All posts by Jonathan MacArthur

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Against the Grain 19/20 Season Press Release

By | Ayre, Bound, Joel Ivany, Kyrie Kristmanson, Media Release, Opera Pub, Uncategorized | No Comments

Against the Grain celebrates 10 seasons of edgy, visionary opera.

Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) presents its most ambitious season to date.  The season begins with a national tour of La Bohème, a revival of the award-winning production of Figaro’s Wedding, a return of the JUNO-nominated performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre for the opening night at the 21C Music Festival in Koerner Hall and the world premiere of BOUND by Canadian composer Kevin Lau and librettist Joel Ivany.

TORONTO – Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) celebrates its 10th anniversary season on the heels of receiving two Dora Mavor Moore awards for their production of Canadian composer Claude Vivier’s only opera Kopernikus. This pivotal tenth season will see a cross-Canada tour of our beloved production of La Bohème, the revival of Figaro’s Wedding, a debut at Koerner Hall’s 21C Music Festival with Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre and the world premiere of the highly anticipated finale of BOUND.  AtG’s “standing room only” #OperaPubseries continues for another season at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club and presents a free concert at the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, featuring soprano Breanna Sinclairé.

La Bohèmethe innovative AtG production that started it all and uprooted opera from the opera house, returns with a multi-province tour in partnership with Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.  In 2011, AtG made its debut in the Toronto opera scene with an innovative interpretation of Puccini’s classic love story. The Italian libretto was translated into English and updated the 19th-century Parisian Latin-quarter setting to Toronto’s historic Tranzac Club. Our new production keeps the bar setting, but introduces it with a new Canadian cast to towns in central Canada. Meet Les Bobos: tenor Marcel D’entremont (Rodolfo), soprano Jonelle Sills (Mimì), baritone Clarence Frazer (Marcello), baritone Andrew Adridge (Schaunard), bass-baritone Giles Tomkins (Colline) and baritone Greg Finney (Benoît and Alcindoro).  Destinations include Banff, Calgary, and Medicine Hat, Alberta; Regina, Saskatchewan; Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba; Kenora, Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Toronto, Ontario.  Performances take place between September 27 – October 25, 2019.  See website for details.

Called “A treat from beginning to end” by the Toronto Star, Figaro’s Weddingthe winner of the Dora Award for Outstanding New Opera in 2014 triumphantly returns in a brand new production. This adaptation of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro sees the Lorenzo Da Ponte libretto modernized, translated into English by AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany and staged as a Toronto winter wedding with the audience cast as wedding guests. The impressive ensemble includes soprano Alexandra Smither as Susanna, baritone Bruno Roy as Figaro, soprano Miriam Khalil as Rosina (Countess) and baritone Phillip Addisas Alberto (Count). The creative team reunites several past AtG contributors, with stage direction by Ivany, music direction by Rachael Kerr, lighting design by AtG Resident Lighting Designer Jason Hand and costume and set design by Anna Treusch.  The show comes complete with ushers, a string quartet, and all the usual vows, tears, and hilarity.  All performances take place at the historic Enoch Turner Schoolhouse (106 Trinity St, Toronto) on December 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19  & 20, 2019.

Last season AtG launched AtG Records, a modern classical music record label and earned a JUNO nomination for their first release Ayre: Live (a live recording from November 2016 of their acclaimed stage production). Composer Osvaldo Golijov writes of soprano Miriam Khalil, “I cannot even begin to express the emotion I feel when she sings Ayre; it is as if she was born to sing it, or, even better, born for each other, she and Ayre.” Miriam Khalil has since performed Ayrewhich has become her signature piecein three countries and six different cities to great acclaim, and will open the 21C Musical Festival at Koerner Hall with this piece. The evening will also include  Golijov’s other works such as Mariel, K’vakarat, and Tenebrae. Musicians include Jamey Haddad, Barry Shiffman, Gabriel Radford, Michael Ward-Bergman, Juan Gabriel Olivares, and cantor Alex Stein. This one night only performance is presented by Koerner Hall at the 21C Music Festival (273 Bloor Street West) January 11, 2020 at 8pm.

BOUND was developed in December 2017 as a reaction to those displaced, dehumanized and mistreated by recent geopolitical conflict. AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany has written original text and drawn from news articles and international current events as source inspiration in the creation of the story BOUND. AtG commissioned composer Kevin Lau to keep the backbone of Handel’s music while infusing his own contemporary themes, music and ideas. This season will see the final premiere of the three year concept-to-realization project led by stage director Mitchell Cushman and light designer Jason Hand. The cast includes actor Martha Burns, soprano Miriam Khalil, tenor Ernesto Ramirez and the operatic debut of transgender opera singer Breanna Sinclairé. This world premiere will be presented at Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West) between April 17-25, 2020.

On March 31, 2020, at 12:00pm, AtG will once again be featured as part of the Free Concert Series in The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. A recital will be given by one of our artists from BOUND, Breanna Sinclairé, the only lyric soprano opera singer in the world who is transgender.

Back by popular demand, AtG’s standing room only #OperaPub series returns October 3 at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club (54 The Esplanade). Hosted by AtG Collective member David Eliakis, these free events will continue to feature opera arias and ensembles alongside witty banter and craft beers. Festivities begin at 9pm on the first Thursday of every month, and continue until May 7, 2020.

We also announce the commission of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, written by celebrated composer Michelle DiBucci and award-winning Canadian librettist Royce Vavrek. This opera will be a journey into a young woman’s world torn apart by abuse, neglect, addiction and apathy. It is an unflinching and compassionate look at the opioid crisis and a brutal testament on a plague that is emblematic of this decade.  Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup will be sung in English and and is set to premiere in 2021.

 

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Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

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Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup is a new opera written by celebrated composer Michelle DiBucci and award-winning Canadian librettist Royce Vavrek, this opera will be a journey into a young woman’s world torn apart by abuse, neglect, addiction and apathy. It is an unflinching and compassionate look at the opioid crisis and a brutal testament on a plague that is emblematic of this decade.  Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup will be sung in English and and is expected to premiere in 2021.

Overview

America’s opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in US history and one of our greatest national tragedies. In 2016 alone, more Americans died from drug overdoses than from the Vietnam war, gun violence, car crashes, and HIV/AIDS combined (vox.com). Composer Michelle DiBucci has conceived a powerful new work that grapples with this complex subject on the operatic stage.

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup is about a contemporary woman named Meri, a wife and young mother who becomes addicted to painkillers after a routine surgery.  Abandoned by a system unable to provide help, her life quickly spins out of control as she moves desperately from prescription drugs to street Heroin to feed her addiction.

Should Meri be punished, pitied or rescued? Her feelings of isolation and social alienation collide head-on with the cold calculus of a dysfunctional social system.

Structurally, the opera will loosely follow characters and scenes from the play, Woyzeck. Each scene will be a self-contained unit building on the last to form a coherent whole, as in a series of paintings by William Hogarth. The Norman Rockwellesque tableaux which open each scene will reflect a snapshot of everyday North American life.

Switching the attention away from Büchner’s protagonist, Franz Woyzeck, this opera will bring focus on Meri, the domestic partner of Frank, an Army Reserve Soldier, and father of her child.

Composer’s Statement

Stylistically, the music will encompass three sound-worlds which will overlap.

Chromatic, non-tonal sonorities represent the underlying story.

American folk music styles support the setting of Meri’s poems

Extended tertian and polytonal sonorities represent Meri’s states of “high.”

Throughout the opera, Meri will be followed by the Chorus. This vocal quartet will use contemporary vocal techniques in contrast to the operatic performance style of the other characters.

The Chorus haunts and taunts Meri and the only way to silence their ridicule and contempt is by being high on drugs.

Once Meri’s prescription is cut off, she moves to the streets in search of drugs and meets the male drug dealer, Mrs. Winslow, who will introduce her to heroin.  The name, Mrs. Winslow, is a reference to “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”, an opiate-laced drink that was given to babies with colic and their nervous mothers from 1849 – 1920. Tragically, many who took Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup became addicts.

DiBucci imagines the opera as an expressionistic tragedy. It presents a passionate debate on the idea of free will vs. determinism.  Moreover, it is a damming commentary on a society that seems headed towards irreversible decline. In Woyzeck, Büchner makes clear that madness is never isolated, but instead connected to the society that feeds it. In the opera, addiction will replicate this madness as a hungry ghost. 

As an artist and composer, DiBucci has many years of experience creating social-impact work that helps facilitate dialogue on complex topics. She felt compelled to shine a light on the urgent subject of opiod addiction and to raise awareness of the national catastrophe unfolding in slow motion in communities around the country. Opera, as the most complex of the dramatic forms, is the best medium to address this difficult subject. Opera involves emotion of an epic scale, which is how the composer views the devastating life of her antiheroine, Meri. With music, narrative and visual imagery, this opera will engage audiences to see, hear and feel her world in the grips of addiction.

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Come work with us!

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Executive Director

Date Posted: Jul 01, 2019
Application Deadline: Jul 22, 2019
Start Date: Sep 01, 2019

Salary Range: 40K – 60K
Province: Ontario
Region: Metro Toronto Area
City: Toronto
Employee Benefits: Other (e.g. flex time, comp tickets, etc.)
Check Additional Info section for more Employee Benefits
Organization’s Field/Discipline: The Arts
Job’s focus: Administrative
Job Type: Full-time
Career Level: Upper management

Organization Description

Against the Grain Theatre
Founded in 2010, Against the Grain Theatre (AtG)’s mandate is to exhibit fresh, daring re-interpretations of classical opera repertoire. Performing in nontraditional spaces — courtyards, bars, Victorian mansions, wedding halls — and with scaled-back accompaniment, such as a string quartet or piano, bringing out the full force of operatic singing in close quarters. The result? A thrilling, intimate, and unforgettable experience shared between our artists and audiences while maintaining the highest musical and production standards (as evidenced by our multiple Dora Awards and our recent Juno nomination).

Job Description

The Executive Director is the backbone of our organization and reports jointly to the Artistic Director and Board of Directors through the Chair.   The ED has primary responsibility for the administration of the AtG office, financial and budgeting matters and in partnership with the Artistic Director in bringing amazing art to life.   The position requires a proven track record in administration of performing arts organization, including experience in marketing, grant writing and fundraising.

RESPONSIBILITIES:

Administrative Duties:

  • Administrative: manage the day-to-day functions of the AtG office.
  • Financial: prepare and manage production and operating budgets, monitor budget development including cash flow projections, track income and expenses, prepare employment and regulatory filings as required, issue tax receipts, etc.. Oversee the work of a part-time book keeper. Assist with the preparation of audited financial statements. The ED is a signing officer of the company and reports monthly to the Board Finance Committee.
  • Fundraising: writing grant applications and pitch decks, relationship management, donor tracking, stewardship and execution on donor benefits, assist in fundraising activities, prepare post-event/production reports.
  • Board: Prepares and presents reports to the Board of Directors on productions, financial and management activity as required for each Board meeting.  The ED is an ex-officio Board member and is expected to attend bi-monthly Board meetings.

Productions:

  • Oversees the annual schedule and timelines for workshops, events and productions.
  • Hires project staff in conjunction with the Artistic Director.  Negotiates and manages all contracts (artistic, venue, rentals, etc.) and with appropriate labour organizations.
  • Books travel and accommodations for out of town artists and staff.
  • Works with the Artistic Director to source venues and suppliers in a timely manner.
  • Manages communication and marketing plan, ensuring activities are executed well and on time.
  • Directly oversees the activities of volunteers/personnel who manage the box office, front of house, communications, marketing and development.
  • Manages volunteer activities, the hiring of additional volunteers for productions, and volunteer performance.

 

Requirements:

  • Strong organizational, and administrative skills, incl. budgeting and financial reporting.
  • Self-directed problem solver, resourceful.
  • Experience in fundraising and donor stewardship with both corporate and/or individual donors.
  • Experience in grant writing and reporting, esp. Arts Councils and foundations.
  • Excellent communication skills; the ability to speak and write persuasively; mature and diplomatic interpersonal skills.
  • Experience in marketing, incl. website and social media.
  • Strong strategic and analytical skills.
  • Ability to work collaboratively with the Board, staff, volunteers, donors, suppliers, and artists.
  • Familiarity with non-profit and charitable governance (including compliance with CRA regulations, working with a Board of Directors).
  • Experience in arts management is strongly preferred.
  • Full time day-to-day office administration plus attendance during the productions and Board meetings.
  • Willing to roll up your sleeves and take on anything.

 

Additional Info:

Start Date: September 1, 2019 or prior

How to Apply:

Interested candidates are invited to send a letter of application stating salary expectations together with a resume and list of references to Heather Legg, AtG Board Chair heather@againstthegraintheatre.com

Only successful applicants will be contacted.

No phone calls please.

 

A new chapter for AtG and Topher Mokrzewski

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When one door closes, another one opens. As AtG closes the door on a successful production of Kopernikus, we announce another door opening for our Music Director, Topher Mokrzewski.

After a stunning 10 years as a Founding Member and Music Director of AtG, Toph will be moving on to an exciting new opportunity as Associate Artist Manager at Dean Artists Management!

Toph has brought so much honest love, dedicated musicality, and excellent sportsmanship to AtG over the past decade (!) and we wish him every success with our pals at Dean.

Kopernikus could not have been a greater show to go out on.

AtG is so proud of him and lucky to have had him on our team for as long as we did.

Good luck Toph and look forward to working with you in new ways.

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The history behind an unknown-opera

By | Joel Ivany, Kopernikus | No Comments

Introducing Claude Vivier (Pt.3): a three-part series on the life and works of Claude Vivier by Against the Grain’s Media Attaché, Michael Zarathus-Cook

On April 4th 2019, Against the Grain Theatre’s production of Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus will mark the latest occasion of the incredibly long arc in the production history of one of Canada’s most prolific operas. In the forty years between it’s premiere at the University of Montreal and it’s upcoming AtG premiere in Toronto, Kopernikus has toured the globe from Argentina to Paris and London to Amsterdam; and found its most recent Canadian stage at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in the Margaret Greenham Theatre. That Banff production was a workshop by AtG’s Artistic Director, Joel Ivany, and was praised in 2017 by the Calgary Herald as ‘the ideal opera of the future’. Stephan Bonfield, in that same article for the Calgary Herald, projected Kopernikus to be an opera ‘both for our times and perhaps, even possibly, for five hundred years from now’, indeed the simplicity and ambiguous spirituality at the core of this opera makes it an ideal candidate for posterity. Yet, in order for a work to remain available for the inspiration of future Canadian composers, it relies as much on it’s own merit as on the active endorsement of the arts communities and councils of each successive generation. Kopernikus is entering into its second generation of audiences, and it’s time for it (and its composer) to achieve the same renown in English Canada as it has enjoyed in Quebec and elsewhere outside of Canada.

“His music really resembles no other, and he puts himself right on the fringe of all trends. His music, of a direct and disruptive expression, could bewilder only those hard-hearted people who are unfit to categorize this independent man of genius. Claude Vivier found what so many others have sought for, and still seek: the secret of a truly new simplicity” — Musicologist Harry Halbreich, Harmonie-Panorama Musique, April 1983.

Back here in Toronto, rehearsals for the April 4th premiere are underway, with AtG’s Music Director, Topher Mokrzewski, reprising his role as conductor. Matjash Mrozewski who, in the Banff production “created a gestural language to unite the singers, musicians, and dancers” (Ludwig van Toronto), will once again take on the choreography for the ensemble. That ensemble is a cast of two mezzo-sopranos and two sopranos; a bass, baritone and bass-baritone; as well as two dancers who in the last production imparted “an air of ecstatic rapture to the piece” (Opera Going Toronto). Danielle MacMillan will also be returning to her role as Agni—“a fire spirit of ideal protean innocence” (The Calgary Herald)—the centerpiece around which orbits the rest of the cosmic ensemble.

The role of Agni was created by Jocelyne Fleury-Coutu, one-third of the creative triumvirate that helped bring Claude Vivier’s vision to life at the University of Montreal almost. The other two were: Marthe Forget, who staged the premier (and died 12 years ago); and Lorraine Vaillancourt as conductor and musical director. In the subsequent years after Vivier’s death in 1983, Vaillancourt was instrumental in the various productions of Kopernikus, beginning in Montreal and thereon to Paris. Her interview for AtG’s upcoming production was a revelation of Vivier’s character and a recollection of the unique character of his only opera: “…there’s not really a narrative, it is a ritual in an invented language, wherein the main characters, apart from Agni, are the passage, and eventually become the music (yes, the music!)”.

A short history of the international productions of Kopernikus

May 8-9 1980: (world premiere) Monument national by the Atelier de musique
contemporaine and the Atelier de jeu scénique of the University of Montreal
July 5-6 1985: (UK premiere) Almeida Theatre by Contemporary Chamber
Orchestra. London, United Kingdom
1986-1989: Les Événements du neuf, Montreal
1989: Les Événements du neuf, Paris
Sept-Oct 1990: Van East Cultural Centre, Vancouver New Music Society,
Vancouver
April 14 2008: Atelier de musique contemporaine de l’Université de Montréal, Salle Claude-Champagne / Lorraine Vaillancourt, Montreal
June 7-29 2008: Universität der Künste Berlin, Germany
Oct-Nov 2012: Holst-Sinfonietta – Christuskirche, Young Opera Company,
Freiburg, Germany
April 15-19 2014: De Nederlandse Opera – Boekmanzaal, Amsterdam,
Netherlands
May 11-14 2014: Ensemble oktopus für musik der moderne – Reaktorhalle,
München, Germany
June 12 2016: (American Premiere) Roomful of Teeth / Eric Dudley – Libbey Bowl,
Ojai, California, USA
June 6-8 2017: Margaret Greenham Theatre, Against The Grain Theatre, Alberta,
Canada
August 2 2018: (Argentinian premiere) Americas Society / Sebastian Zubieta
Festival Nueva Opera de Buenos Aires, Argentina
December 4-19 2018: Ensemble l’instant donne, Roomful of Teeth, Theatre de la
ville, l’Espace Cardin, Paris, France
Jan-Feb 2019: Mitglieder des Internationalen Opernstudios der Staatsoper
Unter den Linden, Alter Orchesterprobensaal, Berlin, Germany

Against the Grain Theatre’s Kopernikus premieres at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainstage on April 4th, and runs till April 13th.

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Interview with Lorraine Vaillancourt, the premiere conductor of Kopernikus

By | Kopernikus, Press | No Comments

Introducing Claude Vivier (Pt.2): a three-part series on the life and works of Claude Vivier by Against the Grain’s Media Attaché, Michael Zarathus-Cook

Against the Grain Theatre will be staging Kopernikus, an opera by Montrealais composer Claude Vivier, from April 4th to 13th. In anticipation of that we are excited to talk to conductor Lorraine Vaillancourt—the premiere conductor of Kopernikus almost 40 years ago—about some of her memories and impressions from her collaborations and friendship with Vivier.

Born in Quebec in 1947, Lorraine Vaillancourt has been a prolific member of Montreal’s contemporary orchestral music scene since the 70’s. Trained as a pianist and conductor at the Conservatoire de musique du Quebec and thereafter in Paris at the Ecole normale de musique, she went on to become the director of University of Montreal’s contemporary music workshop showcasing works ranging from Cage to Stockhausen. She is now the conductor of one of the world’s premier chamber orchestras, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, which she founded in 1989. Arguably her most unique creation, however, was the result of a collaboration with Vivier:

At 9pm on the ninth day of the month, since 1978 and as late and 1990, a concert society in Montreal produced a performance for avant-garde and contemporary compositions with a mission of “removing barriers between historical periods and musical categories.”. The founding members of the society Les Événements du neuf were an eclectic group of nine, which included Vaillancourt and Vivier. After conducting the premier of Kopernikus on May 9th 1980, she thereafter toured the opera in Montreal and Paris between 1986 and 1989, and was a catalyst to the proliferation of Vivier’s works in the immediate years after his death.

Their relationship dates as early as 1978 when Vaillancourt conducted Vivier’s Chants (1973), a choral work for sevens voices, shortly after they met at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Music. Recalling the near-instantaneous attraction to his musical sensibilities she describes the short trajectory of collaborations that led to Kopernikus:

I immediately wanted to work on this piece for seven women’s voices that seemed particularly inspired and inspiring to me—and I had a team of thunder! This was when a concert project was born…Friendship and love for music already united Claude and I. This concert, being very well received, was the launch of the concert society “Evenements du neuf”.

At the end of this program, Claude (among others) started his doctoral project (he would study with composer Serge Garant) which was an opera composed specifically for my Atelier and what was then called the “The stage play workshop” (now l’Atelier d’opera) directed by Mrs. Marthe Forget. Thus Kopernikus was conceived in 1979.

Vaillancourt’s body of work throughout the 80’s was especially focused on promoting avant garde compositions that combined historical periods and musical styles, as such Vivier’s penchant for the experimental fringes for voice and ensemble was a welcome opportunity for Vaillancourt. It was the complexity of Vivier’s spiritually adventurous musicality that inspired their collaboration:

Vivier was an enlightened being. The emotion I often felt while directing his music (Chants, Kopernikus, Prologue for a Marco Polo, Wo bist Du Licht) is absolutely unique and I did not find this poetry, this interiority, anywhere else. His influence on me was manifested within our small team of Evenements du Neuf (1976-1988) since we were doing programming collectively. Claude, like all of us, respected his fellow composers and showed the healthiest curiosities about worlds that did not necessarily resemble his own.

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From left to right: Claude Vivier, Lorraine Vaillancourt, and José Evangelista

Besides his oddities in socializing—a nervous, raucous laugh and the less than pleasant smell of the biker’s jacket he always wore—Vaillancourt also remembers Vivier for his enthusiasm in connecting a community of creatives in Montreal, albeit his social instincts contended with the solitary spirituality that his music pursued:

Claude Vivier was a star! And his terrible death contributed to his notoriety. We can only imagine everything he could have still given us. Claude was also a beloved and much appreciated person in Montreal. His network of acquaintances and friends was immense. He considered the premiere of his opera an event not to be missed, and he took charge of filling the National Monument Hall. Claude had a kind of faith in his music that was rather touching, and what might have seemed pretentious in someone else was actually a gesture of love.

She added, in the same breath, a reminder of the importance of staging Canadian opera in Canada, and the significance of small opera companies to the growth and relevance of the operatic repertoire…

Today there are many operas “resolutely modern” and that are still quite interesting. If we do not have more audiences this is due to the reluctance of the big boxes that are the major opera houses. Just because we program an opera that is composed in 2019 does not mean we are contributing to enriching the repertoire: we often have to deal with voiceless music, writing that is very conformist and academic, without being interesting … just a good show! The presence of an open, curious and stated artistic direction makes all the difference. Toronto, among others, has dared to create beautiful creations and should serve as an example.

Lorraine Vaillancourt is the current Musical Director of Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, and has been an advocate for the production of Vivier’s works in Canada and abroad, since the year of his death.

Article by Michael Zarathus-Cook, Against the Grain’s Media Attaché
To purchase tickets to Against the Grain’s Kopernikus (April 4 – 13) click here.

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‘Find the Soul of the human race’

By | Kopernikus | No Comments

Introducing Claude Vivier (Pt.1): a three-part series on the life and works of Claude Vivier by Against the Grain’s Media Attaché, Michael Zarathus-Cook

Had you been even the most occasional patron to Montreal’s experimental compositional music scene in the 80’s, then no such introduction is needed. You might have heard his name in association with production houses like Les Événements du neuf (an avant-garde concert society) and titans of modern composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen (with whom Vivier studied composition). On this side of the Québec border, however, his name might ring a bell to those who keep watchful a eye on foreign theatres interested in producing Canadian content. Perhaps the telling fact of the belated recognition of Vivier’s talents within Canada is that news of his death did not make it to any significant English music journal until 1986—his body had been discovered by Parisian police officers on March 12th 1983. Against the Grain Theatre’s production of his internationally prolific opera Kopernikus begins on April 4th and concludes on the 13th, a day before what would have been Vivier’s 71st birthday.

He was born in Montreal to unknown parents and was adopted at the age of three by a poor French-Canadian family that tried (unsuccessfully) to return him. Adolescent freedom came in the form of enrolment into a noviciate in preparation for priesthood. He never attempted to hide his homosexuality, a fact not entirely separate from that of his ejection from the Brotherhood at the age of 18 on grounds of his ‘immaturity’. Having benefited from a prolonged exposure to sacred music and now free of the stringencies of religious training, he left for Europe in 1971 to pursue the expression his natural talent: music. All throughout the myriad and eccentric colours through which that talent was expressed, two main elements were ever-present: a secular and yet sacred spirituality, and his fixation upon the loneliness of his childhood (he described his Lonely Child, for soprano and orchestra, as a ‘long song of solitude’).

Canadian Music Center Programme for the Concert Commémoratif Claude Vivier When Vivier’s body was discovered beneath an upturned mattress five days after his murder, between 20 and 45 knife wounds were accounted. Officers of the police nationale also discovered composition notes for an unfinished work by the name Crois-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme—wherein the main character in murdered by a young man on a Parisian subway: “And without further ado, he drew a dagger out of his black jacket (probably bought in Paris), and stabbed me right in the heart.”

Aside from the contemplative solemnity with which he approached the subject of death and transcendence, there is perhaps no single defining characteristic underlining Vivier’s tumultuous lifespan from Montreal to Paris. His was a creative mind for whom plurality and ambiguity were the necessary features of his operatic experience. The ten or so characters that are projected by Agni, the central character of his Kopernikus, exemplify the plurality and intensities of experience that his short life afforded. Despite the ambiguities that accompanied such creative excursions—like the use of invented language—he was often clairvoyant in the description of what he felt to be the mission of his life’s work, and its galactic proportions:

“Find the soul of the human race and place it there in front of the human race, make individuals face up to themselves again, individually and infinitely, confronting the total mystery that is the Universe, contemplating it, so as eventually to be able to find a way in it.”

A struggle between the individual and the infinite—the little boy from Montreal struggling for his place in the world, despite a childhood of sexual abuse and neglect; an openly gay man embracing the manifold colours of Parisian liberal life—that is one of the many brilliant contradictions available in the biography of a man whose life is accurately described as hard and fast.

Article by Michael Zarathus-Cook, Against the Grain’s Media Attaché
Sketch by Jeremy Lewis
Photo of Claude Vivier from the Canadian Music Centre

To purchase tickets to Against the Grain’s Kopernikus (April 4 – 13) click here.

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Kopernikus: Canada’s most famous unknown opera

By | Press | No Comments

TORONTO — The turbulent life of Montréalais composer Claude Vivier (1948-1983) came to end at the age of 35 when he was murdered in his Parisian hotel room. Against the Grain’s mission of pushing the boundaries of opera returns with Vivier’s Kopernikus: A Ritual Opera of Death, a culmination of the composer’s unconventional career and rejection of many traditional ideas of life, music and opera. Its Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity workshop premiere in 2017 earned praise from The National Post as an opera “made for some supreme theatre” and was hailed by Opera Going Toronto as “utterly extraordinary.”

Set in two acts for seven singers and instrumentalists, Kopernikus challenges the norms of classical opera with its innovative use of compositional and technical devices to create a vivid meditation on self-transcendence with a series of music-theatre tableaux. “I think this is Canada’s greatest opera ever written. Vivier was unique, he was an innovator and a true artist,” says stage director Joel Ivany of what is perhaps one of the most staged Canadian operas outside of Canada.

Canadian mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan revives her role as Agni, the central character who travels to an unknown space suspended in time wherein she meets the fragmented embodiment of many eclectic characters, the likes of Tristan and Isolde, Copernicus, Lewis Caroll and Mozart. Filling in the roles on this list are mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó; bass Alain Coulombe; baritone Dion Mazerolle; sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh and Jonelle Sills and baritone Bruno Roy. Joining this outstanding ensemble on stage are dancers Anisa Tejpar and William Yong as they bring strong and supple expression to choreographer Matjash Mrozewski’s vision. In the boisterously irreverent spirit of seeking out new and engaging interpretations of the operatic experience, AtG has taken an innovative twist on orchestration by incorporating members of the orchestra into on-stage roles of the ensemble as part of the production concept. The orchestra ensemble includes violinist Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh; clarinetists Brad CherwinMarc Blouin and Peter StollMichael Fedyshyn on trumpet; Paul Tarussov on trombone and Carly Gordon on oboe.

AtG’s resident lighting designer Jason Hand is both set and lighting designer for this project, creating an environment that hearkens back to the original usage of Theatre Passe Muraille’s unique space. Leela Gildayacts as dramaturge alongside Marissa Kochanski’s original costume design. Musical director Topher Mokrzewski takes on the challenge of conducting a dispersed ensemble through Vivier’s cosmic and ethereal orchestration.

It’s been nearly 40 years since the premiere of Kopernikus’ epic journey of fire, life, death and ultimately, hope. A profound and spiritual experience invented by a composer who, despite his intrigue as a grand-eccentric, was a profoundly spiritual man. “Find the soul of the human race” Viver said “and place it there in front of the human race, make the individuals face up to themselves again…”

Join us for AtG’s Kopernikus, an adventure into Canada’s most famous unknown opera. The production will be presented at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) on April 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, 2019 with all performances at 8pm and doors open at 7:30pm. Tickets range from $25 – $85 and are available now from Against the Grain TheatreArts Box Office

Against the Grain Theatre Opera Pub at Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Photo: Darryl Block

Q&A with Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill

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home-4Karen Cargill is a Scottish operatic mezzo-soprano who has performed with the Metropolitan Opera and at the Edinburgh International Festival among other organizations.

We’re fortunate to have Karen on our faculty for Summer Modern Intensive 2019!

Karen sings some of the larger rep in the world of opera (Wagner, Wagner, Wagner).  We had some baby-Wagner singers last summer at our Intensive and so we wanted to have some teachers with us who could inspire them.  Karen is one of those teachers (Heidi is the other).  We asked Karen about some questions about singing big rep and small rep and why she likes working with singers.

Q:  When you were well on the opera train, how did you know when you were ready to move from safer rep to some of the heavier stuff.  How did you get into Wagner and know that it was both safe and what fit.

A:  I’ve had an interesting journey with singing once I graduated from the National Opera Studio in London. I started singing the usual beginner roles Third lady in Magic Flute, Suzuki in Butterfly, Sesto, when the music director at Scottish Opera offered me the chance to sing Rosina in Barbiere di Siviglia. I was convinced I couldn’t do it and it ended up being the most amazing time of exploration. At the same time I was offered the cover of Waltraute in Götterdämmerung for the BBC proms which I then ended up performing. That meant doing both roles at the same time which was a gift, the Rossini became very lyrical and the Wagner stayed fresh and not over-sung. That’s the thing about Wagner: if you study the score carefully, the vocal parts are so well written that the accompaniment should never push the voice too much. We need to be brave enough as singers to never push.

I spent a long time with Waltraute and the Wesendonck lieder making sure that I got to grips with Wagner’s musical language before moving on to other roles and I took my time with each role I’ve tackled since; the Norns, Brangäne, parts of Kundry, Fricka for the first time only recently, Erda for the first time this season. Make sure you have trusted ears with you when you start and ALWAYS begin with the text!!

Q:  What is it about a singer working with a singer that works so well?

A:  There’s nothing better than working with someone who knows the inner workings of your job, whatever field you might be in, whether you are a plumber or a teacher or a musician. To be able to share thoughts and ideas with someone who fully understands the trials and tribulations that we go through as a performer is an invaluable lesson. One of the things I love about working with other singers is the sharing of ideas, the fresh perspective that we can all gain whether you’ve been working for 5 months or 15 years. Being able to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained about the business is something I take very seriously.

Q:  What would you say to your younger self now?

A:  I had an epiphany about 12 years ago watching a well known singer give a recital. They didn’t ‘try’ to be anyone, anything, they were just present. Along with that came a stage presence that many singing teachers would criticize, blowing their nose, having the words in the piano, not always facing the audience, the thing was that it was completely real. I changed my perspective right there and promised to no longer ‘try’ to give a performance but just be me. In short my advice would be to be authentic, shut out the noise of chasing perfection, it doesn’t exist and that’s actually the place where great art lies. Whoa…. that is PROFOUND!!!

Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and was the winner of the 2002 Kathleen Ferrier Award.  On the opera stage she will appear as Waltraute in Götterdammerung at the Royal Opera Covent Garden and has three return invitations to the Metropolitan Opera, with roles including Erda and Mère Marie.

You can still apply for AtG and U of T Opera’s Summer Modern Intensive.

Click HERE to apply. The application is free. There is no audition for this program.

Program Dates: Thursday, August 8, 2019 — Friday, August 22, 2019
Deadline to Apply: Friday, January 25, 2019

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(La) voix humaine

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Click here to purchase tickets.

Against the Grain is hanging up on fachs with (La) voix humaine – a gender-bent re-imagining of Francis Poulenc’s one-woman show La voix humaine.

AtG asks: How does this system limit our ability to breathe new life into established pieces?

As the first project for our AtG Incubator initiative, (La) voix humaine explores the potential of the human voice by co-opting a well-established soprano role to challenge depictions of masculinity in the operatic canon. The project was proposed by Tenor Jacques Arsenault who has been paired with AtG Musical Director, Topher Mokrzewski and Stage Director, Aria Umezawa. Arsenault will re-frame the role of Elle as Lui, and portray the grief, angst, and neurosis of a man confronting his ex-lover over the phone.

Join AtG at the Gallery 345 on February 16, 8:00 p.m. to get a glimpse into the creative process of this new exploration, which seeks to demonstrate that just like the human voice, opera’s ability to tell compelling and relevant stories is limitless.

Event Information:

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Doors: 7:30 p.m.
Show: 8:00 p.m.
Location: 345 Sorauren Avenue, Toronto, ON M6R 2G5
Tickets: $35

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