I Call myself Princess

I Call myself Princess is a new “play with opera music” written by Métis playwright and actor Jani Lauzon which will première at the Aki Studio in Toronto in September in a production directed by Marjorie Chan.  I heard about this project a while ago from Marion Newman who will headline the new production and was intrigued.  I knew it was going to be about American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman and his Creek/Cherokee collaborator Tsianina Redfeather.  I knew they did a touring show including Cadman’s song cycle From Wigwam to Tepee and that’s about it.  It sounded like the worst kind of late Victorian cultural appropriation and “Redsploitation” so why would serious and intelligent Indigenous artists like Lauzon and Newman be interested? Today I spoke with Jani in an attempt to find out.

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Marion Newman as Tsianina Redfeather.
Photo by Dahlia Katz. Design by Mariah Meawasige

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Afarin Mansouri talks about Tap:Ex Forbidden

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Afarin Mansouri

Tapestry’s upcoming show TapEx: Forbidden features music by Iranian-born composer Afarin Mansouri with a libretto by Afro-Caribbean hip hop artist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. Four vocalists are featured; Neema Bickersteth, soprano; Shirin Eskandani, mezzo-soprano; Alexander Hajek, baritone; and Saye Sky, Farsi rapper and spoken-word artist.  I have a long standing interest in blending western classical music with other cultures and genres, partly at least because I get to hear a lot of North Indian music, and I’ve been intrigued by other “fusion”projects such as Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Lesson of Da Ji and some of the cross-cultural experimentations in dance such as Esmerelda Enrique and Joanna Das’ collaborations.  All of this is a long intro to saying that before Christmas I got the chance to put some questions to Afarin Mansouri about the upcoming show.  Her responses are enlightening and intriguing.  So here’s the exchange:
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Encounter with Brett Polegato

modalAs previously noted the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists is once again running its program for young professional singers in Toronto.  The program is in two parts.  There was an “Encounter” (career workshop) with Brett Polegato on October 20th and there will be a concert at 7pm on November 6th at the Zoomerplex which will be broadcast by Classical 96.3.  Yesterday I spent some time talking with Brett about the program, its rewards and challenges and, inevitably, we drifted off into some broader issues about careers in the opera world.

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Natalya Gennadi and Oksana G

ng2A 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.

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The Devil Inside

I met with Tapestry Artistic Director Michael Mori earlier today to talk about the upcoming co-production with Scottish Opera of Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh’s new opera The Devil Inside.  I’m not familiar with the work of either composer or librettist but each are well regarded in their own spheres; Welsh having made a name for herself with a number of psychological crime novels.  And that seems like a good background for adapting Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Bottle Imp on which the opera is loosely based. The story itself is extremely creepy.  Right up there in fact with, say, James’ The Turn of the Screw, which got turned into a pretty decent opera!

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Talking with Wallis Giunta

wallis2.jpgGGS and Ensemble Studio graduate Wallis Giunta will be returning to Toronto in early February for Tapestry Opera’s New Opera 101 program and the two concerts of Tapestry Songbook VI.  Basically, she will be working with Jordan de Souza and a group of emerging artists on a three day series of workshops in contemporary opera which will include two concerts open to the public on February 5th and 6th.  I spoke to her via Skype yesterday at her current digs in Leipzig.

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