Listening Party Podcast Episode 10
Sep 04, 2020 1:00pm
Friday, September 4, 2020 | 1 pm | On Demand
In celebration of the end of Pop Up Opera, Rebecca Hass interviews four singers who partook in the program – Allison Ward, Ai Horton, Anna Shill, and Louis Dillon, along with the program coordinator Paul Winkelmans, and audience members, including Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Listen and enjoy as they recount the best, the worst, and the most memorable moments they had safely bringing opera to public spaces in the community during a pandemic. Make sure to listen to the Listening Party Playlist!
Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin was a major supporter of Pop Up Opera over the summer, having hosted the singers on multiple occasions and throwing a (physically distanced) pool party for them! She speaks to the impact that the live human voice can have on a person, especially when it is up close and personal. Her Honour gives a firsthand experience of following the magical voice she heard until she came upon Pop Up Opera, and how that inspired her to help the program reach the community.
Location played a big part in Pop Up Opera, and the singers reflected on some of their most memorable spots.
Allison Ward speaks about how the acoustics of the downtown library courtyard makes it her favourite location to sing at, and that her least favourite was next to a tilt-a-whirl at a carnival last year, having to try to be louder than an carnival ride was not a fun experience!
Louis Dillon talks to a highlight of his Pop Up Opera experience: singing in a kayak in the inner harbour. At every single stop a crowd gathered to watch, enjoying the performance and the surprising experience of seeing a singer perform from a kayak. Louis mentioned the difficulty of having to paddle while singing – talk about multitasking!
For Anna Shill, singing from a rooftop of a building was something she will never forget and how the confusion of people trying to find out where the music was coming from, and their excitement when they finally realized was one of her favourite parts of this location.
The singers reflect on the impact the program had, if they felt they brought something to the community, and if they thought Pop Up Opera helped broke down the barriers to experiencing opera.
Paul Winkelmans looks back on what it was like at the beginning of Pop Up Opera, right when things were starting to open up, and how people were impacted by hearing a live voice again. It was an experience unlike anything else.
Paul and Louis reflect on their favourite Pop Up Postcard: one sent to a man with dementia who loved to sing with his choir. As Louis started to sing, he rose to his feet and sang along for the entire set, smiling and glowing with happiness. They both fondly mention how touching it was for them to bring this kind of joy during such a difficult time.
The singers speak to their surprise when children at parks were some of their best supporters! They would listen intently and often ask to hear their favourite Disney songs – including a request to Ai Horton for a song from Moana, resulting in a duet performed between her and the child, and a similar duet of “Let it Go” between Allison Ward and a little girl.
Ai Horton defines Pop Up Opera as a way to make opera more accessible and approachable, connecting with people who might now have been able to experience opera otherwise and the joy that this program brought to themselves and the community.
This month I am delighted to share a playlist created by many of the artists who participated in Pop Up Opera this summer. I asked each singer to share their favorite songs to sing when out in the parks and street corners of Victoria, and a few other songs they love. Several of them took me up on my offer. Most times they chose the artist they wanted you to hear, sometimes they left it up to me and I’ve done my best to honour their intentions. In the notes you will find more stories and insights into these wonderful singers and their musical views. As bonus, I’ve included the two Disney songs that the little girls in the park ask Ai and Allison to sing. I hope you enjoy this deeper dive!
Special Guest: Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
I enjoyed my conversation with Janet Austin immensely. I asked her if she sang and she laughed. She told me it was her secret wish to be an opera singer, and she grew up on opera. Her mother was a voice teacher, who also sang as a soloist. She had an interest in dance when she was young and her sisters both still sing. I told her about our Spotify Playlist feature and asked her if she might have some music she would want to add. Something she enjoyed, or that she felt might be meaningful in this moment and time. She and I had a great chat and she was happy to share several favourites.
Act III: Final Trio and Duet from Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss- featuring Eizabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Teresa Stich Randall. I offered the duet, but she asked for the final trio. You can’t go wrong with that.
“Nessun Dorma” from Turandot with Jussi Bjorling (Her Honour’s asked for a Bjorling selection, and I chose a classic)
“Come Scoglio”, from Cosi fan Tutte by W.A. Mozart with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (A singer Her Honour enjoys)
“I was very proud of mother. When she was young, she sang a little bit professionally, but it wasn’t a major part of her life. She was part of a musical group… I remember her working very hard on “Come Scogio”, from Cosi fan Tutte, which is really difficult. And she totally pulled it off! I was eleven or twelve, and so proud of her.”
“Thy hand, Belinda…When I am laid in earth”, from Dido and Aeneas by Purcell with Joyce DiDonato
We talked about Desert Island music, and we agreed that this a keeper.
“Vier letzte Lieder”, by Richard Strauss, featuring Jessye Norman
When I asked for songs for the playlist, this was Her Honour’s very first choice.
“I was thinking about Jessye Norman quite recently. ..I never understood how charming and how funny she was, she always seemed so regal and reserved in her bearing. I heard an interview lately and she was so charming and witty and funny, and that voice, so remarkable”.
She also asked for Morgen, so I’ve added that, and I stayed with Jessye Norman. I love her version too.
I was nine years old in the audience at Pacific Opera Victoria’s production when I first heard “Vedrai, carino” sung by Lucia Popp. I vividly remember the performance as that was the moment I decided I wanted to be an Opera Singer. I went home and immediately requested voice lessons. I was fifteen when I heard about the auditions for the chorus and I very sentimentally decided to sing “Vedrai, carino” (which I don’t think I’ve ever confessed before). I got in and turned sixteen backstage during the production of Eugene Onegin. My final production in the Pacific Opera Victoria chorus before I went to begin my Bachelors of Opera at the University of British Columbia was Don Giovanni, which for me was a very special send off.
When I was accepted into the Amalfi Coast Festival to sing Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro I immediately began planning a fun trip around Europe with my best friend, Kathleen. We met up after the Festival and Florence was very much my favorite stop on our trip. Somewhere Kathleen, who is not in the Arts, has a very embarrassing video of me singing “O mio babbino caro” on the Ponte Vecchio. When Paul told me we were going to sing at the Johnson St Bridge I immediately decided to relive my Ponte Vecchio moment…but the wind was blowing and my hair was down AND I was wearing a skirt. A friend sent me a picture of me trying to sing in those conditions… my hair is completely covering my face (I definitely ate half of my hair that day), my hands were trying to hold my skirt down and I was desperately trying to look like I was taking this very seriously. I have loved these moments during Pop Up Opera when I am reminded to just have spontaneous fun and enjoy the moment, especially when things don’t go as planned! It is an important reminder during our current times that I am very thankful for.
“An Chloë” by Mozart is one of my favourite pieces to sing; it really feels like a whirlwind of romance has been woven into the music. This was often the first piece I would sing at a location and it was always so fun to see people’s heads whip around as they tried to locate where the sound was coming from. A favourite memory of singing this aria was when a woman in an apartment building across the street heard me singing and promptly opened her window and stuck her phone outside so that her friend (who she happened to be talking to at the time) could hear the performance!
“Homeward Bound” (There are a ton of versions – I’m not picky as long as it’s the correct words “In the quiet misty morning…”) is actually one of the first solos I ever sang, as a part of my middle school choir. There’s something really special about the message in the poetry: even though we may be separated from those we love, we will be homeward bound again in time.
I encountered “Omar Sharif” – from The Band’s Visit – Any version by Katrina Lenk (I think she is the only singer with a proper recording) – while listening to the radio on the way to work one day and haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. Something about this melody is just so haunting, and the imagery whisks you to an oasis far away on a jasmine wind…
I’ve known every word to “L-O-V-E”, as sung by Nat King Cole, since the age of six – it is a long-time favourite and never fails to put a smile on my face.
It was hard for me to choose a favourite song I performed this summer; I had great experiences with every song I brought to Pop Up Opera!
However, my favourite song to sing was and still is “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert. It is so simple and so well known, but I can’t help but feel its lyrics a little bit more these days. It encapsulates what art has done for us in these difficult times and reminds us that no matter how gray our days seem, we still have music to transport us to better places.
My second favourite song to sing is almost solely based on crowd reaction. Leporello’s Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni is my favourite Mozart aria (that my voice type is able to sing anyway) because it is so manic, un-self-aware, and dark. It also has everything you could possibly ask for as a baritone: patter, range, a catchy tune, dramatic pauses, PROPS (!!!), and some great lines.
I remember having a conversation around the beginning of the year about some of the songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Think “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, “Ohio”, “Fortunate Son” – songs that came out of a particular moment in history whose messages have become indelible as time goes on. I wondered then, what would it have felt like to hear those songs for the first time while still in the middle of the events and experiences they talk about? Fast-forward about six months. I don’t know whether Anderson .Paak’s single, “Lockdown”, will live beyond the times it came out of, but after the first time I heard it I think I could begin to understand that feeling I had previously wondered about.
Anderson .Paak wrote, recorded, and released this single in the second week of June after his experience in the George Floyd protests. I think it captures the feeling of what’s going on right now, especially in the USA. Maybe it will stick around, maybe it won’t, but I think it will unfortunately continue to be relevant as long as police continue murdering IBPoC people in the streets.
Doing Pop-Up and Coloratura this summer was super fun, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to participate. Thank you very much for having me onboard!
“Loch Lomond” was possibly the most gratifying to perform because, as by far the most well-known song on my list, it was the one listeners seemed to connect with the most. When I sang in retirement residences there were often people who would gently sing along, which I loved.
I did “Ombra mai fu (Serse)” without the recit in both the original Italian and in English translation. I often ended up singing in parks under trees, so an ode to a particularly fine tree felt appropriate. It was bittersweet to perform, because a Victoria Conservatory of Music Opera Studio production in which I was supposed to perform the title role was eaten by the lockdown (though apparently it might still happen in Spring 2021!)
“Bilbo’s Last Song”, from the Lord of the Rings song cycle, music by the Swann from Flanders and Swann! I was introduced to it a couple years ago when a friend who now lives quite far away programmed it on his Masters of Music recital. Lord of the Rings was formative reading for me when I was little, and this song’s unabashed sentimentality always makes me happily (and a bit tearily) nostalgic.
“Naughty”, from Matilda the Musical. One summer my then-flatmate and I were slightly obsessed with this song and sang it at each other constantly. She’s quite a bit taller than me, and as I recall the line “just because you’re little you can do a lot/you mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you” often came when I needed her to get something off a shelf for me.
Jan Van Der Hooft
I think I have one song that would fit with this. “La donna é mobile” from Rigoletto. And I think if I had to choose a singer, it would be Pavarotti.
I chose this aria because the role had been on my contract in my second year as an Emerging Artist with Calgary Opera. I was to do a role study on the opera, and learn the Duke, but I didn’t expect that it would shake out the way it did. I ended up crash learning it in about three and a half weeks, amidst the final weeks of the School Tour and preparing the Nephew role in Ghost Opera, because the tenor wasn’t able to arrive until the second week of rehearsals in Calgary, including the first sing through. So, after learning and coaching it with Kim Bartzack, I was offered the chance to sing during the first day read-through along with the cast. I mainly did the larger ensemble sections, but as the day went on I was invited to participate further. By the end of the week I had been involved in staging most of the first act and in fact was later called upon to sing and walk parts of the staging of act one and two at the Jubilee because the tenor became ill. It was one of the most enjoyable, rewarding, and scary points of my career so far and so despite its silly lyrics (and the controversial nature of the role, the opera and the play it’s based on), I will always love singing this piece.
As far as a piece of music that I would want to share with others… that’s a bit of a difficult question. I have had phases in my life where a song hits particularly hard, or accidentally ‘gets stuck’ on repeat. Recently I have been learning to play and sing “Abendempfindung an Laura” by Mozart. Something about the way the opening two measures work, gives it a special kind of feeling. I also have long had an appreciation for an artist named Nick Drake. The song “Pink Moon” played often and in my younger years, well before meeting my fiancé, Anna, was a song I might have snuck onto a “mix tape” for a special someone… back when that was a thing. (It was also featured in an old VolksWagon ad, and though it is for a car commercial, the spot seemed to use the music so well, haha!)
The two pieces I have really enjoyed singing this summer have been Edvard Grieg’s “Gruß” and “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered” from Pal Joey. These two pieces are very different – a quick, uptempo German Lied and a catchy English musical theatre piece familiar to many – which is why they were fabulous to sing in the same program.
Although “Gruß” is only around one minute long, the piece allows for a taste of a beautiful German Lied, quirky vocals, piano motifs, and a hint of unexpected chromaticism that seems to leave the audience wanting more (as one listener exclaimed during the applause: “Oh wow, that’s a short one! I wanted more!”). “Gruß” is the first piece of six in its set of Lieder and as I am programming the set for my upcoming recital, it has been lovely to dive deeper into the introductory piece and have the opportunity to perform it for so many people around Victoria!
On the other end of the spectrum, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is a classic that I enjoy returning to as often as I can, as my fond memories of the song bring me back to my early days of singing and exploring musical theatre. The first time I heard the piece was around the time I was deciding to pursue music as a career, and since then have sung it for several auditions, a Royal Conservatory of Music examination, and now many more times for the people of Victoria! I love the piece for its truthful declamation, adorable poetry, and of course, its beautiful melody. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is definitely a welcomed ear-worm, and leaves audiences with the warm, nostalgic feeling the piece so easily presents.
One of my favourite songs to sing this summer was “The Daisies” by Samuel Barber because it has a special place in my heart as the first song I performed in Susan Young’s masterclass in my first year at the University of Victoria. As I graduated this year with my Bachelor of Music, so too did Susan retire after over 30 years of teaching. I sang “The Daisies” with well-wishes for her in mind.
On a Thursday mid-August, I sang a surprise Opera Postcard for a family in front of their house, including this song. It was one of my favourite Pop Up performances, because the person it was for cried tears of joy while listening to me sing. It’s these kinds of honest reactions that encourage me and remind me that music matters.
Another highlight for me was “Almost Like Being in Love” from Lerner & Loewe’s musical Brigadoon. I miss being able to perform musical theatre and jazz as equally as I miss opera; I find joy in practicing stylistic interpretation with a pianist’s recording, and sharing my interpretations with the world.
I was performing in Esquimalt when a family stopped to listen. The two young children were on bikes, and I remember at least one having a bell. They were playing with it intermittently as I was singing this song. It gave me something unexpected to play off of when the lyric “like a bell, that keeps ringing for me” came up, so I sang it and gestured to the bell on the bike.
Like many others during this pandemic, I have been reminiscing about the last time I travelled. In June 2019, I had the privilege of meeting one of my favourite jazz artists, Jacob Collier, and asking him questions about music and life after his concert in Seattle. In the mood of staying inside, I wanted to share a peaceful tune called “Hideaway”.
In July 2019, I attended a short-term choral program at the University of Oxford. It was a remarkable experience, thanks to my colleagues as well as the destination. One of them, a composer, ended up writing a piece for me for my graduating recital. I included a choral piece I rehearsed while I was abroad: “The Night” by Toby Young in the Spotify Playlist.
Physically Distant | Socially Connected
See all events