Listening Party Podcast Episode 3
Apr 10, 2020 1:00pm
Today, Rebecca Hass interviews members of the musical family at the heart of many operas – the Chorus. Four performers who have lived and loved the chorus life talk about the closeness and sense of community that comes with being in the chorus. And they recall those aha moments that brought home to them the thrill and the immensity of opera.
After listening to this podcast, you may suddenly have a burning ambition to join an opera chorus yourself!And of course, enjoy today’s Listening Party Playlist.
Baritone Aaron Durand recalls moving to Victoria from 100 Mile House to study at the Victoria Conservatory of Music as his first stop on the road to stardom. Opera wasn’t even on his radar until his music history teacher, Robert Holliston, suggested Aaron join the Pacific Opera Chorus. Little did he know what he was in for. The opera was Eugene Onegin – meaning Aaron had to sing – in Russian. Worse, he had to dance, not just once, but in every act – first, a peasant dance, then a festive waltz, and finally, a polonaise.Despite the challenges, this was when Aaron realized Watching an opera is great. Being IN an opera … blew my mind.
Aaron Durand has performed opera, art song, and musical theatre across Canada, China, and the Czech Republic. Highlights include Masetto in Against the Grain Theatre’s reimagining of Don Giovanni; Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro with the Vancouver Opera Festival; Owen Hart in Dead Man Walking with Opera on the Avalon; Schaunard in La bohème with Opera Kelowna; Sossiya in The Overcoat with Tapestry Opera; and a BC-wide tour of Stickboy by slam poet Shane Koyczan and composer Neil Weisensel. Aaron holds a Master’s degree in Opera Performance from UBC and is an alumnus of Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris program.
Gaynor Jones was born in Wales, and song was, not surprisingly, a big part of her life – but not opera. Then she was given a recording of Maria Callas (La Divina) singing the glorious aria “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma. That opened the door to opera for Gaynor. Years later she had the spine-tingling experience of singing in the chorus for Norma – with Joan Sutherland (La Stupenda) in the title role.
Gaynor also recalls how the AIDS epidemic and COVID 19 connect in her memories of a 1997 Stravinsky double bill – Oedipus Rex and the Symphony of Psalms. The production, staged by the Canadian Opera Company and later remounted at the Edinburgh Festival, was dedicated to the memory of those who had died of AIDS.
Gaynor Jones starred as Fidelio / Leonore in Pacific Opera’s 1988 production of Fidelio, directed by Robert Carsen. She also performed the role of Agathe in the company’s 1994 Canadian première of Der Freischütz.
A musicologist, singer, writer, and long-time Associate Professor of Music at the University of Toronto, specializing in the history of opera and nineteenth-century studies, Gaynor had a long career as a performer with the Canadian Opera Company.
Carol Pudwell, who has been in the Pacific Opera Chorus since 2008, recalls her favourite show – the Pacific Opera commission of Mary’s Wedding, set in WWI. For her, being in that chorus brought home the powerful experience of portraying a person living in that moment in time. It also really pointed out the unique freedom that chorus members have to develop their own characters, to create and portray people who, though nameless, feel surprisingly real.
Carol was supposed to be in the chorus of Pacific Opera’s production of Carmen, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She talks about how heartbreaking it has been to be unable to rejoin her chorus family for rehearsals in their Baumann Centre home.
Christina O’Dell has sung with the Edmonton Opera Chorus for the past eight seasons, performing in 14 operas during that time. She talks enthusiastically about why she loves Opera chorus work … it’s not just the music, but the sense of community and the massive theatricality as the group uses song, dance, and character to create a world for the audience. And even the rare moments when the chorus is on stage but not singing have their magic … those are the times Christina revels in having the best seat in the house.She talks about her favourite opera choruses – Eugene Onegin, Carmen, and this season’s Candide and what a blow it was when, just before opening night, the government shut down all gatherings of more than 50 people due to COVID-19. Fortunately, Edmonton Opera has posted a video from the dress rehearsal of Candide. You can listen to Caitlin Wood (Cunegonde), Adam Fisher (Candide) and the chorus in the big finale.
See the show that wasn’t and hear a song that is perfect for this uncertain time …
Let us try before we die,
To make some sense of life.
We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good.
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow…
Christina O’Dell is a speech-language pathologist by day and an enthusiastic member of Edmonton’s theatre community by night. She performs frequently in local musical theatre shows; favorite roles include Reno in Anything Goes, Sergeant Sarah in Guys and Dolls, and Petra in A Little Night Music. Additionally, she is co-founder/co-producer of the indie opera company Pop Goes the Opera , which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year. When she’s not onstage, Christina enjoys spending time with her family, playing with her pet budgies, playing jazz on her banjolele, and planning trips to Disneyland.
Aaron Durand chose to embrace the idea of the Dancing Baritone that we talked about and included several songs where the lead baritone must dance and of course, the chorus scenes he spoke about in Eugene Onegin.
Gaynor Jones was delighted not to be hampered by time and asked for the Symphony of Psalms in its entirety. We also thought it would be fun to hear Joan Sutherland sing “Casta Diva” followed immediately by Maria Callas. Such different artists, each great in her own way! We agreed that Sutherland, while beautiful, didn’t pack the same emotional punch as Callas did. What do you think?
One of the conversations that I didn’t air in the podcast was how Gaynor and I sang together as understudies in the late 1980s. It is a very fond memory for us both. And very personal. She sang the Marschallin, I sang Octavian, and Kathleen Brett sang Sophie during a production at The Canadian Opera Company of Der Rosenkavalier. We were fully staged into an excerpt package that was performed for donors and artistic staff during the run of the show. The music was a revelation to me, and working in detail as an actor/singer in the opening scene is something I will never forget. I had such admiration for Gaynor and what she brought to the role. We laughed about what a gift it was to have her as my ‘lover’ in the opening scene of the opera. She let me choose the recording, and we agreed on sharing the Overture into the first scene which is post-coital in the bedroom.
Carol Pudwell, a member of the Pacific Opera chorus talked about Mary’s Wedding, but as I can’t offer that on Spotify, she chose another of her favorite choruses, ‘Libiamo ne’lieti calici’ from La travaiata. I don’t think I ever sang a single gala concert where this wasn’t the closing number!
Christina O’Dell sent a great mix of Broadway and opera music. Because of the deep impact of South Pacific and her connection to me, which was a total surprise for me in our conversation, she chose “Bali Hai” and a few numbers that she remembers Tracy Dahl singing, including “Je veux vivre.” Christina also chose “Children will listen,” explaining, This was the song that Tracy Dahl coached another singer through, and it shaped my journey as an actor/singer…I still have the notes I took. She was in Grade 11 and never forgot it.
Christina also organizes and produces opera for the Edmonton Fringe every year with her group Pop Goes the Opera – a chance for her chorus family to make music in the off season. In their first year they produced Cavalleria Rusticana. Subsequent productions included Pagliacci and Y2K Black Death Oratorio. Christina wanted to share the Ave Maria from Suor Angelica, a piece they have sung to get crowds excited about opera at the Fringe.
Enjoy the playlist, and don’t forget to send your opera stories and selections to Listeningparty@pacificopera.ca. You might hear your story on a future podcast!
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