Listening Party Podcast Episode 5

Apr 24, 2020 1:00pm

Venue Online

Cost Free

Podcast #5

Friday, April 24, 2020 | 4 pm | On Demand
Rebecca welcomes tenor Isaiah Bell and director Sean Guist to discuss The Book of My Shames, an unusual one-man mash-up of opera and theatre that was supposed to be presented live at the Baumann Centre at the end of April. When quarantine and social isolation became the order of the day, the project moved online.Sean and Isaiah talk about the inception of the work, which has been captivating audiences who find their own feelings reflected in this very personal – yet universal – story.The Book of My Shames has been finding its voice for about four years, starting as a short piece Isaiah composed and performed at Intrepid Theatre’s OUTstages Queer Theatre Festival. Sean thought it was “a piece of truth … of rawness and beauty” and offered to work with Isaiah to develop it further. Last summer it premiered as a co-presentation between Tapestry Opera and Pride Toronto. The Book of My Shames is still evolving, and Sean and Isaiah are continuing to work on it … talking, dreaming, creating, connecting … and finding out where it takes them next.
More on The Book of My Shames
Presented as part of Intrepid Theatre’s UNO Fest Online, April 28 to May 3.

Tenor Isaiah Bell performed with the Pacific Opera chorus for several seasons and participated in the company’s Young Artist Program, performing the title role in the 2008 Opera in Schools production of Elijah’s Kite. That year he also received his Bachelor of Music in Performance from the University of Victoria.Since then Isaiah has performed extensively in Canada, the US, and Europe. Recent credits include an acclaimed performance as the Madwoman in Britten’s Curlew River, directed by Mark Morris, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the role of Antinous, lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian, in the 2018 world première of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian at the Canadian Opera Company; and, in February 2020, Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville with Vancouver Opera.

More on Isaiah Bell

A queer artist, producer, and stage director, Sean Guist is Co-Artistic and Marketing Director at Intrepid Theatre and founding curator of Intrepid’s queer theatre festival, OUTstages. He holds his MFA (2012) in Directing and BFA in Performance from the University of Lethbridge and has acted, directed, designed, produced and performed in shows and cabarets on the Fringe circuit, independently and as a freelance artist.When not sitting in the dark watching theatre, dance and opera, Sean can be found swimming laps in the pool, lounging oceanside, and sitting on the Board of Directors for indie dance company Broken Rhythms and Pacific Opera Victoria. He also moonlights as bearded drag artist, Woofie Goldberg.

More on Sean Guist

What you hear on the podcast is just some of the conversations I have with my guests. The Listening Party Playlist liner notes reflect the fuller conversation.

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Isaiah Bell was very generous in sending me notes to share with you about his playlist. He started with a few tracks to pay tribute to meditational listening during our time of isolation. His remarks are in italics.

  • Nancy Argenta (Purcell) – O Solitude: A quarantine meditation. Really the most beautiful thing
  • Madeleine Peyroux – This is Heaven to Me: Quarantine meditation.

We talked about the ‘Barbra moment’ that he and Sean said he must seize in his show and so, of course, both Sean and Isaiah asked for Babs singing “Don’t Rain on my Parade”. Isaiah also asked for Cecilia Bartoli and “Disserratevi o porte d’Averno”. He writes: Cecilia Bartoli is an icon with a sort of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” quality to her. She throws open the gates of hell in this like she’s got a tommy gun. This especially touches me as “The Resurrection” is the show we were rehearsing for Opera Atelier when COVID closures hit.

Not included in the podcast was the conversation Isaiah and I had about opera singers, interpretation, honesty and vulnerability in performance, and the challenges a performer faces in feeling free to vocally colour in a field whose aesthetic can feel rigid. He often finds inspiration from non-classical singers and he has offered some really great recordings for the playlist. He suggests brave and honest vocalists from several genres.

  • Nina Simone — Images: No one does it like Nina. There is nothing to be said — she says it all.
  • Patsy Cline — Bill Bailey: I’ve been singing this around the house for a week. She is one of the vocalists from all of music whose handling of her instrument I’m most attracted to.
  • Peggy Lee — Is That All There Is: The way Peggy delivers the spoken lines in this…. this is avant-garde theatre in music.

And he speaks about this piece in the podcast-

  • Scarlatti – Sonata 466 (Horowitz): This sounds to me like someone who is in the music, not observing it or “making” it. I can listen to this on repeat….!

Also on Isaiah’s list are these:

  • Barbra Streisand — Don’t Rain on My Parade: This is a gay anthem and an anthem of freedom! Formative for me.
  • Haydn — She Never Told Her Love (Nicky Spence and Malcolm Martineau): This was cut from The Book of My Shames and replaced with something that I wrote which may not be as good of a song, but which fit the show better.
  • Rod McKuen — Jean: From The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I just discovered thanks to my husband. Such a lovely feeling… this is all heart for me.

Sean provided a playlist that reflected his unabashed love for music theatre and songs that connect to him as a queer artist – including Bowie, K.D. Lang, and Judy Garland, to name a few.

This week’s playlist runs the gamut from Baroque to the height of pop. I love the cross section of music that arose in our conversations this week. I hope you discover something new that will become a favourite. Check it out and enjoy!

Chorus Highlights

Bonus Spotify Playlist

Friday, April 24, 2020

Liner Notes and Stories from the Pacific Opera ChorusEnjoy a selection of musical memories and suggestions from Pacific Opera’s Chorus Master and Associate Conductor Giuseppe (Joey) Pietraroia and from recent members of the Pacific Opera Chorus. These Spotify playlist selections are all from operas Pacific Opera has staged in recent years.

Fidelio, 2018: This was my first time assisting on this opera and preparing the chorus. In one scene the prisoners are allowed out of their dark cells and see light for the first time in a long while. As the Pacific Opera chorus emerged, not only their sound but their acting was completely convincing and moving. At the end of the Act the prisoners are forced back to their cells. The look on the faces of the chorus as they returned brought a tear to my eye during the final piano dress rehearsal. At the break, our stage director Wim Trompert said to me, Your chorus made me cry. That has never happened before.

Photo above: Pacific Opera Chorus sings the Prisoners’ Chorus in Fidelio. Emily Cooper Photography


Maria Stuarda, 2012: This opera is not performed often and in fact it was a première at Pacific Opera. My recollection of this chorus was singing along with the tenors and basses offstage announcing the arrival of “La Regina” Queen Elizabeth I. It was fun to let loose in the tenor range.

La traviata, 2019: Our most recent production of La traviata last season showcased our chorus and they rose to the occasion. Act 1 was full of energy, as would be expected in a party scene. The “Libiamo” bubbled like a fine glass of champagne and their exit near the end of Act 1 in the wee hours of the morning was nothing more than brilliant. The initial containment of excitement built to a frenzy as the music increased and the tempo moved forward. Great tension and release!

Suor Angelica, 2019: Most recently the chorus was involved in Pacific Opera’s première of Puccini’s Il trittico. The second opera, Suor Angelica, was a highlight for our sopranos and altos. They created a beautiful romantic sound throughout the opera and the initial “Ave Maria” as well as the offstage finale were goose pimple moments every time. I was so pleased with how they embraced this opera and their small individual roles.

Tosca, 2013: I got to conduct Pacific Opera’s 2013 production of Tosca, the opera that made me take up conducting. The “Te Deum” at the end of Act 1 was definitely a highlight for me. It’s a grand moment that is inspired by Roman Catholic pomp. As Timothy Vernon has said to me, Puccini creates such an atmosphere that one can smell the incense.

Les Feluettes, 2017: Another extremely proud moment for me was the work of the men of our chorus in our production of Les Feluettes. They embraced their roles with enthusiasm and were completely engaged in this work right from the first rehearsal. The chorus just before the end of Act 1 – a reprise of the aria “Je te compose” was a highlight for me at every performance.

Les Feluettes, 2017: During the brand new opera Les Feluettes there was a scene when Jean-Michel Richer (as Valier) was with his mother as she died. My character was off to the side, watching. I don’t know how much the audience could see, but Jean-Michel brought everything to that scene every single show, and I would watch him from up close and silently cry on stage. Every single show.

Photo above: The Pacific Opera Chorus sings “Je te compose” in Les Feluettes, 2017. David Cooper Photography. Les Feluettes is unfortunately not available on Spotify. We hope one day to be able to share archival clips from this beautiful opera by Kevin March and Michel Marc Bouchard, which was co-commissioned by Pacific Opera and Opéra de Montréal.

Track: “O Michele? Michele?” From Il tabarrro. Puccini

Il tabarro, 2019: As a new member of the chorus for the 2019/20 season, my favourite experience was in the opening scene of Il tabarro where I had my first moment on the stage. After carrying several ‘heavy’ bags of flour I disappeared into a small hatch of a boat where I had to flip over and turn around on my stomach in order to re-appear with more bags of flour. The thrill of being on an opera stage for the first time while the beautiful Puccini overture played was a wonderful and memorable experience.

Track: Vendor scene, from Il Tabarro. Puccini

Il tabarro, 2019: Il trittico last October was my first opera as a part of Pacific Opera; not only that, it was the first time I had ever performed in an opera. As it had been over five years since my last show, I was excited to go into the studio every day of rehearsal. I learned so much from my directors and cast mates, and it was a respectful, safe space in which I felt at ease to develop as an artist. It’s difficult for me to pick a favourite memory; the whole experience was engaging.

I am eagerly waiting to get back on stage and will be more grateful than ever when I do. I sincerely hope I get to sing with these lovely ladies again! This photo was taken shortly before the Song Vendor scene in Il tabarro.

Photo: Choristers in Il tabarro. Courtesy Cassidy Stahr

Track: “Povero Buoso!” from Gianni Schicchi. Puccini

Il trittico, 2019: Being part of Il trittico was a fantastic experience. As a chorus member involved in all three operas, I found that the long rehearsal days and late performance evenings never dragged on, as the fantastic stage management team, all of my chorus friends, and the hilarious principal singers kept me in high spirits night after night. Rehearsals were filled with laughter, admiration, and the sense of family that the chorus members never fail to keep alive.

My chorus family reminds me that it is okay to make mistakes, and that when mistakes happen, everybody is on your side. They remind me to keep pushing myself, and to know that it’s okay to lean on each other once in a while. From the chorus dances backstage to the greenroom knitting parties, my chorus family made Il trittico an even more enjoyable show than it already is, and for them I am so grateful!

Photo: Choristers in Il tabarro. Photo courtesy Kyla Rae Fradette

Tracks: “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” from South Pacific. Rodgers & Hammerstein
Intermezzo and “Komm, Zigany” from Countess Maritza. Kálmán
Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly. Puccini

South Pacific 2013, Madama Butterfly 2015, Countess Maritza 2019
As I think through the last 9 years of singing with the Pacific Opera chorus, I’ve found that my favourite memories are of the dancing! Working with Jacques Lemay has been such a highlight for me. I’ve never thought of my self as a dancer but he has made us look great every time. From a chorus line in South Pacific (“Gonna wash that man right outta my hair”) to Can Can dancing in Countess Maritza (fourth reprise of the same damn song in the show… lol), from Japanese fan dancing in Madama Butterfly (Humming Chorus) to the fandango in The Marriage of Figaro.

Every show I stand back stage ready and waiting for my entrance and think to myself how absolutely blessed I am to be a part of such grand works! Even after 9 years, I will never take the incredible opportunity for granted.

Photo: Pacific Opera Chorus / Dancers in Countess Maritza, 2019. David Cooper Photography

Track: “O welche Lust!” Prisoners chorus from Fidelio

Fidelio, 2018: I have been a member of the Pacific Opera chorus for only two seasons now, and I have to say it’s been one of the most challenging and rewarding gigs to date. For me, Fidelio will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first opera I was in with Pacific Opera, and the first opera I’d ever performed in ever! Learning to sing in German was a challenge, but it was made easier by the amazingly talented men and women of the chorus. The part of Fidelio I loved the most was “O Welche Lust!”, the prisoners’ chorus. The music is beautiful, and it was great to be a part of it.

Track: Act 2, Scene 1 of Fidelio

Fidelio, 2018: I love all my experiences with Pacific Opera – on stage, back stage and in the audience. In the female dressing room, we always have lots of fun hanging out, encouraging each other and learning together. One member of our chorus, Cathy Lylock, always chooses one little gift that has significance to the performance we are working on, and gives it to each female cast member. For example, during Fidelio, we all got little stones that said “courage” or “bravery”, since our characters were soldiers and prisoners. For La traviata, she gave us all fans – we were 1920’s cocktail girls. During Il trittico, she got us all nice candles, since we were nuns. I like that the gift reflects our character.

Last fall, Beethoven’s Fidelio was my first Pacific Opera performance. It was a moving and challenging piece. One scene that really hit me was the top of Act 2 when Florestan is in his prison cell waiting for one ray of sunlight that appeared at the same time and place every day. He lived for that small stream of sun. I had seen the scene rehearsed in the Baumann Centre many times – without light, effects or orchestra.

During one of our first runs in the Royal Theatre, I sat in the audience to watch that scene, and I was awestruck at how it all came together. The lighting changed everything. It was amazing to see a scene I had witnessed many times in (no pun intended) a new “light”. It was powerfully moving, and I knew that emotion would be shared by the audience on opening night. The music to go with this story is Act 2, Scene 1 of Fidelio. It is only orchestra and stage work (no singing) – which makes the staging even more magnificent in that it can stand on its own with orchestra and still be so impressive.

Photo: Brent Turner as Florestan in Fidelio. Emily Cooper Photography

Track: “Il dolce suono” from Lucia di Lammermoor. Donizetti

Lucia di Lammermoor, 2015: One of my favourite memories of being in the chorus was the 2015 production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Glynis Leyshon was our Director, which meant the chorus was going to have a lot more to do than just singing. Playing the role of Lucia was the fabulous Tracy Dahl. When it came to staging the mad scene, Glynis had us milling about the stage, but when Lucia came in, we were supposed to turn and focus on her. Tracy was to walk around while singing her aria and if she happened to approach one of us, we were to react and back away from her in fear.

Glynis says Go and Tracy comes in and starts to sing. Wow, did she sing! When she finished her little aria, we were just standing there, absolutely gobsmacked. Glynis looks at us and says, Tracy, that was gorgeous. Chorus… what happened to your reactions?! We were in such awe of Tracy that we had become mesmerized by her performance and completely forgot to stay in character!

Track: “Come Zephyrs, Come” from Semele. Handel

Semele, 2009: For me no experience with Pacific Opera has yet to compare with this and I doubt it ever will!

I will never forget Timothy Vernon calling me to a meeting to request that I step to cover the role of Cupid in Handel’s Semele in 2009. Following some last minute coaching and practice of my own into the wee hours of the night, five days later I had my professional opera debut singing my very own aria.

Entering atop the revolving stage over a lilting, gorgeous orchestral introduction was the most exhilarating and terrifying moment to sing my first line to the house over nothing at all. I’m ever so full of gratitude for Pacific Opera Victoria who nurtures from within, giving its artists wings to fly!

Photo: Cheryl Pocklington backstage as Cupid in Pacific Opera’s Semele. Photo courtesy Cheryl Pocklington

Track: “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco. Verdi

During my first show singing with the Pacific Opera chorus (Simon Boccanegra, 2016), we went to the Shop to sing at an event. I hadn’t known the Shop existed, or that Pacific Opera built its own shows. In little Victoria? Every production, I feel privileged to be a small part of this company. Recording the Carmen socially distanced chorus kept reminding me of that day. Singing with headphones and counting in the silence isn’t how we normally work. On stage, you feel each other’s breath and are supported by the shared sound. I kept thinking we should have been recording “Va, pensiero” as we sang that day in the Shop — memory and hope in our shared solitude.

Track: “Ancora un passo or via” from Madama Butterfly. Puccini

Madama Butterfly, 2015: One of my fondest memories of being a chorus member with Pacific Opera Victoria was for Madama Butterfly. I was in awe of the sets and costumes; everything was beautifully made. For opening night, stage management made fun rice cereal “sushi” and there was a stunning kimono display in the lobby.

The show was especially exciting for the women’s chorus. We had many workshops with Jacques Lemay to learn how to act and laugh like a Geisha, glide across the stage, perform a fan dance, move together as one, properly kneel and stand back up with ease and grace. We also had a special class on dressing one another, in teams of three, in our kimono costumes, which had to be perfectly straight and smooth. Sometimes it took multiple attempts to get it correct and panic would set in to get it right in time for our stage call! The women’s dressing room was always a flurry of activity and such a wonderful bonding experience for us.

Although I loved each scene the chorus was a part of, I really enjoyed the first entrance of Butterfly and her friends: “Ancora un passo” (“One step more”). The music was joyous and magical, as was the feeling I had of stepping onto the stage for the first time each night.

There are so many talented people that work together on every opera. I am very proud to be a part of it all. Carmen would have been my 32nd show with Pacific Opera Victoria (I also was in the 2012 production) and I can’t wait to join my opera family again to sing once more!

Pacific Opera Chorus Knitting Party. 2019. Photo courtesy Amanda McAlpine

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