Every spring, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts lets loose and parties for a cause with one of the biggest fundraisers in Toronto: Operanation. Proceeds from the annual gala dinner and reception go directly to the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio training program which provides the brightest young artists from across the country with access to a comprehensive spectrum of vocal, language, and dramatic training. 2019 marks Operanation’s 15th year and organizers are promising a magical night, a nod to the company’s 2019/2020 season of fantastical fairy tales.
Michael Greaves and Odessa Paloma Parker are Operanation co-chairs who each have their own story to tell about how they discovered opera and why they’re so passionate about supporting the arts and education.
Michael is a Director in the Investment Banking Division at Barclays in Toronto. In his time off you can find him trying out one of the many new restaurants popping up around the city — though he’ll admit he’s quite partial to Edulis, in the city’s west end, as well as just about all Japanese cuisine. He’s an avid runner, cyclist, and loves to travel with his wife.
Michael and his wife on one of their many adventures together.
What first brought you to the opera?
I’ve been coming to the venue since I moved to Toronto in 2007. A night at the opera or ballet was always great for a night out with my aunt or as a date option. In particular, working in finance, I tend to spend a significant amount of time around people in the same circles, so I’m always looking for ways to do something out of the ordinary and meet new people. One of the things I love the most about Toronto is how diverse it is and how many different things you can experience on any given night, and the COC is one great example of this.
What made you want to get involved with Operanation as a fundraising event?
There’s no better way to bridge the gap between younger people’s expectation of what they think opera is — based on images they might have seen on TV of people in tuxes and fancy dresses — and what it actually is: incredible performance art with a mind-blowing soundtrack. Notwithstanding, I am very passionate about helping students achieve their dreams. Coming from an island where not everyone has the same level of access to possibilities you might find in Toronto, I am acutely aware that often the difference between success and failure is opportunity
Michael says music was a way of life, growing up in Barbados, paving the way for a lifelong passion.
Younger people in Toronto don’t always have the means to support every cause out there. Why was it important to you to support the arts and arts education, in particular?
An ethos instilled in me by my parents was to give back to the community. Even if you have a little, you are still expected to contribute. It's a very Caribbean way of life. In addition, growing up in Barbados, music was always a huge part of our lives! I don’t think you could go one day without hearing music and, of course, there was Kadooment (Carnival) which is a grand national celebration of music and costume design, bringing locals and tourists together from all walks of life. It was impossible to not get excited about that! It gets into your soul. Finally, as the youngest of four kids, we all played some kind of musical instrument. I played the guitar and then the saxophone, and I wasn’t great at either. I was always more scientifically inclined. However, I appreciate the art of it all, especially the discipline and hard work that goes into mastering any art, whether musical, visual or written.
Do you find music has become a way to de-stress from the rigors of city life and the business of banking?
Absolutely. My playlist is always evolving! I grew up just minutes from the beach, so in addition to reggae and calypso, alternative and LA west coast music resonated with the surfer kid in me — Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, all of that. Right now, I am listening to a lot of ‘conscious reggae’. It’s all so uplifting and positive. The one artist to watch is Koffee. I think she’s the future. Her sound is optimistic and really speaks to me.
Michael says he loves having the COC as one of the many great things available to check out in Toronto.
Last thing — as a music lover, what’s it like experiencing the kind of unamplified sound you hear at one of the COC’s shows?
There’s nowhere quite like the Four Seasons Centre for sound. Both my sisters played the violin and so it’s a particular treat for me to go and listen to the orchestral side of opera. I love to hear the string instruments and the flutes. We are very fortunate to have the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto. It is a world class venue. The acoustics are fantastic — to be able to sit back and hear it live, versus listening to a recording somewhere in a living room — there’s no comparison.
ODESSA PALOMA PARKER
Odessa is a freelance writer, editor, stylist and branding consultant. Her love of all things artistic means she grew up studying voice and performance arts before diving into the world of fashion, marketing, and publishing. In her very precious free time, you might find her and her husband out for dinner, at the theatre, or doing trivia and karaoke at the Ossington. Live music is her jam and she’s a big fan of Desert Daze in California.
Odessa with Jörn Weisbrod and Rufus Wainwright for a Globe and Mail Style Advisor shoot.
How did you get involved with Operanation?
I’ve been into vocal performance for a long time. In terms of studying, I went to the Royal Conservatory of Music in high school; it’s always been a passion of mine and I had been to the opera on occasion. One night a few years ago, a friend of mine, Randi Bergman, was mentioning that she was a part of organizing this event and my immediate reaction was, “Oh! I love opera
. I’d love to get involved.” So she reached out to me to join the committee and that’s how it started. But I also really like being on committees and volunteering my time to things; it’s been really fun to be more directly involved with Operanation.
There are so many places to donate your time — what is it about music and Operanation, as a fundraiser, that made you want to direct your energies there?
You know, when we first started to promote this year’s event, in my Facebook post I had written ‘Some of you might know that I studied classical singing – but some of you might not!’ I got involved with this event because I know first-hand what kind of training goes into operatic performance — it’s really hard. It’s your whole life and something that takes up all of your time, not unlike being a professional athlete. So to have a program like the Ensemble Studio, supporting young and emerging singers is incredibly important. Earlier this year, there was a video that was played ahead of the Centre Stage fundraiser that really highlighted the more physical aspects of program
. And it was so nice for more people to be able to see how comprehensive the Ensemble Studio training is– it’s not just singing for eight hours day
! These singers are also being equipped with business skills and the professional skills that they need to succeed in the industry. It’s invaluable
What makes Operanation so unique among fundraising events in the city?
A lot of the other fundraisers that go on in the city are more focused on visual arts and those kinds of cultural institutions. But I think that the opera is something that can be for everyone and deserves to have support and recognition, not only from the patrons who have been supporting it for years,
but also from a new and growing audience as well. So I think it’s great that an event like Operanation
tries to unite and bring audiences together, through music. I also really enjoy it as this showcase of the artists of the Ensemble Studio; where other events might focus on bringing in interesting musical acts or guest artists, what I like about Operanation is that it also incorporates the immense talent of these young artists. It’s a really unique experience.
For Odessa, Operanation blends all the things she’s loved her whole life: music, art, fashion, and the ability to give back.
Time for some opera mad-libs! Finish this sentence: “You will love Operanation, if you love…”
I think you’d love Operanation if you like music festivals. There’s something to do and experience in all the different parts of the Four Seasons Centre. You can eat and then wander over and look at something else that’s going on, but there’s also this common thread of great music throughout. So if you love a music festival atmosphere and like being able to wander and explore and discover new and interesting things, then this is definitely an event that you should check out.
Odessa and her husband James at the Desert Daze music festival in California.
What can people expect from this year’s event?
We’re really trying to look at the theme from all different angles. What is a Tall Tale? Is it a fairy tale, a myth, a legend? And how does that relate to opera? We’re also looking at how the theme relates to physical space and how that can create a sense of drama and whimsy. We want people to just have fun and interact with different elements. It’s going to be really fun to be in that space, that I can tell you!