For many music students at Mt. A, learning and performing pieces from operas are a typical part of their required material. Whether it be learning an aria as part of your repertoire, or analyzing a duet in a music history course, opera is a central genre in the classical training offered at the Marjorie Young Bell Conservatory. This past reading week, students in the MUSC-3183: Opera Workshop course used their operatic skills to introduce a new demographic of music lovers to the genre.
Throughout the semester, the students—under the guidance of voice professor Dr. Christina Haldane—have been busy preparing The Opera Show, a performance intended to teach students the overall nature of operatic production and expose the wider public to opera. The course is intended to provide students with practical skills that they can then apply to their performance careers, such as touring, tour planning, grant writing, and production logistics. The main performance aspect of the course is the tour of The Opera Show, which visited three locations during Mt. A’s November reading week. With funding support from Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada, the students were able to bring their talents and love of opera to Lunenburg and Halifax in Nova Scotia, and Kensington, Prince Edward Island. The class had the opportunity to perform professionally with multiple arts organizations: in Lunenburg, The Opera Show was included as part of Musique Royale’s monthly “Cookie Concerts,” in Kensington, the students performed at the historical venue Under The Spire, and in Halifax, the show was featured as part of Halifax Central Library’s afternoon concert series.
The course also acknowledges all of the moving parts that it takes to put together a show. There are three “pathways” students can take in the course: while most of the students are voice majors who were in the “Pathway Stage,” two piano majors are taking the course as “Pathway Orchestra,” and one percussion major is taking the course as “Pathway Backstage,” running much of the tour planning and taking on stage management work. Together, the three pathways—with the guidance of Dr. Christina Haldane acting as artistic director and Jim Tranquilla acting as tour manager—designed branding, blocked scenes, and dove into their characters to create a sort of opera variety show: The Opera Show. The show is a collection of well-known favourites from the operatic canon, including works by Verdi, Donizetti, Purcell, Mozart, and Handel, to name a few. Although you might not know its name, I can promise that many of you have heard the “Brindisi” from La Traviata in some form or another.
The students, ranging from first to fifth year, are diverse in their previous experience performing opera. Second-year voice major Skylar Côté said: “I am used to doing musical theatre, so it was completely different and fun to get to explore how to characterize and use different vocal movements for opera.” Côté acted as the emcee for the show, providing the audience a light and humorous guide through the twists and turns of the program. Fourth-year voice major Emma Yee is looking to go into opera, and commented, “I have done some opera before, but I have never been on tour. It was exciting to make each performance new, adapting my characterization and blocking to each new space and audience.”
CEWIL Canada has been instrumental (pun not intentional) in providing exciting opportunities for students outside of the classroom. “The Opera Workshop course is an experience that has significantly influenced the way I perform and rehearse music. It brought insight to how I portray characters and how to express a story through multiple lenses and through collaboration,” said third-year voice major Danica Jollimore, “I found that these stories are multi-faceted and unique in many different ways! Having the experience to tour with this group has been so incredible and so artistically fulfilling.”
This tour, however, provides learning for more than just the students in the course. “At one of the venues, some of the kids asked if they could come back tomorrow,” said Yee, “and at another, there was a kid who could not have been older than three who was enraptured the second our first singer opened their mouth.” The Opera Show will perform twice more in the spring, this time at Mt. A, so be sure to keep an eye out for their next performance.