Alberta Culture Days 2018

As a Feature Celebration Site for Alberta Culture Days 2018, Edmonton Opera offered three days of free, family-friendly arts events at locations across the city from September 28-30. Albertans were welcomed to discover the diversity of arts and culture in our province by attending these exciting events!

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Our action-packed weekend began with an Open House at the Edmonton Opera Centre, where visitors were able to get a first look at the set of La Traviata in the rehearsal hall. They also received tours of our 22,000 square foot facility and interacted with production staff, who were in the midst of building our upcoming productions. Later that evening, we threw a grand party on the Traviata set with over 200 guests in attendance. This ‘Evening In Paris’ included performances by Whitney Sloan and Adam Fisher, Opera Centre tours, and even an Opera Paint Nite for participants to learn scenic painting techniques! 

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This year’s signature event at Alberta Culture Days was titled ‘Songs of Hope’, held at Enterprise Square in collaboration with University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension and Metis Life Skills Journeys. Songs of Hope featured a fiddle group performance by Prince Charles School, Cree songs by Darlene Auger, traditional Maori singing by Nga Ihi O Nehua, and opera arias by Adam Fisher and Leanne Regehr. Audiences came together in the spirit of hope and reconciliation on Orange Shirt Day, observed annually to raise awareness about the impact of Indian Residential Schools on the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.

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Alberta Culture Days weekend continued with a celebration of Franco-Albertan culture during ‘Spectacle de variété francophone’ at La Cité Francophone. This multidisciplinary arts showcase was presented in partnership with L’UniThéâtre, Alberta’s only professional francophone theatre. We also welcomed families to a free screening of Hansel & Gretel (1987) at Metro Cinema, followed by a multicultural arts show at Southgate Centre that included performances of opera, Indian classical dance, and K-pop. 

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At Edmonton Opera, part of our vision is to engage communities in meaningful and exciting new ways, which goes beyond performances on the Jubilee stage. By offering such free events in easily accessible community spaces throughout the year, we hope to give more Edmontonians opportunities to gain an appreciation of the arts.  

All Alberta Culture Days activities were made possible with a grant from Alberta’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Special thanks to our community partners:

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Building the Traviata set

Building the Traviata set

Our 2018/19 season opener La Traviata is part of a remarkable moment in Canadian opera history. For the first time, five of Canada’s leading opera companies — Edmonton Opera, Manitoba Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Vancouver Opera, and Opéra de Montréal — have come together to create a spectacular new production of Verdi’s masterpiece.

Spotlight on Laquita Mitchell

Spotlight on Laquita Mitchell

When Laquita Mitchell was just fourteen years old, a bright-eyed young high school student in Manhattan, she had the opportunity to experience opera for the first time. Far from the usual ‘starter operas’ like Madama Butterfly or Carmen, Laquita went to see part two of Wagner’s Ring Cycle epic — Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera starring the great soprano Jessye Norman, who had also bought Laquita’s ticket to the performance.


Don Giovanni Director's Message

Don Giovanni Director's Message

Despite the repressive Catholicism of 17th-century inquisitorial Spain, members of the nobility felt free to commit any number of crimes, believing that their status granted them total impunity. One priest, Tirso de Molina, took it upon himself to educate these 'sinners' by writing The libertine of Seville.

In the original Don Giovanni, the story’s protagonist is condemned to eternal damnation by the divine order. Obviously, society has evolved over the past 300 years. So why mount Don Giovanni today? Because the existence of God, the belief in good and evil, and the notion of taking personal responsibility for one’s actions remain hot topics of debate.

Don Giovanni Costume Preview

In April, Edmonton Opera presents a bold new production of Don Giovanni, the crowning masterpiece of Mozart’s Italian repertoire. It has been over a decade since this notorious heartbreaker was last seen on the Jubilee stage and his return is highly anticipated by Edmonton audiences.

Director Oriol Tomas pays homage to the origins of the Don Juan myth in this production, infusing a timeless Spanish flavour in all aspects of the design. Don Giovanni is seen as a matador-like figure who is not only of a higher status in society, but also enjoys the life of a superstar, which allows him to be so casually reckless. “Matadors are bona fide celebrities who are applauded and adored by fans…their prideful attitude is reflective of Don Giovanni’s hubris. Matadors defy death, and Don Giovanni defies God,” explains Tomas.

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Although this Don Giovanni is not set in a particular era, Tomas wants to invoke a sense of the past and its grandeur. For costume designer Deanna Finnman, the concept is an exciting one. “When there is a period, you have parameters for the design…you know what the silhouette is, what the colours and fabrics are. But when it’s timeless, you have to create your own parameters,” she says. “In this production, we have a very condensed colour palette: black, white, red and gold, into which we infuse elements of Spanish traditional design in each of the garments to create a through line.”

Don Giovanni will have a few different costumes throughout, all of which make him look sleek and seductive. Finnman is interested in showcasing the body of this mysterious matador, suggesting an almost ballet-like smoothness to his movements. Another striking costume belongs to the vivacious Donna Elvira, a jilted ex-lover who chases Don Giovanni around for most of the opera. Finnman was inspired by the idea of a ‘revenge dress’ made popular by Princess Diana and saw it as a perfect fit for Elvira’s character.

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Our stylish new production promises to steal audiences’ hearts with its spectacular designs and a talented cast including baritone Phillip Addis as Don Giovanni, soprano Michele Capalbo as Donna Anna, and tenor John Tessier as Don Ottavio. Get your tickets before they’re gone!

Director Rob Herriot steers our jazzy new Pinafore

One day while rehearsing Cinderella last January, Tim Yakimec came into rehearsal, leaned over my shoulder and quietly said, “1920s Pinafore, new Jazz orchestration” and walked out. Well that was it, an idea pitched and sent out into the ether! Now I have to confess to being a bit of a Gilbert & Sullivan purist, but as I get older I am thinking more and more outside the box, and so along with my brilliant team of designers we set forth to explore this idea.

First, I had to be sure there was a concrete reason why this would work. I did plenty of research about the period and then looked at what the original piece was saying to find some links. The operetta mainly pokes fun at the class system in Victorian England. Similarly, during the 1920s there was indeed a very sharp divide between the old Edwardian Guard who were resistant to changes, and this brave new society of “Bright Young Things” who were advancing forward with new ways of living and thinking. This was my jumping off point.

When discussing the new orchestration, it became apparent that there was a very clear divide that helped dictate what music would be changed and what would remain traditional, based on the characters themselves. Obviously, the Captain, Sir Joseph and Dick Deadeye would remain very traditional. The sailors and “Sisters, Cousins and Aunts” would represent the younger set — they would be “Hip to the Jive”. Josephine starts her journey under the thumb of her father but breaks away and finds her own voice. And so this is how we proceeded.

In looking at the physical silhouette of the production, it was clear we needed to set the piece on a 1920s Cunard Liner, adding texture to the crew to reflect a more “Love Boat” group of workers, The Purser, chef, sailor etc. My two brilliant designers then created a spectacular look for the show.

Now the final test was hearing the first sound file of new orchestration. Within 30 seconds I was hooked! The physical production came to life in my imagination and we set sail from there. I do hope you enjoy this jazzy new HMS Pinafore!

Gilbert & Sullivan: Masters of Satire

In their nearly 30 years of collaboration, the creators of HMS Pinafore and other iconic works such as The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance took every opportunity to poke fun at British society. Librettist W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) saw art as a way to entertain the masses while also engaging them in political critique. Some of their most memorable characters and plots could easily be connected to real things happening in Britain, and their commentary on these events was often scathing or at least sarcastic.

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W.S. Gilbert

William Schwenck Gilbert, born in London in 1836, was the son of a retired naval surgeon. After finishing his military training as a young man, Gilbert worked in a government bureau job until he received a nice inheritance from an aunt. He decided to study law but didn’t have much success with it, quitting his law practice after just a few years.

Gilbert was known for his biting humour and sarcasm, which made his contributions to a British magazine named FUN quite popular. He also made cartoons to appear alongside his writing, which were often signed “Bab”. Many of the characters in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are based on these “Bab” characters.

Gilbert was knighted by Edward VII in 1907 and died in 1911, at age 74, while attempting to save a drowning woman.

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Arthur Sullivan

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan was born in Lambeth, London, in 1842 to a very musical family. His father was a bandmaster at the Royal Military College and before age 10 Sullivan had mastered all of the wind instruments in his father's band. He won competitions, earned scholarships, and even went to Germany to present his thesis in front of Franz Liszt.

For the next ten years Sullivan was a professor of music, a teacher, and an organist. As one of the leading composers of the day, Sullivan had many influential friends in every circle of society including many monarchs in Europe. He composed several major choral works including The Light of the World, The Martyr of Antioch, The Golden Legend, and his lone grand opera, Ivanhoe.

From 1872 until his death in 1900, Sullivan suffered from extremely painful kidney stones and it is said that his most beautiful music was composed while he endured great pain. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1883.

Satire in HMS Pinafore

Gilbert & Sullivan took aim at the Royal Navy in this delightful operetta, pointing out British society’s silly obsession with class. The characters most obviously barred by their different ranks are lovers Ralph Rackstraw, a lowly sailor, and Josephine, the Captain’s daughter. They spend most of the operetta pondering ways to be together, seeing as Josephine’s hand had already been promised to the old Sir Joseph, a high-ranking officer in the Navy.

Sir Joseph is a hilarious caricature, based on a real British politician of the time, who gloats about how he came to achieve such a high rank without having any talent whatsoever. He sings about all the schmoozing that got him where he is and emphasizes the greatness of bureaucracy. He also scolds the Captain of the Pinafore and tells him to treat his crew as equals. In that moment, Sir Joseph completely disavows the class system, which earns him some favour with the audience.

But his love of equality doesn’t last long. When Josephine and Ralph are caught trying to elope, Sir Joseph is livid and has Ralph imprisoned on board.

The biggest joke about class comes in at the very end, when the librettist creates a completely unexpected reversal of fortunes just for the sake of a happy ending. As the Pinafore descends into chaos, with Ralph imprisoned, Sir Joseph throwing an angry fit, the Captain trying to win back his favour, and Josephine defiantly declaring her love for Ralph, it looks as if the audience should expect a sad ending. That is, until Little Buttercup enters the scene and tells everyone she has a confession to make.

Buttercup confesses that many years ago there were two baby boys in her care — one of high birth and the other of low birth. She switched the two before handing them to their parents, which means both boys grew up in a class they didn’t originally belong to. She then reveals the identities of these two boys: Ralph Rackstraw and The Captain!

On account of his newly discovered rank, Ralph is released from prison and becomes the new captain of the Pinafore, in accordance with his high birth. Since class is no longer a barrier, Ralph is free to marry Josephine, who has lost her previous rank. As well, the Captain, who is now a mere sailor, can finally admit his true feelings for Little Buttercup and marry her without any hesitation.

The whole crew celebrates this reversal of fortunes and everyone shouts their love of Britain in a delirious display of patriotism. Gilbert & Sullivan write this over-the-top finale to be tongue-in-cheek about national identity. Just a few minutes ago class differences were unraveling and conflict was heated, but now that love is aligned with the proper social ranks, we can once again sing about how truly great it is to be an Englishman!