My review of Amplified Opera’s Amplify 1.0 is up at Opera Canada.
My review of Amplified Opera’s Amplify 1.0 is up at Opera Canada.
I am really intrigued by how Amplified Opera’s shows this week at the Museum of Contemporary Art are going to work and so I spoke to both Marion Newman and Topher Mokrzewski about them and what the audience might expect. Despite several hours on the phone I’m still not sure I know and that’s probably a good thing. It’s pretty fluid and experimental and I don’t think we’ll know exactly what we are getting until we get it. I do know that we can expect music and talk and discussion with the audience around the themes being explored in each half of the double header.
Amplified Opera are back with a line up of three “mini-gigs”. These are combined in a series of three double bills running March 17th to 20th inside Jeffrey Gibson’s installation I AM YOUR RELATIVE at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sterling Road. Continue reading
I spent three hours earlier today listening to three panel discussions about the issues involved in presenting Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The overall event was titled Grappling with Madama Butterfly Today: Representation, Reclamation, Re-imagination. They were three very different panels as we shall see. But first some context. The event was co-presented by Confluence Concerts, Amplified Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, and the Humanities Initiative at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. One of the “triggers” for the event was the planned revival of Madama Butterfly at the COC (now to be done as an “on-line” event of some description) though one might have listened to the discussions without actually realising that.
The first panel consisted of COC boss Perryn Leach with soprano Teiya Kasahara, soprano Jaclyn Grossman and Boston Lyric’s Jessica Johnson Brock. I expected it to tackle the problematic nature of Madama Butterfly head on, as indeed the other two panels did, but it didn’t. It got sidetracked into essentially blind alleys about whether the work should be performed at all and whether one should always cast Asians in Asian roles and such. I got the strong feeling that no-one involved wanted to touch the issue of why, in 2022, the COC had planned to present a thoroughly unreflective, indeed deeply racist and sexist, production of the work. And that in the context of a season of three problematic operas presented in equally unambitious productions. Indeed, so unambitious that Leech’s deputy has described Mozart’s The Magic Flute as a “whimsical comedy”. Brigid Brophy must be gyrating in her crypt. Why was the discussion so anodyne? I think it comes down to power dynamics. Perryn Leech advanced views that I think can be summed up as “as long as we present enough new work (preferably short stuff on small stages) and do a few token events like this one it’s OK to give the bougie donors their fix. Even if that fix is racist and misogynist. Nobody challenged this. After all, if you are a young woman trying to make her way in the deadly world of opera why would you call out the most powerful person in Canadian opera?
There’s an interesting new project on Youtube from Natalya Gennadi and Catherine Carew. It’s called HBD! Project and the idea is to produce a short themed video each month featuring composers whose birthdays fall in that month. The February pilot is online and it’s a bit different from other “shows” in similar vein that I’ve come across. This one features a song by Alban Berg sung by Natalya with a fluffy puppy, music for cello and piano by Jean Coulthard played by Alice Kim and Hye Won Cecilia Lee and Rodney Sharman’s Tobacco Road sung by Catherine. So what’s new you ask (apart from the puppy)? It’s the graphics with Mozart in a party hat, animated Emily Carr paintings and a look for the Sharman that could double as the witches’ scene in Macbeth. Yes it’s a bit weird but oddly compelling.
There was a really interesting announcement from the COC earlier today. To cut a long story short it announced that the four principals of Amplified Opera; Teiya Kasahara, Marion Newman, Asitha Tennekoon and Aria Umezawa, would become “Disruptors in Residence”. I think this is a very positive move. Many of us have been following the various conversations about evolving opera beyond being the preserve of (almost) dead white people to being an art form that more fully reflects the diversity of our communities. I have to admit to being somewhat sceptical about how much of the energy and goodwill that has been generated will survive the return to some sort of post-covid normality. It.’s surprisingly hard to make change in large, hierarchical organisations go viral.
Amplified Opera was created by Teiya Kasahara and Aria Umezawa to promote the values of equity, diversity and inclusion in and through opera. They have produced shows like The Way I See It, showcasing blind soprano Laurie Rubin and visually impaired pianist Liz Upchurch in a show about visual impairment and its challenges in the opera world (and anyone who nows me will realise how near the bone that cut). They’ve also produced Teiya’s The Queen in Me (which I missed but which was based on the earlier show Queer of the Night); both shows exploring the pressures placed on a gay diva by the opera world.
I met with Laurie Rubin today to talk about her upcoming show with Liz Upchurch and Amplified Opera; The Way I See It. Laurie is a mezzo-soprano and she’s been blind since birth. All she can perceive visually is dark and light. We talked about her life growing up and as a professional singer and the upcoming show.
The bio is interesting going from a fairly toxic high school environment in Los Angeles where music was pretty much her salvation, to Oberlin where she first appeared on stage in actual opera to Yale Opera, which took her on the strength of her voice and then didn’t cast her in anything in her two years there (which clearly still hurts), and on to a professional career based in New York. She’s done a lot of new music including creating the role of the voice/witch in Lisa Bielawa’s episodic opera, Vireo, written for broadcast which aired in June 2017 on KCET Los Angeles and creating, with her wife Jenny Taira, an arts program in Hawaii; Ohana Arts, which in turn led to the creation of a musical Peace on Your Wings, about the life of a young Japanese girl who suffered from the Hiroshima bomb, which toured the Hawaiian islands and the US west coast. If all this, and performances too numerous to list, weren’t enough she wrote a book, Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight, which in turn became a one woman show. She has also recently become a mother.
I can’t believe an October preview post already. But here it is. So what’s on? Against the Grain’s Opera Pub kicks off again on the 5th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. It’s the usual 9pm start but come really early if you want a table. The 10th to the 12th sees Amplified Opera’s series of three shows at the Ernest Balmer Studio. The 11th is the first Toronto date for Against the Grain’s La Bohème tour. That’s 7.30pm at the Tranzac. Other dates and other city information here. The 12th is opening night for Dvořák’s Rusalka at the COC. Full details on dates, cast, tickets etc here. On the 19th UoT’s Early Music programme are doing Handel’s Acis and Galatea at the Heliconian Club at 2pm.