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Against the Grain Theatre brings back award-winning Mozart classic Figaro’s Wedding

By | Figaros Wedding, Joel Ivany, Press, Upcoming | No Comments

TORONTO (November 1, 2019)Against the Grain Theatre (AtG), the rule-breaking opera company that has received critical acclaim for its unconventionally staged works, brings back their Dora Award winning (Outstanding New Opera; 2014) opera, Figaro’s Wedding, in a brand new production. Taking place at Enoch Turner Schoolhouse on Toronto’s King Street East, AtG will present a record 12-performance run: December 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15*, 18, 19 & 20, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. (*Matinee performance at 4:00 PM).

Staged as a real wedding with audience members attending as guests, the production is once again directed by Founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany. A string quartet will accompany Figaro’s Wedding in a new special arrangement, led by guest Music Director Rachael Kerr from the piano. The cast brings together several of Toronto’s hottest Canadian opera talents in the lead roles: soprano Alexandra Smither makes her AtG debut as Susanna, the blushing bride; baritone Bruno Roy, returning to AtG after performing in the award-winning production of Kopernikus, sings Figaro, the stressed-out groom; soprano Lauren Eberwein as the young heartthrob Cherubino; AtG Associate Artistic Director, soprano Miriam Khalil as Rosina, the modern Countess; and baritone Phillip Addis as Alberto, a re-imagined version of Mozart’s Count. Gregory Finney sings the traditional characters of Bartolo and Antonio, who have been transformed into the wedding officiant and florist, respectively. Jacques Arsenault is Basilo, the wedding planner, and Maria Soulis is Marcellina, the wedding venue coordinator.

Set and costume designer Anna Treusch, along with lighting designer Siobhán Sleath, make their AtG debut, transforming the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse—where real weddings frequently take place—into the setting for Susanna and Figaro’s comedic and contemporary wedding-planning angst.

“We’re so excited to bring Figaro’s Wedding back,” said Ivany. “For many of us in the company, this new opera was a landmark show for us and we’ve been wanting to reward our faithful community with one of our hits.”

Enoch Turner Schoolhouse is located at 106 Trinity St, Toronto. Tickets start at $35 and are available at www.atgtheatre.com.

Woman smiling, standing in field

Against the Grain Theatre hires Robin Whiffen as the company’s first Executive Director

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Against the Grain Theatre’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Robin Whiffen will become the organization’s first executive director, effective September 16, 2019.

TORONTO — An arts administrator and performer from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Robin Whiffen spent the past three seasons with Opera on the Avalon, most recently in the role of General Manager. Inspired by a lifelong love of music, Ms. Whiffen is passionate about creating meaningful collaborative partnerships within the arts community, allowing audiences to see their full potential reflected through the power of opera.

Ms. Whiffen is a Master of Business Administration candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland and holds a Bachelor of Music in voice performance from The University of Toronto. In 2017, she represented Opera.ca at the OPERA America Leadership Intensive in New York City and has been invited to speak across Canada in her capacity as an arts administrator and advocate of the operatic art form.

Ms. Whiffen joins Against the Grain as Executive Director in partnership with Founder & Artistic Director Joel Ivany, AtG staff and the Board of Directors: contributing to the continued growth and development of Against the Grain’s artistic portfolio.

According to Against the Grain Theatre Board Chair Heather Legg, “We are thrilled to have Robin join AtG as its first Executive Director. She was the clear choice after an intense national search process that included many qualified candidates. Robin impressed the search committee with her strong leadership, thoughtfulness and clear ideas for realizing AtG’s strategic vision of making art and opera a thriving part of our community. We are excited to welcome her to AtG’s excellent team.”

“I am excited to join Against the Grain as Executive Director,” Robin shared. “I look forward to working in collaboration with Joel, the AtG Collective and the Board of Directors to continue to push the boundaries of the operatic art form, allowing audiences to see themselves reflected on stage through the power of the human voice.”

After three years as General Manager, Jonathan MacArthur transitions into a new role in the organizational collective as the Digital Marketing Manager: committing to the growing online presence of Against the Grain Theatre. In other company related moves, Miriam Khalil, previously serving as an Artistic Advisor will now assume the role of Associate Artistic Director. She will continue to be heavily involved in casting and her quiet influence over the artistic direction of the company will now take on a more public position. Lastly, Shirley Neuman joins the collective as Government Relations. Having previously served on the Board of Directors for Against the Grain Theatre, Shirley’s years of expert grant writing has been pivotal to Against the Grain Theatre’s growth and programmatic success.


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.



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.


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.


AtG DORIS: Technology is shaping the future. How will it change the future of opera?

By | Digital, Media Release | No Comments

Technology has affected nearly all aspects of our lives. We are more connected and have access to more information than ever before. It is the solution to many of our problems, and the cause of many others. The question we keep asking ourselves is: how does an opera company adjust to this current reality and use technology to serve our audiences better?

At Against the Grain Theatre (AtG), we believe that technology is key to reaching new audiences and enriching the experience for existing audiences. Our company was formed on the idea that opera can be produced anywhere, including a dimly-lit pub, a remote grotto and shiny TV studio. Presenting opera online is our next challenge.

Over the past several months, we’ve been serious about exploring livestreamed performances. We’ve been speaking with experts from around the world and, more importantly, asking opera audiences for their opinions on livestreams. With the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, we’ve engaged digital consultant Michael Morreale to lead a comprehensive research project. The project is called the Digital Opera Research and Intelligence Study. We like to call it DORIS for short.

Download our free White Paper in English or French to read the complete results.

Our big takeaways:

  • 35.7% of respondents have watched a livestreamed performance; however, 72.8% say they are at least somewhat interested in doing so.
  • The majority of respondents say they would pay to watch a livestream. In fact, almost a quarter of respondents would pay $10 or more.
  • 31.9% of respondents say they are more likely to donate to an opera company after it has streamed an opera.
  • Only 55.2% of respondents report watching online video at least one per week. This is significantly lower than the Canadian video consumption rate of 85% across all demographics.*

Of course, it is impossible to generalise the views of all opera-goers. Some expressed complete disinterest toward experiencing opera in this way. It is clear that livestreaming isn’t for everyone. But others see livestreaming as the best way to get their opera fix between the performances they are able to attend in person. Time and money are the top barriers stopping opera fans from attending more performances, and free or cheap livestreaming is one solution to this problem. But neither group sees watching a livestream as a replacement for the live experience.

Download our free White Paper in English or French to read the complete results.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

* IAB Canadian Media Usage Trends Study 2018

AtG DORIS: Q&A with Alex Olegnowicz of Symmetrica

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As part of Against the Grain’s Digital Opera Research and Intelligence Study (DORIS), we sat down with livestreaming experts to chat about the intersection between opera and technology. In the Q&A below, you’ll meet Alex Olegnowicz, founder and CEO of Symmetrica.

Symmetrica is a Toronto-based company specialising in webcasting solutions for orchestra, opera, ballet and jazz. With over 20 years of extensive experience in production, post-production, and live events, Alex has successfully developed and managed companies in media and entertainment and has worked with some of the most important producers and directors in Canada, the U.S. and Brazil. Alex was personally nominated in 2002 for the Emmy Award in a craft for CGI and Design.

How did Symmetrica come to be?

Symmetrica was founded in 2014 when we started looking at availability of concerts and media in new platforms. We noticed a lack of production outside traditional broadcasters and streaming services, so we started research on new ways of production and distribution using technology that was just starting to become available.

What is the best way of disseminating livestreams?

We suggest using as many platforms as possible and then routing viewers back to your website. Enabling multicasting to all platforms is the best way to make your stream accessible to the widest possible audience. We recommend using Facebook Live, Twitter, Livestream, YouTube and even non-traditional online video platforms.

What are some possible revenue streams to support recording and streaming projects?

I don’t believe that a paywall approach to streaming performances is a sustainable model. Even the most recognized organizations report a modest income if any, and the model keeps some audiences away. In our experience, the best model is direct sponsorship with non-traditional advertisers that can benefit from exposure to your audience.

Tell us about the current project you’re working on.

We are currently working on a series that takes an intimate look at the life of composers, conductors and soloists. We are also developing a semi-automated switching and camera control system specifically designed for live performances.


AtG DORIS: Q&A with Hervé Boissière of Medici

By | Digital | No Comments

As part of Against the Grain’s Digital Opera Research and Intelligence Study (DORIS), we sat down with livestreaming experts to chat about the intersection between opera and technology. In the Q&A below, you’ll meet Hervé Boissière, founder and CEO of Medici.tv.

Medici.tv is the world’s leading online classical music channel. It broadcasts over 150 live events each year from the world’s most prestigious stages. Based in Paris, Hervé Boissière worked in various executive positions in the recording industry before founding Medici.tv in 2008.

How did Medici.tv get started? What was the need?

As a music producer, my goal and responsibility has always been to efficiently connect the best artists with the biggest possible audience worldwide. When I saw YouTube in 2005, I immediately understood that a new phase of our industry was starting. In June 1999, Napster completely changed (or even destroyed) the CD business and it was clear that we needed a new format for promoting artists. The obvious solution was to create a new place where people could “attend” some fantastic concerts from their home. We had the intuition to set up a freemium model combining livestreaming for free and a collection of programs available on SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand), behind the paywall. The idea was to combine YouTube and Netflix.

How has the response to Medici.tv changed since the beginning?

The support and the response of the artists, without whom nothing is possible, has not changed since we started 10 years ago. It is amazing to see how they love to join our productions and how they appreciate the international reach we deliver to them.

The main change has been on the audience side. Medici.tv was the very first platform dedicated to classical music. It started in 2007 with full coverage of the Verbier Festival with 27 concerts webcasted live all around the world. Since then, newcomers have arrived including the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, the Met Opera on Demand and public broadcasters like Arte, ORF and BBC switching to streaming. But we are still the only platform open to everyone and without any structural connection or influence from the partners.

Another challenge for us has been moving from a promo platform at the beginning, beloved by the users by definition because it’s free, to various forms of monetization which obviously secure our future financially and our independence. That is the reason why we created a diversified business model, combining B2C (about 20k individual subscribers YTD), B2B (strong distribution in the education market with over 200 universities and music schools in our client portfolio), and sponsorship (corporate partners like Rolex or private foundations) which help us cover part of the production costs of our free line-up of livestreaming.

But all together, we are quite proud to have maintained our objectives and values for the past 10 years. We are still the leading platform for the community and we have to reinvent ourselves each day to keep that number one market position.

What do we know about the online audience for performing arts content?

We are reaching a relatively similar audience compared to live performances, but the main differences are that they are younger (average on Medici.tv is 51 years) and coming from a more diversified social background. We of course see a strong proportion of high-earners but we are also very attractive to all the people who don’t have the money to travel or to buy tickets to the Salzburg Festival. There is clearly a democratization element to our work and we are very much inspired by that because we all know that it is urgent to welcome new and younger audiences to our musical genre.

Why should performing arts companies livestream their performances?

It is essential to develop the public of tomorrow. Your future ticket-buyers are already online but not yet in your concert halls and operas. That is why your responsibility is to connect with them today through livestreaming, social media and other innovative content formats. If you are not proactive online today, you will lose your existing audience as they get older, and you will not create your next generation of audience.

And the competition is very strong online. Digital has changed our entire life and classical music will not escape the revolution. It is of course not a danger but a fantastic opportunity. Nobody can ignore it.

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.



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,
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,
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,
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.


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.


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.