When did you first listen to opera? For this instalment of The Opera That Changed My Life, we look at two submissions that found the music that changed their lives during (arguably) the most dramatic time in anyone's life: the teenage years.
La Bohème as a high school student. Act IV, orchestral chords before Mimì sings "Sono andati." That one moment caused me first to shiver and then to weep. Changed my life. I decided this was my career path. And I am fortunate to continue that choice.
P.S. That musical moment causes the same reaction today, 50 years later. Every time I walk on stage, that moment so long ago is still in my head. I wish I could remember who sang that Mimì. I do remember it was Richard Tucker as Rodolfo.
Angela Gheorghiu as Mimì and Roberto Alagna as Rodolfo sing "Sono andati? Fingevo di dormire" from La Bohème
When I was in grade 10, I always wanted to become a classical singer, and, if granted by chance and prayers, I wanted to become an opera singer too. Over the years, my voice teacher decided to take our vocal class on a field trip where we watched the COC’s production of Madama Butterfly. That was the very first opera that I watched and I fell in love with it, and ever since then I became more dedicated to classical singing and pursuing my dreams of becoming a classical singer. Apart from Madama Butterfly, the opera Tosca also changed my life because of its famous aria “Vissi d’arte.” Now, that line from Tosca is my inspiration in singing and remembering that I live for two things in this world: for love and for music.
Sondra Radvanovsky singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca (See her on stage at the COC this fall in Norma.)
Tell us about The Opera That Changed Your Life by e-mailing email@example.com your own 100 to 200 word story. It may be featured in an upcoming Parlando post! Learn more here (here for mobile version).
Photo credit: Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly (COC, 2014), photo: Michael Cooper
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The first instalment of our new The Opera That Changed My Life series features COC General Director Alexander Neef's story of the opera that changed his idea of what opera was. It also happened to be his first!
(Transcribed from a conversation with Alexander Neef.)
The opera that changed my life? Fidelio, Beethoven, Staatstheater Stuttgart.
I was one of the first in my family to really go to the opera. I didn’t really see much opera in my youth, but when I started going everyone started going!
This Fidelio was a very striking production, directed by a very famous Russian director, Yuri Lyubinov. At the time, Lyubinov had been given a leave by the Russian government to stage a play in London, and he didn’t go back. They wanted him to go back, but he just didn’t. He was in a legal limbo. He stayed in Europe and started directing a lot of opera, and among the operas that he staged was the Fidelio at Stuttgart.
It was a very contemporary interpretation, in the way that he did not make it about an 18th-century prisoner. The auditorium itself is very small, and they had supers dressed as police officers or KGB people standing at every door, and they just came in with a bang! It was incredibly striking—the effect of the stage design was so chilling.
The whole design and direction was so politically charged—it made the opera so incredibly relevant. The things that are expressed in the opera—it’s about a prisoner, and the liberation of that prisoner, and what the wife does for him—made it more than just a story. It seemed to be something that was actually about us, about the audience. In those days, that situation was quite real, and it could have happened to any of us. That is what made it so special.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Alexander Neef (2012), photo: Bo Huang; Opera program and ticket (2016), photo: COC
For the past eight weeks, the COC Education and Outreach department has been working with grade 1 and 2 students at Huron Street Junior Public School to create their own opera, from scratch! In this post, teacher Veena Gupta describes the beginning of the opera, from writing the story to composing with COC artist educator Cathy Nosaty. The class performs their opera next week for an audience of friends and family.
We had been involved in an in-depth, fantastic study of fairy tales for five months. The COC needed us to create a libretto (a script) to perform. I decided we would create our own fairy tale. As we worked, I could see how much the children had learned about story sequencing, the necessity of tension, the need for an interesting, complex antagonist (“evil character”), and the importance of setting. Most importantly, they knew how to weave it all together. They were committed. Their learning was more evident than with other assessment methods I have used.
When putting together the libretto, the students learned about reading and writing in script format. Working in groups, they revised and revised, using large sheets of chart paper which we then strung across the room. The children were compelled to read it! I was surprised and thrilled with how invested they were in doing so. We continued to revise the libretto with our COC librettist, adding large sticky notes and large chunks of paper, literally cutting and pasting. Later, they could see the need for editing.
Throughout this process, the children were creating their own evil characters, complete with back stories. I used the libretto to show them that what we had done is referred to as “revising.” They got it. They applied the lessons to their own work and it was the most successful unit on revision I’ve given in my 20-plus year career. The children didn’t see it as a chore, rather they were motivated to get their character “just right”. Editing lessons followed neatly thereafter.
When it was time for casting, we discussed choosing a role that would be a challenge: swapping out gender roles, moving out of comfort zones, that sort of thing. Kids who are particularly lovely and sweet were directed toward the evil characters, dominant personalities were steered toward quieter roles with an ensemble feature, ELL kids (English Language Learners) would sing in tandem with another, and anxious kids were encouraged to take on solo roles. The children took this very seriously. Casting went very well and all have a big challenge ahead.
I posted the final copy of the libretto in the room. The moment it went up, the children read it non-stop for more than 30 minutes. The buzz in the room was terrific. Those just on the cusp of reading were highly motivated to find their character and learn their lines. The stronger readers were already adding personality to their lines. Some were singing the parts we had worked on with the COC composer. The children were helping each other out, intrinsically understanding that we were all working on this together.
We have just finished composing the music for the score. The composer worked one-on-one with the actors and asked them how they would sing their lines. She played back their voice on her keyboard, recorded it, then she and I worked with the actor to get it just right. I can’t sing a note to save my life but I know, for instance, when we need to add tension or a lighter tone. The composer, actor, and teacher worked together until we nailed it.
Our COC designer comes in tomorrow. We have been e-mailing back and forth about ideas. I look forward to seeing how it comes together.
The children are nervous about singing. They are excited, too. And mostly proud. They have been required to take a lot of risks so far, and have felt safe doing so. A teacher who knows them, the skill level of the COC staff, and the children’s investment in the process combine to give them the confidence they need.
Next step: How to get to Carnegie Hall?
Stay tuned for part two of this blog post in early July to learn about how the performance went!
All photos: COC
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001