By Katherine Semcesen, Associate Director, Education and Outreach
ASOP participants learning about baroque dancing for Theseus and the Minotaur
It's hard to believe, but the Canadian Opera Company's After School Opera Program (ASOP) is already in its 15thyear! In celebration of this milestone, we're looking back at the past 15 years and highlighting some of ASOP's most notable achievements.
In 1997, the COC embarked on an ambitious project to start an after-school program that focused on introducing children to opera. Dean Burry, an enthusiastic young composer from Gander, Newfoundland, who was working in the COC’s Ticket Services at the time, leapt at the opportunity to share his love of opera with young people. His proposal won over the COC’s education and outreach staff and, under Dean’s direction, ASOP has engaged and introduced 4,876 children and their families to opera over the last 15 years. In addition to Dean, 45 guest artists including designers, mimes, choreographers, baroque movement specialists, stage combat instructors, make-up artists, Peking opera artists and North Indian Kathak dancers and other musicians have collaborated with the young participants to produce a total of 48 brand new operas.
Dean Burry and ASOP participants rehearse A Pirate's Life, 2000.
Being a composer and having a background in piano, saxophone, singing and acting, Dean wrote all of the music and libretti (scripts), and for the first few years also designed backdrops, props and costumes and staged all of the operas. But the children have also played an integral and active role in the creative process and plot development. Detention Stories (2001) is a perfect example of an opera where the children were encouraged to contribute to the plot by constructing their own scenarios involving detention – hopefully they weren't taken from personal experience!
In 1999 Dean's hard work paid off and he accepted the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts on behalf of the COC for its substantial outreach initiatives. Already ASOP was proving to be a powerful and positive artistic force with children in their communities.
All the ASOP operas involve wonderfully original and colourful themes as well as twists on Greek mythology such as Theseus and the Minotaur or familiar stories such as Cinderella, Titanic, and Romeo and Juliet. The operas have been linked to current events, like the Olympic Games in 2010 and the rapid technological developments over the past decade, or operas presented on the COC's main stage, including The Magic Flute and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sometimes these operas have been comic, about love, tragedy, or even a spy story. At other times they contained themes that carried a deeper message about life that could be appreciated by the children. All it takes is a visit to a rehearsal to realize how much the kids love exploring these stories through opera and the sense of achievement they feel!
Over the years, ASOP has run at various centres in the GTA including the Columbus Centre, Cabbagetown Community Centre, Samuel Hearn Sr. Public School, St. Lawrence Community Recreation Centre, East York Community Centre, and currently runs at Ourland Community Centre in Etobicoke, Barbara Frum Recreation Cenre in North York, and St. Christopher House and the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in downtown Toronto. The success of the program encouraged the COC to expand into East Scarborough in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in the fall of 2012, and the COC welcomed conductor, director, and choreographer Markus Howard into the ASOP family as a new lead artist.
ASOP's 15th anniversary is a true testament to the hard work and passion for this program from all the participants and their families, artists, program partners, program assistants, administrative staff members and volunteers, as well as the generous support from various funders and donors over the years.
Given the positive response the COC has received from the community about this program, we're optimistic that ASOP will continue to inspire and engage young people in the arts and in opera for many, many years to come.
To find out how you can support ASOP and other COC education and outreach activities, contact the COC's development team who will be happy to walk you through the steps of how to make a donation!
Photo Credits: (top) ASOP participants and artists from Opera Atelier practice baroque dancing for the COC ASOP production of Theseus and the Minotaur, 2013; (middle) Dean Burry and ASOP participants rehearse the COC ASOP production of A Pirate's Life, 2000; (middle) A participant in the COC ASOP production of Island of Thunder, 2005; (bottom) Participants pose for the camera in the COC ASOP production of Wild and Free, 1998. All photos by the COC.
Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Education / comments (3) / permalink
Meet Omega Menkir! Pictured above in a 2007 production of Theseus and the Minotaur, Omega is a past participant of the Canadian Opera Company’s After School Opera Program (ASOP) and the third individual featured in the special blog series commemorating ASOP’s 15th anniversary celebration on June 13, 2013 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.
Omega joined the program when she was only eight during the 2005/2006 season. From 2005 to 2007, Omega participated in seven ASOP productions with her twin brother, Alpha (who, as you can probably tell by his name, was born first). Aside from spending time with her sibling, Omega’s fondest memory of ASOP was the opera Gold of the Elements, a prelude to Das Rheingold which was written by ASOP lead artist and composer, Dean Burry, to coincide with the monumental performance of Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle by the Canadian Opera Company for the opening of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
In Dean’s version, the elements of earth, wind, water, and fire had to come together to determine the fate of an all-powerful ring that could control the universe. Omega still remembers the line she was allowed to ad lib when she played the role of one of the water characters, who were bickering with the wind characters: “Wind, what have you done with your hair?” Not surprisingly, Gold of the Elements became her favourite ASOP opera!
For many participants, ASOP inspires a life-long passion for the arts. This is certainly true of Omega. Now a high school student, Omega realizes the impact ASOP had on her interest in opera and all art forms in general: “It kept me loving the arts, and kept me very involved, and formed some amazing memories for me.” Her affinity for the arts keeps her schedule packed with all things artistic at school including: wind ensemble, jazz band, madrigal choir and concert choir. With this kind of appetite and commitment to the arts, we may just catch Omega on the main stage some day!
Photo Credits: Omega Menkir in the COC ASOP production of Theseus and the Minotaur, 2007; (bottom) Omega Menkir, 2013. Photos by COC and Omega Menkir.
Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Education / comments (0) / permalink
By Jennifer Pugsley, Media Relations Manager
A singer never really goes on vacation. Yes, there’s time set aside for rest and relaxation, but always on the horizon is the need to get ready for what’s next. There’s always a performance to prepare for or some kind of private study in anticipation of a future role. That’s certainly the case for sopranos Sasha Djihanian and Claire de Sévigné, tenor Owen McCausland and baritone Cameron McPhail. Currently on break from the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, these four young artists will enjoy a mixture of business and pleasure this summer before they return to the company at the end of August.
Soprano Sasha Djihanian is looking forward to a summer of travelling to Italy, Greece and Turkey, but before she departs she’ll be making a special appearance with The National Ballet of Canada. She’s a featured vocalist, along with incoming Ensemble Studio mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan, in the NBoC production of Pur Ti Miro, in performance at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from June 19 – 23, 2013. When back at the COC next season, Sasha is on the mainstage as Fiordiligi in the Ensemble Studio performance of Così fan tutte on February 7, 2014, and as Pedro in Don Quichotte, in addition to understudying the roles of Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, Fiordiligi for the mainstage production of Così and Iole in Hercules.
Soprano Claire de Sévigné starts off her summer holiday with a visit to Chicago to spend some time with her voice teacher Steven Smith. She’s then headed to Santa Barbara, California to work under the direction of celebrated mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne in the Music Academy of the West’s voice program. Hopefully she’ll be able to soak up some sun when not studying or rehearsing for her performance as the Queen of the Night in the Academy’s production of The Magic Flute in August. There’ll also be role study in her future this summer, learning the role of First Niece for Peter Grimes at the COC in October 2013 and Despina for the Ensemble Studio performance of Così fan tutte in February 2014. Claire also understudies the roles of Despina for the mainstage production and Pedro in Don Quichotte in May 2014.
Tenor Owen McCausland has no major plans this summer, that’s if you don’t count studying with his voice teacher Patrick Raftery, learning his roles for next season, visiting family, growing a vegetable garden and building a website! On the books for the 2013/2014 season at the COC, Owen is scheduled to sing Parpignol in La Bohème, Reverend Horace in Peter Grimes (while also understudying the role of Bob Boles), and the Servant in Un ballo in maschera. He also sings Ferrando in the Ensemble Studio performance of Così fan tutte (and understudies the same role for the mainstage production), understudies Hyllus in Hercules, and sings Lord Cecil in Roberto Devereux and Juan in Don Quichotte.
Baritone Cameron McPhail is looking forward to a summer with his wife Cat. Amidst the plans to relax and enjoy visiting family, though, there will be some intense study in preparation for next year’s roles. Upon returning to the COC for the 2013/2014 season, Cam goes straight into rehearsals for La Bohème for which he sings Schaunard for four of the 12 performances. He also understudies Ned Keene in Peter Grimes, Silvano in Un ballo in maschera, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte (which he’ll sing in the Ensemble Studio performance) and the Duke of Nottingham in Roberto Devereux.
Photo Credits: <(top, l – r)> Owen McCausland and Cameron McPhail in the COC’s Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour production of The Brothers Grimm, 2012; (middle) Sasha Djihanian at the 2013 Christina and Louis Quilico Awards; (middle) Claire de Sévigné on May 2, 2013 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre; (middle) Owen McCausland on January 8, 2013 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre; (bottom) Cameron McPhail at the 2013 Christina and Louis Quilico Awards. All photos by Chris Hutcheson.
Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Ensemble Studio / comments (0) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001