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.
The first of Amplified Opera’s series of three shows in the Ernest Balmer Studio took place last night. The series explores the idea of “otherness” in opera. The Way I See It , directed by Aria Umezawa, explores how the opera and wider world treat the visually impaired and how we (in the broadest sense) can not just accommodate but incorporate their insights and perspectives into our performance practice.
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.
Various bits and pieces from the in basket:
The dynamic duo of Teija Kasahara and Aria Umezawa have a new project; Amplified Opera. They are kicking off with a series of three concerts called Amplify! and it takes place Ocober 10th to 12th at the Ernest Balmer Studio. The theme is diversity and equity.
- October 10th, 2019: The Way I See It – American mezzo-soprano and author Laurie Rubin (Do You Dream in Color: Insights from a Girl Without Sight), and pianist Liz Upchurch will speak to their unique experiences as individuals with blindness and vision loss navigating the world of opera, and how this element of their identity has informed their creative process. The concert will be directed by Aria Umezawa. As you can imagine this particularly resonates with me.
- October 11th, 2019: The Queen in Me – An exploration of the ways in which the classical music world tries to control and limit queerness, gender expressions, and identities. This one-person show features soprano Teiya Kasahara as the Queen of the Night who, after 228 years, has finally decided to reclaim their narrative and challenge the patriarchy. The show is accompanied by Trevor Chartrand, and directed by Andrea Donaldson.
- October 12th, 2019: What’s Known to Me is Endless – A look at the African diaspora, and how experiences of Black identity differ in Canada and the United States. African American baritone Kenneth Overton is joined by Canadian pianist Rich Coburn to speak to how their understanding of Black identity was challenged while working on both sides of the Canadian-US border. Canadian American, Michael Mohammed, will direct the show.
Tickets are $25 for each show at the door or from the website.
Last night, at the Ernest Balmer Studio, we got to see somewhat more developed versions of the works presented earlier in the week in the RBA but this time in staged format. I’m not sure my opinions changed much as a result though I think I’m even more convinced that here we have five pieces of substance that deserve to be seen in fully realised form. So, some brief thoughts on each. Note that, except for Book of Faces we only saw extracts from pieces that are still WIP. Continue reading
Here are a few more February items of interest in addition to those mentioned here. Tapestry’s new piece Hook Up opens on January 30th at Theatre Passe Muraille and runs for most of February. Then on Sunday 3rd February at 2.30 pm VOICEBOX have a performance of Schubert’s rather rare opera Fierrebras. Kevin Mallon conducts the Aradia Ensemble for this one. Also there’s Opera Pub as usual on Thursday 7th February.
On February 16th at Gallery 345 at 8pm there will be an Against the Grain presentation of Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. The “twist” here is that Elle becomes Lui and will be sung by tenor Jacques Arsenault. Topher Mokrzewski at the piano. Aria Umezawa directs the first in what is planned as a series of “twisted” concerts.
In free concert news there’s the Quilico Prize competition on February 11th at 5.30pm in the RBA. Once again the members of theEnsemble Studio compete for cash. At the nnon hour there’s Susan Bullock and Liz Upchurch on the 19th with a programme of Wagner, Strauss and Duparc and on the 20th there’s Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer with an all Schubert programme. Then on the 21st there’s Lauren Eberwein and Rachel Kerr with a Messiaen and Ravel show. Given that it’s the Jessye Norman Gala on the 20th as well I think I’ll just schlep my sleeping bag over to the Four Seasons Centre.
Also at the COC of course Elektra continues until February 22nd with Così fan tutte opening on February 5th and running until the 23rd.
Last time I spoke to Opera 5’s Aria Umezawa she was about to head off to San Francisco to join SFO’s Merola program. Now she’s been named as an Adler Fellow for 2017; the first stage director since 2002 to be named to the program. She’ll be joined by pianist/coach Jennifer Szeto, also of this parish, and another Canadian; Vancouver soprano Sarah Cambridge. I have greatly enjoyed Aria’s work with Opera 5 and hope that this is a step on the road to a major career as an opera director. The full story on this year’s Adlers is here.
Opera 5’s interactive production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus opened last night in the Great Hall at 918 Bathurst. It’s an intriguing but, above all, fun show. I think it’s fair to say that presented straight Die Fledermaus has more than a few elements of meta-theatricality. Here it’s central to the plot from MC Pearle Harbour’s initial apology for the lack of a fourth wall because “we can’t afford one” through a whole series of “interventions” by various characters. Unpacking it all would probably make as much sense as Umberto Eco’s Three Owls on a Chest of Drawers and I’m not as clever as the late Professor Eco and, in best Fledermaus tradition, it’s the morning after and I’ve only had five hours sleep. So, I’ll avoid the meta and try and describe the show.
I met with Aria Umezawa yesterday to talk about Opera 5’s latest project, a rather unusual take on Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. The project grew out of a desire to break Opera 5’s association with reviving rather obscure pieces and to do something “from the canon”. But, of course, for this company there had to be an angle. In this case it’s that Act 2 will be an immersive, audience participation exercise. We are all invited to Orlofsky’s party. There will be aerialists, burlesque dancers and a grand waltz for all which will probably reduce choreographer Jenn Nichols to tears. There a few other change ups. Frosh is gone and Ivan is replaced by drag queen Pearl Harbor, who will emcee the party. It’s in English, as the set up would make surtitles pretty much impossible. And the cast is pretty good. Michael Barrett sings Eisenstein with Rachel Krehm as Rosalinde, Julie Ludwig as Adele and Erin Lawson as Orlofsky among others.
Opera 5’s Die Fledermaus opens at 918 Bathurst (just north of Bloor) on June 8th at 8pm with further performances on the 9th, 10th and 11th. Tickets here.
Back in January I saw Opera 5’s show Modern (Family) Opera at the Arts and Letters Club. I didn’t review it here because I was covering it for Opera Canada. It seems that there was some breakdown in communication, probably the dodgy email connection at our temporary digs last winter, and it never made it to the mag and so wasn’t printed. It’s a pity as it was a good show and so, belatedly, I’m sticking the review here, for the record, instead.