Friday, June 29, 2012

New Canadian opera...Fit for a Barn!

I just returned from a fabulous preview of Canadian composer John Burge's first opera entitled "The Auction" being premier this weekend at the WESTBEN Arts Festival Theatre in Campbellford, ON.

Based on a children's story of the same title by Jan Andrews, the libretto for the score was written by Eugene Benson.  A fabulous singing cast included familiar Canadian singers mezzo Kimberly Barber, baritones Bruce Kelly and Matthew Zadow, tenor Keith Klassen and Westben founder and soprano Donna Bennett.

The story takes place over a single day as the widowed Granddad (Bruce Kelly) deals with the prospect of auctioning his possessions and his farm the next day.  His grandson Todd (well sung by 11 year old local soprano Olivia Rapos) is upset that his granddad is selling the farm and they sing about how much they love farming, how his granddad met his beloved grandmother (Kimberly Barber) and about their hopes and fears.  Past scenarios are played out through flashbacks behind and around a burlap scrim cleverly staged by director Allison Grant.  Dealing with the grief of loss and the passage of time,  Burge creates some stunning moments of musical drama, particularly the flashback scene of Grandmother's funeral where the 6 piece orchestra tightly led by Philip Headlam transition from the lilting rhythms of the folksy score to an intense, sustained almost organ-like dirge. This touching moment, so very personal for anyone who has lived in a farming community, was truly the highlight of the 2 hour opera.  The opera ends, just as it began, with the powerful and commanding voice of The Auctioneer (Keith Klassen) inviting everyone to gather around and get a deal..his final sale is the tractor, the centre of the set and the centre of all 20th Century farms.

The magic of a sunny summer afternoon as it was today, my own memories of growing up in a farming community and spending many Saturdays at auction sales and John Burge's very singable score left me looking forward to the next time this opera is produced.  As reviewer John Terauds crowed yesterday in his popular blog, Musical Toronto, The Auction truly "fits into its Westben Festival setting like a rooster on a fencepost"!

PS - for singers looking for new and interesting arias, there are many excerpt-able solos from this opera including the fabulous, tongue-twisting opening Auctioneer scene for solo tenor; a lovely aria for a light soprano where the boy Todd sings to a scarecrow accompanied by solo guitar; a poignant aria for Grandmother (sung by the fabulous Kimberly Barber) where she teaches Todd how to make a scarecrow;  the hilarious scene by Granddad's friend Mike Fedak (sung by tenor Tim Stiff) where he sings about why he didn't marry and of course, the funniest solo is for Granddad's daughter Alberta (sung by soprano Donna Bennett) where she sings about her dreams to become an opera singer but ends up a farmer's wife!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Music Convocation Flash Mob

The Honourable David R. Peterson, the outgoing Chancellor of the University of Toronto resided over his final Convocation last week.  He was taken by surprise when the students graduating from the Faculty of Music surprised him with a flash mob tribute to the tune "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and moved him to tears....the power of music never fails to bring awe and wonder to out lives!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Fresh New Singer-Voice in the Blog World

I recently stumbled across a great new blog called The Graduate written by a recent Bachelor of Music grad from Toronto.  She is motivational and inspiring and I encourage you to check her out!

PS - I stole this image from her most recent so perfectly depicts the complexity of our choices and lives as musicians!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

NEW Agreement between Brandon University & Mount Royal University

There are new options for students from Mount Royal University in Calgary to gain a degree from Brandon University should they wish to continue their studies!  Here is the announcement made just a few weeks ago:

May 11, 2012
BRANDON, MB — A new option is now available at Brandon University for young musicians with a Performance Diploma from Mount Royal University. Thanks to an articulation agreement between the two Western Canadian institutions, students wishing to continue their studies after obtaining a 63-credit hour diploma from Mount Royal University will have the opportunity to audition for entrance directly into the third year of either a Brandon University Bachelor of Music degree (Honours) or (Performance Major) program.

“I am very pleased that we have negotiated an agreement that will facilitate Mount Royal University music students who wish to continue with Music degree opportunities at Brandon University. When universities partner for the benefit of students, both institutions benefit,” said Dr. Deborah Poff, Brandon University’s President and Vice-Chancellor.

“The School of Music is greatly honored to have forged this alliance with Mount Royal University’s Music Diploma Program,” said Dr. Michael Kim, the Dean of the School of Music at Brandon University. “This collaborative venture will be of great and mutual benefit to both our music programs, and we look forward to welcoming the very talented young musicians from this program in the near future.”

This new agreement between Brandon University’s School of Music and Mount Royal University’s Faculty of Communications Studies was preceded by similar transfer agreements between the Calgary-based University and other Albertan universities. This arrangement will be advantageous for Brandon University, Mount Royal University and the students involved.

“With the signing of this articulation agreement, Mount Royal University will be able to provide its Music Diploma students with a remarkable opportunity to complete a four-year degree at Brandon University in a most prestigious Music School,” said Mount Royal University’s President Docherty.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Highlands Opera Studio - new program for the community!

Soprano Colleen Skull sent me this exciting information about the upcoming season for the Highlands Opera Studio Community School:

Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Haliburton Highlands in central Ontario, Canada, Highlands
Opera Studio provides advanced operatic experience to talented young professionals. Provide yourself with the necessary skills to embark on a career in opera!

Featuring sessions with nationally recognized performer and voice instructor, Colleen Skull
• Special opportunity for participants to work with experts in vocal performance
• Featuring private lessons and masterclasses focusing on technical and stylistic aspects of voice performance of all genres
• Opportunities for participants to perform and benefit from unlimited access to masterclasses, performances and rehearsals of the Highlands Opera Studio.
• The advanced studies provided at the HOS Community School will provide the skills necessary for participants to earn a place in the chorus and perform in a opera production as part of the Highland's Opera Studio.

For more information please visit our website or email:

Our vision is to enrich the music and fine arts programs in the community, build on existing music programs, and to provide opportunities that expand the development of music skills and talent in prospective students.

Our two main objectives are as follows:

1. To offer special opportunities for participants to work with experts in vocal performance in the form of private voice lessons to teach voice skills including technical and stylistic aspects of voice performance of all genres, provide opportunities for participants to perform, and to inspire participants through access to performances and rehearsals of advanced performers in the Highland's Opera Studio.

2. To provide advanced vocal and language training for the purpose of establishing an accomplished regional opera chorus. The advanced studies provided at the Highland's Opera Studio Community School will serve to cultivate the skills necessary for participants to earn a place in the Highland's Opera Studio Opera Chorus and perform in professional opera production as part of the Highland's Opera Studio.

From the voice of....