Edmonton Opera Blog

Entries from March 2013

Famous choral pieces

Thursday, March 28. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera has taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they could create, sing, conduct, etc., an opera. 
We welcome comments with your own opinion on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What, in your opinion, is the most famous opera choral part, and why is it so recognizable?

Ha Neul Kim, company and stage manager: Libiamo, from La Traviata, or the Butterfly humming chorus.

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: Verdi's Triumphal March in Aida represents victory on such a large scale. I believe this is grand opera at its greatest height, and therefore, probably makes it so famous. Also, more on a personal note, there is something really special about Borodin's Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor, as it is such beautifully composed music for orchestra and chorus.

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Va, pensiero from Nabucco. It is Verdi's choral work of art, and it is often performed twice because it is so well liked. That was my graduation song so it brings back wonderful memories, and I am always tempted to sing along when I hear it.

Catherine Szabo, communications coordinator: I don't know if it's the most famous piece of opera choral work, but I love the chorus parts in Tales of Hoffmann, especially the drinking song and Kleinzach's tale — so much so that when I searched for it on the Internet, I was disappointed that with principals added, it was much less prominent. Staff here are extremely lucky that we get to hear all the pieces of an opera before it comes together — just the chorus rehearsing, just the principals rehearsing, and then the amazing magic they create together! 

A discussion of Russian composers

Friday, March 22. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they conduct, create, etc., an opera.
We welcome comments with your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media. 

While writing the biography for the Eugene Onegin playbill, we found definitions of Tchaikovsky's style — "a combination of his formal Western-oriented training with the Russian style he had been exposed to all his life." Tchaikovsky is called one of the world's greatest/one of the great Russian composers, and with Eugene Onegin in mid-April, we wanted to discuss Russian operas in general. 

What do you like about Tchaikovsky's style that other composers don't do? What is missing in his style that is standard for other Russian composers?

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator & chorusmaster: I'm crazy about Russian music, and there are so many great operas by Russian composers. There's lots of opportunity for us at Edmonton Opera to expand our repertoire when it comes to Russian opera. You can see this dichotomy between the Western and the Russian in Onegin: The peasants’ chorus in Act 1 is a traditional form of Russian folk poetry called a “Chastushka” — humourous poetry that’s sort of a Russian cross between a limerick and rap.  But then we have a story about the love lives of aristocrats, and all these fancy upper-class dances like the waltz and the polonaise. The scenes between Tatiana and her nurse are an interesting example of the split — we see the two styles side by side: Tatiana’s very sophisticated chromatic music of longing, and the Nurse’s direct phrases drawn on Russian folk music. There are so many incredible Russian operas we could look at for the future: Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky), The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky), Love of Three Oranges (Prokofiev), Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Shostakovich), Prince Igor (Borodin), The Tsar’s Bride (Rimsky-Korsakov), Life with an Idiot (Schnittke) — and these are just the greatest hits!

Mickey Melnyk, stewardship officer: In contrast to “The Mighty Five” (Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov) who promoted romantic Russian nationalism (reaction to domination of imported European culture), Tchaikovsky found a more cosmopolitan voice of his own, composing deeply tragic love operas. I think Tchaikovsky’s music has more universal appeal from all of the Russian composers; he is definitely one of the greats! However, there are other Russian composers who composed beautiful melodies as well: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev.

Amanda MacRae, education and community outreach manager: While Tchaikovsky met with composers from "The Five," his musical style was very different from that of many of his Russian colleagues. He not only incorporated elements of Russian folk music, but was also largely influenced by his conservatory training and Western styles. 


From novel to opera

Thursday, March 14. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on a 30-question challenge of their own. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit, or an open-ended question about what they would do if they could conduct, create, etc., an opera. 
We welcome comments with your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What started as a retweet from the Royal Opera House on World Book Day last week has become this week's blog content question. Considering Tchaikovsky wrote Eugene Onegin after a dinner party where they discussed suitable subjects for opera, we think this is an awesome question as we prepare for the final opera of the 2012/13 season. 

If you could stage an opera based on a book, what would you choose? Do you foresee any challenges?

On social media, we had two people reply that they would like to turn Pride and Prejudice into an opera, as well as mentions of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, Memoirs of a Geisha and The Great Gatsby. For Orlando, it was pointed out that either a counter tenor or two artists for one role would have to be cast — we saw similarities that it could be like The Tales of Hoffmann, where both are done (either one artist is cast for the three women or three artists are cast for each of the women that Hoffmann falls in love with). The comment about Memoirs of a Geisha was also fantastic: "The only challenge (would be) that a lot of the dialogue is her private thoughts and observations, but that's what a good aria is for!" One of the chorus members also commented that she could probably write an opera based on the coffee-shop conversations that she was currently overhearing.

And finally, we won't lie: our first thought when someone suggested The Great Gatsby was that if it were an opera, it would be a great outreach project to get high schools involved with our education programs. 

Our technical director, Clayton Rodney, also suggested that How the Grinch Stole Christmas would be a great opera because "it's practically an opera already! So much drama and so over the top — plus building the costumes and scenery would be way too much fun!"

Spotlight on female arias

Thursday, March 7. 2013

Inspired by the 30-Day Opera Challenge done by Austin Lyric Opera, the staff at the Edmonton Opera have taken on their own 30-day challenge. Each week, we'll post answers from staff members about various aspects of opera, whether it's their favourite aria, an opera house they'd like to visit or their opinion on a genre. We welcome comments about your own take on the question, either on the blog or via social media.

What is your favourite female aria, and why?

Jelena Bojic, director of community relations: Vissi d'Arte from Tosca, simply because it's beautiful and very emotional, sung by someone who "lived for art and love."

Michael Spassov, artistic administrator and chorusmaster: Non monsieur mon mari from Les mamelles de Tiresias by Poulenc. 

Cameron MacRae, creative manager: I can't choose just one! A few of my favourites include Ah! Je veux vivre dans ce reve, from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, Sempre libera from Verdi's La Traviata, and Conduisez-moi vers celui que j'adore from Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe.

It's always interesting when lots of people choose the same piece or composer for their answer, but equally as interesting when there is a variety of responses. Some of the (last-minute) social media responses we got included Caro Nome (Rigoletto), the Flower Duet (Lakme) and Ebben? Ne andro lontana (La Wally). 

Edited: Thanks to everyone who wants to share their favourite female arias with us; it's pretty cool to see the responses we get when we post these questions. More opinions included D'Oreste d'Ajace from Idomeneo and Mi chiamano Mimi from La bohème.