by Jenna Douglas
For over 30 years, students from all across Ontario have been inspired and delighted by the magic of live opera performance. The operas developed for the Glencore Ensemble Studio School Tour are adapted or created specifically for young audiences, and the artists perform in full costume with sets, props and piano accompaniment. The operas are performed in English and an informal question-and-answer period with the cast immediately follows each performance.
We asked pianist Jenna Douglas (also the mind behind Schmopera, the opera blog) to share a day in the life on the road with the Ensemble Studio School Tour, as they perform The Bremen Town Musicians. Read on for her account of an average day on tour, and check out the bottom of post for a video interview with the cast!
Our other touring family opera, The Scorpions' Sting: An Egyptian Myth, will be presented at the Royal Ontario Museum on November 29th at 11am, free with museum admission! Find out more about the event here.
View The Bremen Town Musicians: Performance Locations in a full screen map
We meet at the tour van outside the COC, exchanging sleepy greetings and tips of coffee cups. We pile in the van. Someone asks for some of the Halloween candy in the big bag that Mike (our stage manager) keeps for emergencies. Someone asks for hand sanitizer. A few people Google the address of the school we’re going to, and muse on the pros and cons of various routes.
Arrival at the school. A representative from the tour van jumps out to greet the school’s office staff, and to find the easiest path for lugging our equipment to the gymnasium. On good days, we’re greeted by a group of lovely students willing to help with the lugging. We begin an assembly line.
Time for show #1. The gymnasium is now filled with anywhere from 60 to 300 students, from kindergartners to sixth graders. A teacher quiets the crowd, either with a raise of an arm, a counting system, or some mini game of clapping call-and-answer. The kids hear a quick preamble about what opera is, what show we’re performing for them, and that the aisles must stay clear for the performers. This causes some stirring amongst the crowd. I get a nod from Mike, who is backstage and ready to start.
Mike, Gordon (who plays the Robber and Other Villains) and Andrew (who plays the Rooster) are backstage, prepared to flex their puppetry skills with the entrance of the mice. Without fail, the children go absolutely, positively crazy for those mice.
The entrance of the Robber. Gordon opens his bag of stolen money and pours gold coins joyfully over his head. The coins scatter on the floor in the vicinity, and the front row of children lurch forward to snag themselves a fake gold piece.
The show has just finished, and we spend a few minutes taking questions from the audience. Plenty of inquiry about the origins of the costumes and sets, and several kids want to know how long the cast has been working as opera singers. Some infrequent concern about the health of my fingers, and the odd philosophical question: “Why did the robber steal?”
Lunch decisions have been made. We notice that there have been a lot of ribs happening at school tour meals. No one is concerned. We marvel at Iain’s (who plays the Donkey) grand lunches and bother Mike for details about the afternoon’s school.
We’re fed and caffeinated, and we arrive at the second school of the day. We battle a maze of hallways and unexpected staircases as we haul our beloved set through a brand new school. Several children stop us along the way to ask us who we are and what we’re doing here. We tell them about the opera, and they seem unsatisfied.
Our second set-up is always fastest. The cast’s dressing rooms are actually gym equipment rooms, filled with childhood treasures like hula hoops, jump ropes, scooters, and tricycles. We all act like children for approximately 15 minutes.
We narrowly escape Toronto-area rush hour and arrive back at the COC. Representatives get out of the van to help Mike maneuver into a parking spot. We mention that scene in Austin Powers when Mike Myers has to do a 20-point turn in a narrow alley. We confirm the call time for tomorrow morning, cheerily wave goodbye, and remind everyone that the price of being late is a big box of Timbits for the van (we’re not kidding).
To learn more about the Glencore Ensemble Studio School Tour, visit coc.ca/SchoolTour
Follow the School Tour teams on Twitter with #BremenCOC and #ScorpionsCOC
Posted by Jenna Douglas / in Ensemble Studio / comments (0) / permalink
On November 25, 2014, seven finalists will take to the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for the Ensemble Studio Competition, the feature event of Centre Stage gala. The event will be hosted by world-renowned Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, and the singers will be accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. To watch the competition and see Canada's rising opera stars, visit our Centre Stage website and buy your tickets today! Over the next two weeks, follow along on Parlando as we introduce you to each of our finalists.
Charles Sy, Tenor
Born in Toronto, but was raised on the lake shore in Mississauga, Charles Sy discovered opera later in life. He didn’t come from a musical family but, being somewhat shy, was able to express himself freely through performance. “One of my proudest moments was when I was given the big solo in 'O little town of Bethlehem' in the annual Christmas pageant”, he says.
From there, Charles became involved with musical theatre. “I loved the deep emotional commitment one had to make with a work while developing a character,” he says. “I became obsessed with being on the stage and felt most at home while I was performing.”
Charles soon learned that his voice suited opera and he began studying opera at the University of Toronto. “My world changed when I entered the world of operatic singing,” he says. “It had everything I loved about developing a new character on stage in musical theatre, but came at it from such a real, raw and visceral angle. There was something extremely powerful about seeing a single person tell a story over an entire orchestra, with their musical nuances and without a microphone. I was fascinated by this Olympic form of singing and knew then and there that is this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
His UofT Opera credits include Mr. Owen in Postcard from Morocco, Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore, Mayor Upfold in Albert Herring, Alamão in Pedro Malazarte, and covering the title role in Rob Ford: The Opera. Additional credits include Remendado in Carmen (Opera by Request); Lechmere in Owen Wingrave (Banff Centre); Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Opera NUOVA); Paolo in The Wings of a Dove (The COSI Connection); and Basilio and Curzio in Le nozze di Figaro (Toronto Summer Opera Workshop). In 2015, he will sing the role of Adolfo in La Rondine with Opera Theatre of St. Louis. One day, he dreams of singing Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore, a role he feels has always eluded him.
He recently had a bit of experience performing at the Four Seasons Centre, when he performed with UofT Opera in the COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre this October.
Here he is, fourth from left, taking on the arduous role of the Forest of Arden.
And in the slightly more romantic role of Romeo in “Ô nuit divine” from Gounot’s Roméo et Juliette.
If Charles wasn’t an opera singer, his childhood dream was to become a doctor. Inspired by his mother’s health struggles, he set out to become a cardiologist. “When it came down to which major I would focus on in university, I had two very deep passions to decide between,” he admits. "At the end of the day, I decided that if I went on to study music, science could still be a part of my life as an interest and hobby." Charles’ fascination with science merged well with his passion for opera when he had the opportunity to write a paper about the physics of opera singing. “My T.A. was pretty impressed.”
Along with opera and science, Charles is a “rather enthusiastic beginner knitter.” He taught himself to knit by watching Youtube videos. “The very first thing I ever made was an eight-foot-long scarf with a combination of garter stitching and cable knitting, which I gave as a present to my roommate.”
So if any of Charles’ fellow competitors needs to keep their vocal cords warm, they know who to ask for help!
The Ensemble Studio Competition is Tuesday, November 25, 2014. Tickets to the Ensemble Studio Competition and Centre Stage cocktail celebration are $100. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit COCCentrestage.ca. You can buy tickets here,
call COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231 or go to the Four Seasons
Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). You can also chat about the event with us on Twitter using #COCCentrestage.
Photo credits (second and third from top): Artists of UofT Opera, photo: Yasmine Budirahaju
Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink
DIMITRI KATOTAKIS, BARITONE
As a toddler growing up in Toronto, Dimitri Katotakis would stand in his diapers ‘conducting’ Beethoven symphonies in front of a speaker system. “My parents always knew I had the performing bug,” he says. So it was only natural for him to attend Etobicoke School for the Arts, where he performed in several musicals and eventually discovered opera.
“I found opera to be extremely captivating the first time I saw a show and I have never looked back,” says Dimitri. “I loved how the music of opera can make a story feel both hugely intimate and grand at the same time. Performing in or seeing a well-realized opera is like getting a powerful shot of artistic life.”
Dimitri’s studies led him to McGill University where he’s currently pursuing his master’s degree. Recent roles at McGill include Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lorenzo in Capuleti e i Montecchi. He earned his bachelor of music in vocal performance from the University of Toronto where he sang the roles of Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, and M. Lacouf and Le Fils in Les Mamelles de Tiresias. Other credits include Escamillo and Le Dancaïre in Carmen, and Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos (Opera NUOVA); Le Podestat in Le Docteur Miracle (Stu&Jess Productions); Masetto in Don Giovanni (Centre for Opera Studies in Italy); Curio in Giulio Cesare (Aradia Ensemble); and in the Chorus of Der Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze di Figaro (Opera Atelier).
There are a few roles that Dimitri dreams of singing in the future. “I am particularly fond of the slippery ambiguity of Don Giovanni; the dark, horrible beauty of Tarquinius; the gorgeous passion of Silvio; [and] the charming glee of Rossini’s Figaro.”
If he wasn’t an opera singer, Dimitri would still be putting his artistic talents to good use. “I’d love to be performing or creating in some other way,” he says. “I love the theatre, dance and poetry way too much to discount them.” But Dimitri acknowledges his scientific side as well. “I find the inherent ‘tinkering’ and order of chemistry really quite fun.”
In addition to opera, staying active is very important to Dimitri. “I find few things as comforting as pushing myself while at the gym or running,” he says. “I also enjoy fencing, tennis, and my nose is usually buried in one book or another.” He’s also a big board game fan, which is one way for him to stay connected with friends and family.
Wherever Dimitri’s operatic career takes him, he knows that his “big supportive family” and mentors have his back. “I had very supportive and caring music instructors and they nurtured in me a deep love for communicating through music from an early age,” he says. “It’s really comforting to be able to spend my time working on trying to get closer to such a powerful art.”
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001