• Making Opera, Building Community

    By COC Staff

    Two new Canadian operas see their premieres this month — and they were composed by some of the art form’s youngest creators! For several weeks this fall, participants from the Canadian Opera Company’s virtual Opera Makers programs, in partnership with Sistema Toronto and West Neighbourhood House, have been busy composing, designing and rehearsing their own original operas from scratch.

    Opera Makers introduces children to opera through hands-on activities that explore every element of an opera, from storytelling and composition, to performance and design. Working with COC Teaching Artists, participants share the stories of their own communities through music.

    “Witnessing the creativity and dedication of our participants has personally brought me such joy and hope during these strange times,” says Sarah Forestieri, the COC’s Manager, Community Programs & Partnerships. “I am amazed by how much work our participants and teaching artists have been able to accomplish. We’ve had to adapt our creative process for the digital limitations of Zoom, but that meant we had more time for discussion around prevalent issues that are important to our participants, and to really develop characters that reflect these ideas.”

    At Sistema Toronto, students expanded their usual music curriculum to include weekly online opera workshops with teaching artists Makenzie Morgan and Saman Shahi, in collaboration with Sistema Teaching Artists Morgan Melbourne and Delicia Raveenthrarajan. Their opera, Change of Heart, premiered on December 8 for an audience of family and friends. It’s a story of self-discovery, friendship and acceptance, centred around two teens that seem to have it all together but are dealing with issues their families just don’t understand. They also created their own digital Zoom backdrops with designer Sonja Rainey.

    “I didn’t know anything about opera [before the Opera Makers program] since I wasn’t really interested in music,” said Nicole, a Sistema Toronto student, ahead of the big premiere. “I like getting creative and putting [my] own ideas and thoughts into music. You can experience many new things you never knew or hadn’t done before.”

    Over at West Neighbourhood House, teaching artists Vlad Soloviev and Karine White led participants between ages 7 and 12 in weekly online workshops. Their opera, called Trial by Fire (A flamebuoyant opera), premieres for family and friends next week. They also created their own props and costumes, guided by Rainey. This “ripped from the headlines” story follows a camping trip gone wrong, after a fire is left unattended and the animals have to save their forest homes from destruction.

    “Our goal of the Opera Makers program is twofold: to expose youth to the art form, but also to provide a means of self-expression and storytelling through music,” adds Forestieri. “I think we’ve been successful in creating that platform for our participants, and I hope that people will listen because they have a lot to say!”

    See these bright young talents in action in the opening number for Sistema's brand new opera, Change Of Heart:

    About Sistema Toronto

    Sistema Toronto is a free after-school music and social development program for children living in vulnerable communities with the end goal of transformative social change. Our students learn together for 10 hours each week where they play in orchestras, sing in choirs and beat drums in percussion ensembles. We build stronger communities by enabling children from marginalized neighbourhoods to overcome poverty, grow, and thrive as engaged citizens and future leaders.

    About West Neighbourhood House

    West Neighbourhood House has played a vital role in each community they have served. Building community through the development of harmonious relationships and the promotion of personal growth and self-confidence in people are the primary focus for the House. Its programs include, Music School, Summer Camps, Child Care and Parent Support, Meals on Wheels, Employment Counselling and Adult Literacy Programs.

    Posted in Opera Makers


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