

mp3 is a fine format. Everybody uses it. Every player plays it. It makes music small and portable. It just doesn't give very true sound (it strips away a lot of audio information,) which, for opera, is somewhat important. Fortunately there's other options and sometimes a good Wikipedia search is all you need. Here is a list explaining pretty much every audio codec in common use. Here is a list of the commonly accepted listening tests that have been run, grading them by quality. Here's a pretty good site that ran some tests using different music, including classical, to determine what works best for a lay person's ears.

Long story short, here are your best bets when getting audio off your CD (or digitally recording it from a record player using usb or line in.) :

-If you want to retain all of the sound from your CD when you digitize, use .PCM (usually saved as a .WAV file,) which can store huge amount of audio information. All of the data is there, it's just sizable, at between 10MB/minute. Slightly smaller would be FLAC or for those of you with iPods, "Apple Lossless," both of which compress audio into about half the size without any measurable loss of quality.

-If space is a serious issue, .ogg (OGG Vorbis) set at a low bit rate will do at under 1MB/minute. Just don't expect it to sound true to life.

-For a good balance of size and sound, try WMA9 or, if your player doesn't support it, (and it likely won't - this is Micorsoft's own codec,) mp3 at a variable bit sample. It will try to intelligently strip away the stuff you can't hear, and leave the stuff you want.

All told, this is a pretty basic run down of some pretty complex material. Heck, there are whole books and web sites dedicated to this. Hopefully though, this points you in the right direction if you're looking to digitize some music for the road. Just make sure that your music player can play the format before transferring the music or you'll have wasted an awful lot of time. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Acclaimed opera director at Canstage helm

As of this month Canstage has a new full time artistic director, Matthew Jocelyn (he's been transitioning to the job since March). What's the news? He's perhaps best known as an opera director. Canstage, Canada's largest non-profit theatre company, has brought him in to bring both new vision and an ability to raise money to the group. What does this mean for singers in Toronto? We don't know yet but at worst it means another director with some serious opera cred in the city. At best it means more opportunities for works that incorporate vocal music at Canstage. Either way, we win!

Friday, July 24, 2009

For any of you singers who've had trouble getting a mortgage because you're a singer.

A New Zealand artist with works in galleries worldwide was denied an $80,000 mortgage this week solely because he is an artist and can't verify his future income, despite a 25 year history with the bank. Upset at the reason, he goes ahead and withdraws his savings, $190,000, all in $20s. I'm sure he can find a bank to accommodate him if he walks in with that much cash!

via Consumerist.

A Friday Canadian video

Jon Vickers in Peter Grimes. Does it need any more introduction?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barber and Hoffman in Romania

I just got an email letting me know that, for those of you who missed the summer YAP boat this year, there's still space in the Brasov Opera program that runs Sept 2-14. They'll be doing Barber and Hoffman along with some masterclasses. The fee is 650 euros and includes tuition, room, and one meal a day. I don't know much about it though - has anyone here done, or heard more about, the program? Info on the site here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

YAP Tracker

I just did a post below where the the info was forwarded to a singer's forum by the good people at YAP Tracker. For those of you who don't know, YAP Tracker is a site that keeps track of virtually every audition opportunity from pay to sings up through to major A house auditions worldwide, but mostly concentrating in North America and Europe. It is one of the single best tools in a singer's arsenal as it makes not only finding out about auditions easier (too easy for my taste, letting everybody out there know about auditions without doing the work, but I'd rather be on the inside looking out than not subscribed when others have the info,) but it also helps you keep track of application and audition dates and has live updates as people start hearing about auditions or casting. It is $50 a year (and worth every penny,) but you can get 10% off if you send me an email letting me know you'd like to join as a part of their referral program. Write me at gtheule at gerrittheule. com for the discount.

Who wants to work for Vancouver Opera?

Okay, I mean work, not sing, but it's still a pretty cool job - working shoulder to shoulder with the artistic and operations staff. VO is hiring a Vancouver Opera In Schools Program Manager. For someone with the right skills who is interested in, or actively pursuing, a career path that includes opera administration, this is an excellent opportunity. A great many singers who have gone on to run major opera houses have started in companies' YAPs. The list of duties is enormous so it looks like the right candidate will have a chance to develop skills in a huge variety of areas including production, marketing, artist liasing, and finance. Again, an amazing opportunity for someone with the right skills and interests. Visit VO for the whole description, and to apply.

Thanks YAPTracker, via NFCS.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Canadian opera companies and the copyright consultation process

The Canadian Conference for the Arts has come out against what many are seeing as a disingenuous consultation process on copyright reform in Canada. The group, which represents, among others, and by extension, most of the opera companies in Canada, says that they will be unable to participate in the process because they were given just one week's notice to prepare.

By way of background, the Federal Government is holding copyright consultations this summer in what they say is a way to make sure that everyone has input into this fall's upcoming copyright reform. Many, however, don't believe this to be a legitimate consultation process as the public will only be admitted to two meetings - one in Montreal, the other in Toronto. In addition, as we are hearing, many those invited to the other private meetings won't be able to attend, mainly due to 1) it being held in the summer when many artists and representatives are either on tour or out of the country, 2) they won't have enough preparation time to put together presentations, and 3) most non-profit groups would require board approval for travel expenses to the meetings and boards won't sit within the next week. Lobby groups for recording companies, film distributors, and the US-tied copyright groups won't have those issues though.

It is widely pressumed that some of the only groups at these "consultation meetings" will be record labels or their associates and that that would suit the Conservative government, who have been under US pressure for months to re-address the issue, just fine.

Why does this matter to you? Well, professionally it will affect the copyright expiration times on new operas. This means that, as in the US, but not in Europe or here at the moment, operas written 60 years ago, and with the composer dead, the publishing company would still be able to charge performance rights on those shows despite having no one around who was involved in the work's creation to benefit from the money. The same is true about opera translations. Opera recordings are also expected to be under license for up to 75 years, meaning no more inexpensive recordings of long dead artists. Personally it will mean things like you won't be able to buy a CD but put the music on your iPod - you'll need to buy an iPod copy too or face a $500 per song fine.

If you live in Montreal, or Vancouver, you may want to consider getting out to the meetings. You can sign up (because there's limited space at them,) here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Free TV ends and small town access to opera goes with it.

Last week the CRTC issued a ruling that will reverberate with many Canadians, although they may not know it yet. They've announced that when analog (antenna) television goes dark, in two years time, they will only be requiring stations to replace the signals with digital ones (like they did in the States earlier this year,) in "major markets:" Cities with populations greater than 300,000.

For people in cities like Kelowna, Red Deer, Brandon, Kingston, Sudbury, and countless others, including the area that I spent time growing up in, Notre-Dame-de Lourdes, MB, it means that they will either need to step up to paying $30+ a month for something that has been free, (well, ad supported) for more than 50 years, or go dark, shutting their TVs off for good. 10% of Canadians still get their TV from analog broadcasts. The rest of you should see your cable bill go up by around $75 a year as local networks will now receive a fee from you that was originally meant to go only to specialty channels that you subscribe to.

How does this affect us? Well, the CBC is one of the stations going dark. I, and a whole host of other singers better known than I, caught some of our first glimpses of staged opera on the CBC, often via antenna. One of the first things that the CBC broadcast on their brand new television station in 1952 was Don Giovanni. Hundreds, if not thousands, of operas have been broadcast by CBC television since. The 70s and 80s saw the COC broadcast around the country, and live Met telecasts have taken place regularly for years. Norma with Joan Sutherland, Hansel and Gretel with Maureen Forrester back in the day, up to Burnt Toast (a personal favourite,) with Jean Stilwell and Benjamin Butterfield a couple of years ago. But before these amazing singers took on roles, they needed to find their passion, seeing, absorbing, and loving opera.

But not all singers come from Toronto or Montreal. Singers no less than Jon Vickers (one in a family of eight children from Prince Albert, SK), Victor Braun (father to Russell, Rabbit Lake, SK), and Ben Heppner (Dawson Creek, BC) all come from small towns and likely all saw their first glimpse of an opera via rabbit ears on a CBC analog trasmission. If any of them were children today, and caught in the group of people who aren't going to be able to afford to make the switch to paying for satellite, I can only imagine how much poorer our country's art would be for it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Welcome Music Teacher's Helper folks

For all of you from over from Music Teacher's Helper - Welcome! Have a look around! We're a young blog but growing so I hope that you come back. Try the "Resources" tag over there on the right as a start - it's as good a place as any to find something worthwhile here.

Thanks Chris!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Measha gets honourary degree

Measha Brueggergosman was awareded an honourary degree last night by St. Thomas University in Fredericton, her home town. Her first voice instructor, Mabel Doak, was on hand to present it.

via CBC

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The cheapest rehearsal scores available

I've been cast in a new opera for the fall. This is great except for two things: 1) There's no recording of the work to use for reference, and 2) The score is unavailable to purchase because, well, it's not been published yet. Now that I've gotten my hands on a PDF version of the score, it's time to start learning. But a digital version doesn't do me a lot of good on it's own right now (that's another post for later this week,) so it needs to be printed. Now, I could go to all of the trouble to set up the double sided printing on my printer, pay for ink, and babysit the print job so that nothing goes wrong, but I won't. I sent the PDF off to Staples and they'll print it, bind it, and cover it in six hours for the low, low price of $13. Now, I can't remember the last time I paid $13 for a score that wasn't from a used music sale, and even then the odds of them having what I need at the exact time of the sale is, well,unlikely to say the least. This is a revelation for me. Combine my previous list of downloadable scores with Staples or Kinkos and you have a really cheap option to have rehearsal-worthy scores for a fraction of the price, and all of it legal and guilt free since the only scores posted on the sites that I listed are score versions that have either expired their copyright and are public domain or are covered under explicit personal Fair Use doctrine (like the Mozarteum collection, having expired two years ago). Baerenreiter scores for $25? I'm in!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wainwright's new opera: and the reviews come pouring in.

Rufus Wainwright's new opera "Prima Donna" premiered this weekend and the Monday morning reviews are mixed, at best. The Globe and Mail is calling it "entertaining if slightly barmy," while the New York Times has it as "muddled" but with "inspired touches," and The Independent marks it a "flimsy plot is spun out into a cheesy piece of full-length music theatre." All told, it seems that the prevailing attitude is that the score is ambitious, very (capital "R") Romantic, but too melodramatic and lacking in subtlety, preferring to hit the audience over the head with spelled out emotions instead of letting the music take the cue. Interestingly, the NY Times critic was left longing for more "Wainwright," commenting that his best in the piece was when he wasn't trying to be anything more than himself.

Toronto audiences get a look at next year's Luminato Festival. I, for one, am really looking forward to it. I love new opera. It allows opera to continue as a living art form. Let's not forget some of the most spectacular operatic "failures": Manon Lescault, Mozart, who had incredible trouble with most of his operas in Vienna, and, most impressivley, "The Barber of Seville, which couldn't even get through Act 2 in it's premiere. Time will tell.

The best free options for listening to opera online.

Earlier I talked a little bit about where to get scores online and since it was a pretty popular post, I figured I should mention where to listen to opera online too. A lot of you may know about these but hey, if you even find one new one in here, it's a win. If you have any other favourites, let us know in the comments.

Youtube: This has clearly taken over as the standard place to find specific arias, art song, or just singers in general. I'd have never figured out Songs and Dances of Death without the ability to compare and contrast different performances. This used to require trips out to the library or CD store to pick up a bunch of CDs, but can now be done at the touch of a button. Many would decry the loss of the discovery of new artists or performances, found when looking for something else but stumbling on to something new, but the "Related Videos" tab does a pretty good job of that too. This is also the place to find your favourite "cage match" where singers are pitted head to head comparing things like High "C"s, Low "D", and even the best death scream (below).

Operacast: This is possibly my favourite place to go if I just want to listen. Hundreds of international radio stations with an online presence are searched every week and a list, separated by day of the week (GMT) is compiled, noting time, station, and planned set list. Somewhere in the world there is always opera playing. Operacast finds it, lists it, and provides the links to listen. I was going to list individual radio stations that play opera regularly but every time I found one, Operacast had it indexed and scheduled. If you only check one place out, this is it.

Podcasts: I have a soft spot for podcasts as one of my first online ventures was producing and hosting the internet's very first opera podcast entitled "Your Daily Opera". (I even had a New York Times mention for it). Podcasts are periodic radio shows that, instead of being broadcast live, are recorded and then sent out either in rss feeds via a program like iTunes, or made available online in mp3 format where they can be conveniently added to your favourite mp3 player. Many large opera companies have them as a part of their outreach where they detail the goings on within the company, occasionally featuring music, but the real gold, from the standpoint of listening to opera without much talk, are the smaller podcasts by opera lovers who feature different operas or topics week to week. Premiere Opera's podcast is one of the best for both regular updates as well as for featuring recordings that you wouldn't normally be able to hear elsewhere, but there are a ton of other great ones out there.

Beethoven on Demand: The entire Naxos and Marco Polo music catalogues, along with 70 other independent classical labels on one site. Brought to you by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra by way of their email club. When you sign up you get unlimited access to over 2300 opera albums, along with 32,000 other classical, jazz, and other albums totaling almost half a million tracks. I've traded my email address for worse, to be sure!

Metropolitan Opera On Demand: I was only going to list the free options on here and the Met only kind of fits the bill. They have a 7 day free trial that is fantastic. The only downside is that you'll be tempted to stay on to the tune of $15/month. If you're going to try out a paid service, you could do worse than this beautiful, easy to navigate, fairly comprehensive offering from the Metropolitan Opera. For my money, the real value is in the "Rental" option where you can "rent" specific operas for $3.99 or $4.99 in HD (provided you have the hardware specs to pull down the video at that bandwidth.) Think of it like the Met operas in the theatres, only on demand, albeit on a smaller screen. They also have some free arias if you just want to check it out, no registration required.

Opera Radio: Temporarily offline due to the new online radio fees that were put into place earlier this year. Hopefully a recently released settlement will breathe new life back into it.

This should be a good list to get you started but, as I said, I'd love to hear more. Use the comments to let me know.

Don Giovanni scream-off via Youtube:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Canadian singers promissed at COC

In his blog today, Alexander Neef wrote primarily about something that has been a much talked about issue with regards to the COC: Canadian singers. Over the past years, much has been said and written about the use of foreign talent when Canada produces some of the best singers that the world has today. Wonderfully Mr. Neef recognizes this, on paper at least, and is clearly attempting to fix it.

From the post:

"Since my arrival at the COC we have reached out to all major Canadian singers and tried to establish a relationship with as many of them as possible. I strongly believe these great artists need to consider us as their home company and our courtesy to them should be to start discussing future projects very early so that they know when they will be home and can plan the rest of their seasons then. We also want to give them the possibility to try out new roles in Toronto next to the roles that they are singing all over the world. All this asks for careful long-term preparation."


Air India opera takes flight.

The Vancouver funding agency Arts Partners in Creative Development announced yesterday that they will pony up $131,000 to allow the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, in conjunction with Ireland’s Cork Midsummer Arts Festival, to create an opera based on the events surrounding the 1985 Air India flight 182 tragedy. The finding is part of a $1.1 million arts package associated with the Vancouver Olympiad year.

In other news, this opera will do nothing to help my fear of flying.

Wainwright's new opera premieres tomorrow

Montreal composer and Juno and Grammy winner Rufus Wainwright (okay so you likely know him better as a pop artist) is about to premiere a new opera at the Manchester International Festival tomorrow. the Opera, entitled Prima Donna, was originally set to premiere at the Met but plans fell through when, reportedly, Gelb didn't want it written in French but Wainwright did. Other sources, however, put the conflict at the Met not being willing to guarantee a 2009 premiere (2014 was their earliest slot for a new commission). It was co-commissioned by Manchester and Toronto's Luminato festival where it will get it's North American premiere next year.

This isn't some pop-opera though, the likes of which I've mentioned here before when Elvis Costello called his collection of country tunes an "opera." This actually has singers of "A" level house caliber, although not the initially rumoured Flemming or Te Kanawa originally floated to the press when the project began, and is expected to be musically styled towards the late 19th century. A pop singer who vacations at Bayreuth can't be all bad!

Wainwright discussing the new opera (French). Singing the aria from it, "Le feu d'artifice t'apelle" at the 2 min mark. He's singing though. Sounds promising.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Non-Canadians performing in Canada

Here's an interesting article (free registration required,) from the Canadian Tax Journal that would have been better included in, say, March, but still makes for valuable reading. It's titled "Performing in Canada: Taxation of Non-Resident Artists, Athletes and Other Service Providers," and covers the basics of what applies, what doesn't, and how to pay whom when the time comes. For performers, and opera is no exception, there's a lot of confusion about employee vs. contractor, which government gets paid first, and others. It also delves into the repercussions of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet tax decisions that made news a couple of years ago. File this one away for later.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wouldn't Toi-toi have sufficed

Okay, this is supposed to be a Canadian opera blog, but I just can't let this go without mention: Joyce DiDonato slips and falls if act 1 of Royal Opera's Barber, thinks she has twisted her ankle, but keeps going - fantastic! I love this! This is the kind of singer that I hope I would be in this situation. The real kicker is, it's not sprained. It's broken. What's more, she's going to keep going with the run, via wheelchair! It should make the escape by ladder interesting but this is truly impressive - way to go! Although she asks that no one wish her "break a leg" in the future.

Kudos too to Juan Diego Florez who spent a better part of an aria holding her up to relieve her pain. Reminds me of Caruso and the Vecchia Zimarra where Caruso sang for Andres de Segurola during a performance of La Boheme when he whispered to him, right before the aria, that he'd lost his voice and couldn't do it. Caruso later recorded it:


Monday, July 6, 2009

Small Opera Companies

I just got a notice in my email (well my Facebook account actually, now that I think of it,) from a small Vancouver company named DragonDiva Operatic Theatre (web site, FB group) and it occurred to me, and not for the first time, just how really, really important these smaller companies are to both singers and to audiences.

For audiences who, in North America, might get 2-3 full operas a year if they're lucky (German cities can offer up 3-4 full operas a night, in season,) from their local large (by Canadian standards) company, this is an opportunity to see not only solid productions, often with orchestra, of works that they love to listen to but wouldn't get the chance to ordinarily see, but also to see a broader variety of talent, mainly young artist, which are occasionally more exciting to see because every time they step on stage, it's a big deal to them.

For the singers, these companies are even more important. There are a lot of steps in between university and, say for instance, Manitoba Opera, and a lot of those steps aree what are known as pay-to-sings, where the singer pays a fee to the company in exchange for working on a role. These too are valuable, but the real sweet spot here is the small professional companies like DragonDiva, Opera York, The Little Opera Company, Pellegrini Opera, and others who are able to pay singers to sing. These make singing just a little more viable for those singers, as well as rasing the quality bar accross the board.

I think that these are important and so I'm going to start profiling some of these. If you are involved in an opera company of a small or moderate size, and would like a little attention, just let me know, via email (gtheule a t gmail dot com) and I'll send you some questions for inclusion in an upcoming post. And as always, if you know of anything post worthy, (news, auditions, wacky stories,) just send it on over.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Measha's Canadian healthcare experience

I'm pretty sure that if I comment on this, I'm going to say something I regret with regards to my bewilderment over her comments and this article in general so I'll just post the link.

via the National Post


Friday, July 3, 2009

Is Bruno Weil retiring?

The Monterey Herald out in California is reporting this morning that Maestro Weil will be retiring from the Carmel Bach Festival at the end of the 2010 season when he will only be 61 years young. What we'd like to find out is if that is the end of it or if he will be stepping down from his other posts as well, most notably Toronto's Tafelmusik where he is the Principal Guest Conductor.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Amazing Canadian Art Song List

The Canadian Music Centre has made a spreadsheet available listing its complete Canadian art song repertoire listings which can be then borrowed or purchased from the CMC. Chris Foley is hosting the list on his teaching site, with a full list of links over on his Collaborative Piano Blog.

Opera director Robert Lepage promotedto CC

Robert Lepage, known, in opera circles at least, for his love of all operas dark and gloomy (Bluebeard and Erwartung at the COC, Nineteen-Eighty-Four at Covent Garden, etc.) just got a promotion yesterday. He's now a Companion of the Order of Canada -the highest rank in the membership. There are only 165 Companions allowed to be living at any given time (a sentence that I just re-read.... man that's ominous...) Congratulations to Robert! Your weird, weird vision has done great things.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day

And now it's time for Act 2 of Die Zauber... I mean, O Canada. Have a great one!