• Against the Grain: The Journey to Requiem

    By COC Staff

    This month, Mozart’s Requiem joins the Canadian Opera Company digital fall offerings as a multi-disciplinary presentation in collaboration with Against the Grain (AtG) Theatre. Conceived by the combined creative forces of COC Music Director Johannes Debus and AtG Founder & Artistic Director Joel Ivany, Requiem marks the latest in a years-long, fruitful series of collaborations between the two opera companies. Today, we take a look back at the journey from Ivany’s COC debut to the real-life events inspiring Requiem’s creation. 

    Perhaps an unexpected origin story, our 2005 production of Carmen sets the stage for this impactful working relationship. Amidst the show’s roster of supernumeraries (extras), emerging stage director Joel Ivany made his COC debut in his first-ever live opera experience. At the time building his directing career after studying theatre and musical theatre, Ivany then dove headlong into the world of opera.

    Ivany in the COC's 2005 Carmen. Photo: Michael Cooper

    While building his career with directing gigs throughout Canada and Europe, Ivany returned to the COC on many occasions. Taking up the position of Assistant Director on the 2009 production of Puccini’s La Bohème, he then came full circle in 2016 returning to the COC as director of Carmen. Amidst this level of activity, Ivany founded the theatre collective, Against the Grain Theatre, offering an outside-the-box approach to opera and classical music performance that brought canonical and lesser-known works into unusual performance spaces and highlighted   the contemporary resonance of classical pieces. Since its founding, AtG has grown to become a vital producer of immersive operatic experiences with a reputation for excellence and innovation. 

    Along the way, the COC launched our pilot company-in-residence program, designed to support an individual opera company during the critical transition from its initial formation to growing into a more established organization with a viable infrastructure. Against the Grain’s residency ran from the 2016/2017 season through to 2017/2018. In that time, AtG mounted its first international co-production, developing a hugely popular series of monthly Opera Pub events, and launched a multi-year workshop to develop new work. Since its residency’s completion, AtG’s momentum has only picked up, including partnerships with Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, CBC Arts, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Crow’s Theatre. 

    The COC's 2016 Carmen. Photo: Michael Cooper

    The last time COC audiences got to experience Ivany’s work also happened to be one of the final opportunities to enjoy live opera in Toronto in the past two years. Indeed, Ivany directed the February 2020 production of Hansel & Gretel, a fairytale story modernized with innovative digital storytelling and video projections. Reflecting AtG’s goal of presenting modern and accessible work for a new generation of opera lovers, the show put a new spin on a classic. 

    Since then, as the performing arts industry has been profoundly disrupted by a global health crisis, both the COC and AtG have taken this time to create and innovate, fostering a space for reflection through art. Mozart’s Requiem offers an invitation to reckon with the impact of COVID-19 and heal together through the power of one of classical music’s most heartbreakingly beautiful works. Incorporating interviews and performances featuring artists from the COC Ensemble Studio training program, as well as Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, this Requiem looks to connect the opera community to the world around us, looking towards a new hope for a brighter tomorrow. 

    Next Saturday, November 27, join us for the online premiere of Mozart’s Requiem, available alongside all of our fall offerings through our Free Digital Membership. After the premiere, enjoy Requiem streaming free online for the next six months. 

    Lead Donor, Digital Initiatives

    Mozart's Requiem is presented by Sun Life's Share the Opera Program

    Posted in A Season Like No Other


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