Toasting 10 years of music and celebration, the Canadian Opera Company (COC) invites guests of its annual Operanation fundraiser to tempt their senses with the sights and sounds of North America’s largest opera party come October 24th’s Evening of TENtation.
As is to be expected of an opera company and an event distinguished by their modern turns (artists including Rufus Wainwright, the Arkells and Broken Social Scene have headlined the fundraiser in seasons past) 2013’s Operanation once again showcases a unique and exciting merge of musical genres. This year’s entertainment sees Juno-winning Canadian rockers Sam Roberts Band on stage with soprano Ambur Braid of the COC Ensemble Studio. And with Jeffrey Remedios, president and co-founder of Arts & Crafts — the label behind indie bands such as Reuben And The Dark and Still Life Still — sitting on the committee as co-chair, it’s no wonder the evening’s musical lineup should break the mould and embrace the undeniable connection between classical forms and pop music.
“Opera is one of those genres that is both rooted in tradition and in experimentation, says Remedios. “So there’s always playfulness and genre bending happening with the form.”
Inspired by the COC’s upcoming season, the evening’s theme — “A Night of Temptation” — takes its cue from the seductive plot of Così fan tutte, the classic comedic opera with music by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. A highlight of the COC’s 2014 schedule, anticipation is high with renowned director Atom Egoyan helming the new production.
To complement its unique musical ensemble, Operanation’s 10th annual fundraiser offers up a one-of-a kind fashion collaboration between the Sam Roberts Band and New York-based fashion designer Kaelen Haworth. Bringing to the mix the downtown sensibility of her eponymous label, KAELEN, Haworth’s limited edition tee designed with the Sam Roberts Band is a must-have and currently available for purchase at the COC’s online shop.
Fast approaching the big night, co-chair Jeffrey Remedios and COC soprano Ambur Braid take a moment to talk about their love of opera, genre misconceptions and what has them excited about the 10th anniversary of Operanation,
What do you personally love about the opera?
Jeffrey (J): Any way you look at opera, it really is a complete art form. A great opera includes greatness across so many artistic disciplines…. music, theatre, the human voice, costume design, set design, poetry… I could go on…. but you get my point.
Ambur (A): What I love about opera in general is that it becomes an international language of expression. It doesn’t matter if you understand the language that someone is singing in because the music and the power of the voices will move you. It is also a pretty great escape sometimes. I love singing opera because it is the only fulfilling way of expressing myself. And yes, it’s a hyperbolic one.
Which opera first turned you on to the genre and what about it spoke to you?
J: Hard to say. I’ve always had an interest in opera, but early on I found it to be an unnavigable ocean. Having studied music history in university, I got introduced to a fair bit of opera. I suppose it was Wagner’s [The] Ring Cycle and Mozart’s operas that I first took a deep dive with.
A: I saw a movie version of Carmen as a kid, and I will never forget that. I wanted to be Carmen.
For those who haven’t been or listened to opera before, what would be a good opera to ease them into the genre?
J: Personally, I would start with something from the 20th century…. maybe a Philip Glass opera. Being rooted in a more modern context it may be easier to grasp the genre than more classic pieces.
A: Just like movies or TV shows, all operas are entertainment and are so different from each other. Not every opera is going to please each person and so you have to test the operatic waters a bit in order to figure out what you love or what provokes you. It’s like dating! Right now, La Bohème is on at the COC, and that is a truly moving piece of theatre and a great first opera for people of any age.
What’s the greatest misconception about an evening at the opera?
J: Maybe that it’s not for you, just because you’ve never been. Opera really can be for everyone.
A: I suppose that they are expensive, long and difficult to understand. The nights can be long. They can make you think about things that you may not have felt before. They can be hard to understand, but sometimes it is best when you don’t “get” something right away and it pushes you. Sometimes the ambiguous can be more affecting, and I don’t believe that understanding something is an essential part of being receptive to any kind of art. A lot of the operas that we do have been around for hundreds of years, and they have lasted because they have integrity and they have something to say. It’s quite simple: have a glass of wine and go to a live show. If anything, it’s nice to have your cell phone turned off for three hours.
What are some of the interesting ways that opera has been modernized as of late?
J: A good example is Tod Machover’s Opera of the Future work at MIT [Media Lab], where he’s composing operas with robots and all sorts of electronic instruments.
A: I think it is incredible when relevant artists from other genres get involved in opera. Not only do they have things to offer our world, but there is the potential to have a profound affect on theirs. The blending of the arts is what sets opera apart from other art forms as it involves visual art (sets), fashion, dance, music, light and sound. I would love to be involved in a show with Anton Corbijn, Shary Boyle, Wes Anderson and fashion designers à la Ford, Jacobs, Lagerfeld or Alaïa…and these things happen! Keep your eyes peeled.
What connection do you see between opera and pop?
J: There are so many…. some good, some not-so-good. The form is so all encompassing that so many of today’s stories, films, and musical projects can draw both direct and indirect roots back to opera.
A: Opera was considered “popular” many years ago and had all of the sex, politics and romance that provoked people at the time. It still does, it is just more of a mental and time investment than most people are willing to make. Pop is easier to digest, which is great for every day but sometimes you need a really juicy steak.
If you could make any movie into an opera, which would it be?
J: The inspiration for an opera can come from many platforms… film or otherwise. For example, Chilly Gonzales is working on an opera about John McEnroe, which I’m excited to hear.
A: On the Waterfront. So hot. So much to live up to!
What about this year’s Operanation performance has you most excited?
J: It’s the tenth Operanation, which is quite the milestone. The event has become something really special and I’m really proud to have played a small part in that. I love the musical collaborations between opera singers from the COC Ensemble Studio and contemporary artists. What a treat that Ambur Braid will be performing once more. She rules… and with Sam Roberts, she’s going to rock!
A: I have always admired (understatement) Sam Roberts and this is one collabo that I am really looking forward to. The other ones were absolutely fantastic and such a blast for me, but this is a great one to commemorate my last Operanation performance. It is far more nerve-wracking to do these performances with the bands because there are so many variables and anything could happen: Is the snake from the poster coming? If I don’t fall on my face or dislocate my arm, I will consider it a success.