by Michael Lewandowski
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 COC Stage Manager Michael Lewandowski to share a day in the life on the road with the Ensemble Studio School Tour, as they perform The Scorpions' Sting: An Egyptian Myth. Read on for his account of an average day on tour!
The Scorpions' Sting: An Egyptian Myth will also 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 Scorpions' Sting Performance Locations in a full screen map
First day of The Scorpions' Sting rehearsal. As a Stage Manager I'm responsible for keeping everyone informed of the schedule and keeping track of everything that happens in rehearsal. I'm the eyes and ears for everyone who may not be in the room. My job is to keep all the departments informed of any changes or needs the production may have. At the end of each day I send out rehearsal notes, that each department receives (Music, Wardrobe, Props, Wigs etc). On our first day, our director Joel Ivany discussed his vision for this production, and we ended the day by having a full sing-through of the opera with our Musical Director Jennifer Szeto.
I am always the first person to arrive at work on tour. I start my day by picking up props and costume pieces that may have been damaged the day before, and our lovely COC staff fixed for us. I pack everything in our van, and do a quick inspection of the vehicle. I have to make sure everyone is safe and the van is ready for a full day of travel. The COC school tour has been lucky to have Glencore as our sponsor on the tour for a number of years. Every morning we put up our fancy Glencore sponsorship decals on the van, which also direct the public to our website, where they can follow the tour. Our Musical Director Jennifer Szeto was happy to help with this task today.
The van has to fit everything we may need on tour. This not only includes our performers, but also our full set, props, costumes, keyboard, first aid kit and anything else we may need on the road.
Our first stop, School Number #1. We always arrive an hour before the start of the opera. We start by checking in with the main office, and find the best location for us to unload the van.
Everyone in the cast is responsible for helping with the set-up. This includes putting the full set together, unpacking costumes, and setting props needed for the show. As you can see above, Erica, Karine, Clarence & JP are busy at work.
Clarence helps put up the finishing touches. Once the set is complete, the cast changes into costume and warms up.
The completed set.
As a group we have to adapt to wherever we perform, as each school is different. Our change room is often the gym storage room. Being the Stage Manager on tour is a lot like being a mom sometimes, "no time to play, time to get into costume."
My view during the show. I'm well-hidden behind the set, and I'm responsible for receiving and handing off props, helping with quick costume changes, as well as operating the puppets in the show.
After the performance we do a 10-minute question-and-answer period with the kids. After that we load everything up into the van and drive over to School #2, where we repeat it all over again. On a typical day we do two shows within the Greater Toronto Area, however we sometimes travel overnight.
On this particular day we drove to Kingston in order to do performances in Gananoque and Napanee the next day. This sometimes makes for a long day, as we started at 8:30 a.m., did two shows in Toronto, then drove for three hours to get to Kingston. The cast can rest as soon as we arrive at the hotel, however my day continues for a few more hours. I have to do laundry from that day, as well as fill out a detailed show report, which gets sent back to COC, so everyone can keep up with what is happening on tour. I also have to check any e-mails from schools we may be visiting the next day, to answer any questions they may have.
Once all the work is done, we all enjoy a well-deserved evening off. We spend a lot of time together on the road, and we become like a travelling circus. It helps to have a great group of people that enjoy what they do; we have a lot of fun together. Not too many late nights for us, as tomorrow we do it all over again, and drive back to Toronto after two shows.
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 Kiersten Hay / 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.
Nathan Keoughan, Bass-baritone
Nathan Keoughan's hoping his past experience auditioning for the Ensemble Studio will hold him in good stead when he returns for this year's competition.
His credits include Luka in The Bear, Angelotti in Tosca and Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte (Highlands Opera Studio/HOS); Pankrol in Milk Bar (Mount Allison Opera Studio); Colline in La Bohème (Cowtown Opera and HOS); the Mayor in Dr. Miracle and the Lackey in Ariadne auf Naxos (NEC); Roy Gardner in Anne & Gilbert (Harbourfront Theatre); and Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera by Request). You’ll also be able to see him this season as Dr. Dulcamara in Elixir of Love with Cowtown Opera.
Here’s what you might remember about Nathan from last year’s competition:
(To view last year's blog post, click here.)
Born and raised in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Nathan completed his bachelor of music at the University of Prince Edward Island and still finds it hard to pry himself away. But he’s managed to do so long enough to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he completed a master’s degree in Vocal Performance in 2012.
Before moving to Boston, Nathan says that his opera career “was not the original plan.” An accomplished theatre actor, Nathan portrayed Roy Gardner in Anne & Gilbert for three consecutive summers, and also played Edwin Simpson in Nine Lives, a musical about the life of L.M. Montgomery, for the Charlottetown Festival.
It was theatre that gave him a taste for performance, but opera that captured his imagination. “As my training continued at UPEI through the years, my amazing teachers, Stephen and Sung Ha Shin Bouey, introduced me into the world of opera, and with the help of YouTube I was soon a huge fanatic,” Nathan says. “What really draws me to opera is the culmination of such a focused singing technique while having the most dramatic of intentions and, on top of that, keeping up with the rich orchestral music underneath you.”
So how did Nathan feel when he was asked to return for the Ensemble Studio Competition?
“Every year I’ve come back I feel the pressure has increased,” Nathan says. “I know if I haven’t improved upon what they heard last year there would be no hope of me getting into the finals. So when I got the phone call, I was surprised they’d accept me for my third year but also relieved that I haven’t gotten any worse!”
One advantage of being the only returning competitor this year is that having performed with the COC Orchestra before on the mainstage gives him a chance to shake off his nerves. “This year I hope to spend less time being petrified and more time enjoying the fact that I get to perform in such an incredible house with such wonderful musicians in the pit.”
Whatever the outcome of this year’s competition, Nathan is going to enjoy every moment. “Our time at the COC goes by so fast, especially our time on stage. This year I look forward to taking it all in and enjoying the process as well as the performances. It’s not an everyday thing that I get to work and perform with such high calibre musicians, conductors, coaches and teachers. I don’t want to take any of it for granted. Singing with an orchestra like this feels as though you are floating on a cloud. It’s quite a rush.”
You can follow Nathan on Twitter to learn more about him.
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.
Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink
Aaron Sheppard, tenor
Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, tenor Aaron Sheppard was always surrounded by music. But until he was 17, a career in opera wasn’t even on his radar. Instead, he preferred folk music and musical theatre, but knew he wanted to pursue music at university. “Seeing as there’s no folk music degree, opera was the degree of choice!”
Aaron went on to study opera at McGill University in Montreal, where he received a bachelor of music. He is currently a member of the Atelier lyrique, Opéra de Montréal’s young artists training program.
Since discovering opera, Aaron already has several roles to his credit, including Hadji in Lakmé, Pong in Turandot, First Philistine in Samson et Dalila, Kronprinz in Silent Night and Joe’s Brother in Dead Man Walking (Opéra de Montréal); Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and Bonario in Volpone (Opera McGill); Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte (Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project); Ferrando in Così fan tutte (Jeunesses Musicales du Canada ); the title role in Albert Herring and Prince in Rusalka (Opera NUOVA); and Brooklyn Boy in Lillian Alling (Banff Centre). He is also a recent winner of the Western Canada Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Beyond opera, Aaron is quite the techie. “If I wasn't pursuing a degree in opera I would probably be working in international business, and trying to come up with the next big tech innovation.” He is the co-founder, along with some friends from Newfoundland, of the upcoming iOS/Android application Bendr, which aims to give every user an unforgettable and safe nightlife experience. His other hobbies include fly fishing, and "pretty much every sport."
But opera remains Aaron’s passion. The role he would most love to tackle? Well, it probably hasn’t been created yet. “I'd love to do something new and be the first to sing it,” he says. The Social Network: The Opera, anyone?
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.
Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001