Listening Party Podcast

May 01, 2020 1:00pm

Venue Pacific Opera Website

Cost Free

Connect with Musical Stories and Playlists!

Join us for the Listening Party Podcast as Rebecca Hass and guests share favourite stories about the role music plays in the lives of our artists, creative team, and collaborators – and in your life as an arts lover.

After each podcast, tune in to Pacific Opera’s Spotify Playlists. A new Listening Party Playlist is added after every podcast. Meet the people, hear the stories, experience the music!

#6 May 1
#5 April 24  |  April 24 Chorus Highlights
#4 April 17  |  #3 April 10
#2 April 3  |  #1 March 27

Podcast #6

Friday, May 1, 2020 | 1 pm | On Demand

Rebecca interviews three artists who are staying boldly creative in these strange times … all while really missing their audiences. It’s not the applause they miss, so much as the energy in the room, the sense of conversation. But this intrepid group, like many artists, are carrying on, doing their art, navigating the technology, singing and playing to unheard, invisible, distant audiences.

These artists are also realizing that technology will never replace being in the room together. We can’t live without one another. But we can share these artists’ chosen musical musical moments in the latest Listening Party Playlist.

Renaissance Man Doug MacNaughton (he’s an operatic baritone, multi-instrumentalist, teacher, songwriter, ex-TTC-Subway musician) speaks to Rebecca from his 2010 Mazda 5, which goes by the name of Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse). These days Doug is tilting at the windmill of social distancing by holding Car Concerts, using his voice, guitar, his own compositions, and his quixotic venue. It takes Carpool Karaoke to a whole new level.

Doug has performed numerous times with Pacific Opera, beginning as Taddeo in L’Italiana in Algeri in 1997. He subsequently returned as Dr. Downie in Erewhon, Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew, Trinculo in The Tempest, and Benjamin Hubbard in the Canadian première of Marc Blitzstein’s Regina. In 2010 he made his role debut as the Major Domo in Pacific Opera’s Canadian stage premiére of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, returning as Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Benoit and Alcindoro in La bohème, and Donner in Das Rheingold.

Photo: Doug MacNaughton with guitar, car, and dog. It’s the cover of his 2014 CD Guitarias

Doug sent us a short video of one of his Car Concerts. Here he is singing “Take a Chance.”

Doug also sent us a link to a video in which alumni of productions of Les Miserables from 1987 to the present share an anthem of hope. Among them is Doug, who played Enjolras in the Canadian company of Les Miz. He pops onto the screen at 1:18. Watch on Youtube.

Pianist and coach Kinza Tyrrell speaks about navigating the perils of online technology with her new offering, Karaoke with Kinza.
How can you be a collaborative pianist when you can’t collaborate in the same room? Instead Kinza pre-records the piano part for a singer to later add the vocals. But she definitely misses that electric, improvisatory communication between singer and pianist that makes live performance so invigorating.

Victoria native Kinza Tyrrell is the Principle Répétiteur and Music Director of Vancouver Opera in Schools at Vancouver Opera.
Kinza is also Music Director for The Flight of the Hummingbird, a new 45-minute opera for young audiences, which will be broadcast in its entirety on May 19, 2020.
Full bio

Here’s a lovely selection of Karaoke with Kinza, featuring tenor Joé Lampron-Dandonneau, who has sung with the Pacific Opera Chorus and played Parpignol in our 2018 La bohème

Victoria born singer-pianist Rachel Fenlon speaks to Rebecca from a farmhouse outside Berlin. Rachel is taking requests from the public and learning, performing, and posting a new song every day on her Instagram account! It’s an amazing way to force herself to use this unplanned and scary downtime to learn new repertoire while connecting with others!

Rachel debuted with Pacific Opera Victoria in 2013 as Nannetta in Falstaff, and the following year returned as Queen Guenevere in Camelot in concert. She is a rising operatic soloist and chamber musician and is committed to performing, curating, and commissioning contemporary music. Rachel performed in concert at Pacific Opera’s Bauman Centre in January, and she will be the first artist in our new online version of Lunchbox Opera, launching May 22 at 1 pm.
Full Bio
Rachel Fenlon on Instagram

Below, Rachel performs “Laue Sommernacht” by Alma Mahler

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.

read more

Doug MacNaughton
Knowing Doug and his eclectic music-making palate and ears, I have been really looking forward to his list. He was crestfallen when I told him he was allowed only ten songs. But I think he chose ten great ones with lots of ear candy. There is a bonus track:  in the podcast, Doug tries to sing part of a Stephen Fearing song as we discussed creativity in these times. That song, called “Carousel” is also in the playlist.

Here are Doug’s notes:

  • Flower Arranger, Leslie Uyeda, composer, Joy Kogawa, poet Doug MacNaughton, voice and guitar.  From my 2014 album Guitarias.  I chose this because it epitomised what I was after with the first version of this project – classical music for voice and guitar from Canadian composers setting Canadian poetry.
  • Paris, Jaypaul Project – Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli, songwriters.  From the album J-Paul.  I worked with both Jay and Paul doing Les Miz. Jay and I started at the same time in 1990; Paul was conducting when I did the show for a month in Regina in December of 1992 (Jay was Marius in that cast).  I missed the album launch concert an 1999 by about 20 minutes, but they were still there.  I got the album, and I’ve followed their writing ever since.  I’m a sucker for really clever lyrics; wish I could write some!
  • Doublecross, Jay Leonhart, songwriter, bass and voice.  From the album Salamander Pie, 1987. I was working in A & A Records while singing in the COC chorus.  This was retail, in all its glory!  One of my fellow cashiers from the classical floor loaned this album to me, and I was hooked.  I’ve since met Jay a couple of times.
  • The Letter, Jessica Stuart, songwriter, koto, and voice, with Liam Smith, bass and backing voice, Stephan Hegerat, drums.  From the album The Passage.  Jessica Stuart and I first met doing a Tim Brady piece for 100 guitars in June of 2018.  I admire so much about this person – her eclectic influences, her desire to write tunes simple enough that the audience can sing along on the first listen while simultaneously writing complex harmonies and rhythms, her commitment to the community as reflected in her two monthly residencies in Toronto.  She’s a multi-instrumentalist (like me, only better), and I’ve enjoyed following her live performances for a couple of years now.  I started studying songwriting with her in January of 2019.
  • We Were Born, Delta Will, from the album Weathering. I first heard Delta Will at the Dakota Tavern, and I loved their work!  I particularly appreciate their approach to electronica – it’s a central part of their work and their sound, but it’s still humans making all the decisions.
  • Anna, Charles Spearin, from the album The Happiness Project.  Charles is a neighbour of mine from the old ‘hood.  He’s better known as a guitarist with artists like Feist, Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think; this was a solo project in 2009: he asked various people to define happiness, and then directly transformed their speech patterns into music.  The album won a Juno in 2010.  I still run into Charles, and we have long rambling conversations about our influences and what projects we have on the go.
  • New Rules, Fonfur, from the album New Rules for Classic Games.  I just love this band’s joyful exuberance!!
  • Lady Cop Seeks Revenge for a Family Done Wrong, Katey Morley, from the album Now.  I’m also a sucker for songs that tell a story.  I first heard Katey Morley at the Dakota in Toronto, and bought the vinyl of Now/Then on the spot.  Love her writing, love her voice.  She’s a fellow dulcimer player – I haven’t worked up the nerve to write us a duet yet.
  • Dreams are Bigger, Ron Sexsmith, from the album The Last Rider.  Ron is one of my favourite modern singer/songwriters, and I was totally charmed by the old fashioned music hall singalong sound of this particular song.  There are at least two dozen other songs of his that could just as easily have made this list.
  • Talk to Me, Joni Mitchell, from the album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.  Joni needs no introduction, and her harmonic and rhythmic sophistication also don’t need me to dwell on them.  So why this one?  Well, it’s not as well known as it deserves to be – everybody knows “Big Yellow Taxi”, “River”, “Help Me”, “Free Man in Paris”, “Carey”, but this is Joni being playful, being self-satirizing.  And the moment when she starts ‘chicken-squawking’ is just magnificent!

Kinza Tyrell
Kinza has a binder called “Songs I want to sing and play”. It’s filled with songs she has discovered while playing for others and that she wants to sing and play for her own pleasure. This illustrates again to me that  Kinza is a music maker, more than a music listener.

When I asked her about her Spotify picks, she told me that my email request for this had caused her to panic. Music doesn’t exist in the background for her. When she hears music, she automatically analyses it. She explained that she immediately thinks about the key it is in. Then she wonders if it is a key she likes. The dialogue goes like this Oh, that’s in F major…I love F major…yeah…. if it was in E it would be too bright. I don’t know about you, but this isn’t what I think about when I hear a piece of music.

It makes sense, that as a musician, Kinza listens to music in a different way than most. To enjoy music as background, she tends to turn to music that her classical musician ear isn’t tempted to assess or pick apart. Because she works with singers, she finds that music without a vocal line is best for pleasure listening. She turns to Bach, particularly contrapuntal work, and jazz. For the playlist, she shared music that she’d loved when she was younger. Her list includes music from her very early childhood up into her teenage years.

These notes are my transcriptions of our conversation.

  • Rachmaninoff’s Piano concerto no.2 second movement: Kinza loves the music of the  Romantic era and is a particular fan of Rachmaninoff. She finds his harmonies are  heart wrenching in a good way.  He was also a composer she yearned to play as a young piano student, but he wrote for pianists with large hands who could play tenths. She longed for the day when her hands could play those chords. This second movement is a particular favorite and she tells us to listen to the serene, beautiful melody. She was particularly excited that Spotify had the record jacket she remembers from her childhood, featuring the big long hands of Arthur Rubinstein.
  • Barber’s Adagio for Strings: Many of us will recognize this piece from the film Platoon. Kinza chose the full orchestral version, rather than the quartet and this piece.  In her words , this piece  ‘wrenches at her heart strings” and she wants it played at her funeral.
  • Vaughan-Williams Fantasia on a Theme by  Thomas Tallis: When she got her first CD player from her parents, they provided her with classical music to play. This  CD became a favorite. It reminds her of The Princess Bride, one of her all -time favorite films. Kinza feels this music could be part of the soundtrack of that film and whenever she listens to it she envisions castles and handsome princes. Recently she found out using an ancestry service that she is 80% British, which she says also might explain her feeling this piece so deeply.
  • Sibelius’ violin concerto in D minor: Kinza told me about a violinist boyfriend from her teenage years. They spent hours listening to music which resulted in her knowing violin repertoire intimately. She also has memories of being 14, and hearing Patty Shih, now a member of the Borealis String Quartet, playing this piece in the old auditorium at the University of British Columbia. She encourages us to listen to the way the violin enters of the top of this piece as a particularly exquisite moment.
  • Dvorak’s complete 9th symphony (New World): Kinza remembers listening to this every day, before she went to afternoon kindergarten. In the mornings she had to clean her room, but she also had what she called ‘record playing time’, and clearly remembers sitting in her family dining room, the sun streaming in, and listening to this  work over and over again. In her words, ‘Such programmatic music, such vivid motifs’ . She told me that she knows every bar of this piece still and even recalls doing interpretive dances to it. With that in mind, she chose the whole symphony for us to listen to.

As I was transcribing  these notes from our conversation, it became so clear to me why Kinza doesn’t listen to classical music in the background. Music imprints  deeply for Kinza and carries so many images, memories and feelings.  No wonder she is such a wonderful musician to work with, and to experience in performance.

Rachel Fenlon
Rachel sent me her Spotify list and it was HUGE! Too much for me to share, and she kindly trimmed it down and provided these notes about her choices.

  • Keith Jarrett is a core source of inspiration to me, simply because he crosses the genres of classical and jazz so fluidly, and with such bold repertoire, from Shostakovich and Bach to hour-long improvisations. He is a premier example of a modern day artist who sees the grand scope of music from the 21st century perspective.
  • Marcelle Meyer, Yvonne Loriod, Monique Haas, Monique de la Bruchollerie, and Jacqueline Eymar are a generation of French female pianists, which, with the exception of Loriod, I’ve only discovered during quarantine. The pianism and colours are unparalleled in so many ways.
  • Glenn Gould is a personal hero (like so many!) I’m including the Goldberg Aria, because it’s just the beginning of the Gould/Bach journey, and somehow this encapsulates the adventure that awaits. I also admire his Hindemith, Brahms Intermezzi, and all of his Beethoven recordings!
  • I’ve included two pieces of Grieg: both for sentimental reasons; Solveig’s Song is my Mother’s favourite song, and the lyric pieces are some of the first classical music I ever heard as a 5 year old. I visited Grieg’s hut as a child and it left a huge impression on me.
  • Maria Callas is/was/will always be my favourite soprano. What else is there to say?! Choosing favourite sopranos is like choosing a favourite tree in the forest – at the end, it’s just a feeling!
  • Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony always carries me through uncertainty.
  • I’ve included what might seem an obscure song of Messiaen, considering his huge vocal masterpieces, but I urge you to listen to it. The second half of the piece has some of the most beautiful bars in all music!
  • I wanted to include all the Mahler symphonies but I’ve settled for the first. Need I say more?
  • Brad Meldau, the Kronos quartet and Olivia Chaney are all inspirations for boundary pushing as they dive into multi genre with total sensitivity and command.
  • I’m lucky to call Francesco Piemontesi a friend of mine; he is one of the finest pianists of our generation. Listen to his Schubert, also!
  • John Luther Adams somehow embodies the Pacific Northwest, in my ears. Listening to him is like swallowing an iceberg (in a good way).
  • The recording of Gyorgi and Martha Kurtag recording his transcriptions of Bach is so loving.
  • Radiohead is a band which feels incredibly challenging, accessible, rule breaking, heart breaking – it’s a band that I never, ever tire of. They are some of the greatest musicians of today, no question.Last but not least, George Crumb has become the closest composer to me in recent years. I delved into his world with such abandon, I actually used to dream about him all the time! (we’ve never met!) His sound world is a world unto its own.

Another great week of music selections. Listen and enjoy!

Note: If you don’t already have a Spotify account, you will need to sign up for a free account and either download the app or listen on the web.

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.

read more

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

Podcast #4

Friday, April 17, 2020 | 4 pm | On Demand

Pacific Opera’s production of Carmen was supposed to open April 16. Instead, everyone is hunkering down at home. But we’ve been in touch with the artists who were to sing the roles of Escamillo, Carmen, and Don José in our production. Today, instead of singing, they’re talking – about how they found their way to opera and about roles that have been particularly meaningful to them.

They are also sharing musical moments for our latest Listening Party Playlist. And, as a bonus, all three artists sent us photos of themselves with their perfect companions in isolation!

Baritone Erik van Heyningen was scheduled to make his role debut as the dashing toreador Escamillo – a character Erik had really looked forward to diving into: he sees in Escamillo a playfulness and a rare gift of always being authentically himself.Erik trained as a jazz musician – an upright bassist, who gravitated to voice lessons because his bass teacher wouldn’t let him play anything he wasn’t able to sing! Then, while he was in high school, he heard Bryn Terfel in concert. It was a revelation: Erik suddenly knew what he wanted to do.

In his conversation, Erik recalled one of the first times he was really moved by a piece of operatic theatre. He was in a production by Opera Theatre of St. Louis of Tobias Picker’s Emmeline – an American retelling of the Oedipus myth from the mother’s viewpoint. While waiting in the wings near the end, Erik was completely overcome by the sense that no spectacle was needed here: the people on stage were real people saying real things and experiencing real pain and real joy.

Erik also talks about singing Jochanaan in Salome at the Spoleto Festival – and how performing that crazy difficult role at a dark time in his life brought home to him the fact that he was no longer a student, but a grown-up professional artist doing what he was meant to do.

More on Erik van Heyningen

Photo: Erik with his fiancée Devony. Both have recovered from a bout with COVID-19 and are now cleared to hang out with Devony’s 96-year-old grandfather.

Mezzo soprano Carolyn Sproule first sang the title role in Carmen two years ago and was looking forward to re-exploring and re-discovering this iconic character.

Enthralled as a child with The Sound of Music, Carolyn grew up singing, practising piano, and making plays. It was as a teen, listening to a cd of Maria Callas singing “Casta Diva”, that she saw the light and realized what she really wanted to do with her life was to be an opera singer.

Carolyn also talks of the challenges and excitement of singing at the Metropolitan Opera. Following five seasons in small and cover roles, this February she sang Dorabella in Così fan tutte. Shockingly she had to perform without the luxury of rehearsing onstage with the orchestra.

Carolyn also has fond memories of her European debut as Erika in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa at the Wexford festival (to rave reviews). Operatic legend Rosalind Plowright was the old Baronness, who spent most of the opera silently painting – and created a lovely portrait of Carolyn.

More on Carolyn Sproule

Photo: Carolyn with Loki

Tenor Jean-Michel Richer was to have made his role debut as Don José, the naïve young soldier who is madly, jealously in love with Carmen. He talks about the scene he was most looking forward to performing in Pacific Opera’s production, and he discusses a few “role-model” tenors.

Jean-Michel also recalls the role that launched his professional career – Count Vallier de Tilly in Les Feluettes – a new opera, co-commissioned by Pacific Opera and Opéra de Montréal and based on the brilliant play by Michel-Marc Bouchard. This was Jean-Michel’s first role in a professional house (he was still in school while rehearsing it) and certainly his first big lead. Jean-Michel recalls how powerful an experience it was for him and what an emotional trip it was for the audience. And he emphasizes how important it is to keep creating new opera even as we delight in revisiting old favourites.

More on Jean-Michel Richer

Photo: Jean-Michel and Feline Friend

Below: the video trailer for Pacific Opera’s 2017 production of Les Feluettes composed by Kevin March to the libretto by Michel Marc Bouchard.
The production features Jean-Michel Richer, Étienne Dupuis, Gino Quilico, Gordon Gietz, Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, James McLennan, Daniel Cabena, Normand Richard, Claude Grenier, Patrick Mallette, Jeremy Roszmann, and Jacques Lemay as the dancer. Timothy Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony; Giuseppe Pietraroia directs the Pacific Opera Chorus. Directed by Serge Denoncourt.
Shine-ola Communications.

What you hear on the podcast is only a small portion of the conversations that I have had with my guests. These liner notes to the Listening Party Playlist reflect the fuller conversation.

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I spoke to Erik Van Heyningen from Santa Cruz, California. He is a big fan of classic baritone recordings and came from a family that all had low voices, so it was natural for him to follow his singing passion as a baritone. You will find on the playlist some great voices that he listened to growing up: Pavarotti, Domingo, Hermann Prey, Hans Hotter.

You will also find the final two tracks from an opera he talked about which is likely new to you – Emmeline – and you can check out a video of the opera on Youtube.

Erik talked in detail about his recent experience at the Spoleta Festival singing his first Jochanaan in Salome. When he sent me his preferred recording to share with you, I couldn’t resist listening to the whole opera. It’s one of my favourites. He has chosen the recording with Cheryl Studer and Bryn Terfel – the baritone whose recital performance was central to Erik’s epiphany about becoming a singer. Erik works hard to engage in concert and recital work, which is so different from singing opera, but which can be an incredible experience for an audience, though it is under-appreciated in North America.

Erik’s love of text and intimacy in performance is also evident in his choice of José van Dam for his Toreador recording. José van Dam, as I remember him in his prime, was well loved for his text delivery and his intimate performance style, but he did not possess a big park-and-bark kind of voice. He was better known for concert and recital than opera. It makes complete sense to me that Erik would be attracted to this particular baritone. I hope you enjoy hearing this fine artist in an operatic role.

Carolyn Sproule came to opera through the great soprano Maria Callas, but to singing itself through The Sound Of Music and Julie Andrews. I had to include a track from Ms. Andrews, the wonderful singer and artist who originally inspired Carolyn. I chose the lesser known piece “Something Good,” because it is well worth hearing.

Carolyn also named many other mezzos that she loves, all on the playlist. There are tracks from Christa Ludwig, Olga Borodina, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. I also confess to adding in the trio “Soave sia il vento” from Così fan tutte (featuring Christa Ludwig again) because it is one of the most divine pieces ever written: if it doesn’t calm your spirit, then what possibly could?

There are many Carmen recordings to choose from, and Carolyn chose the incredible Tatiana Troyanos, whose rich, full, dark voice is a great fit for this role.

There are some enjoyable offers from Jean Michel Richer in this week’s list. He confessed that he listens to opera in his work world, and so often seeks other kinds of music. Lately he has been going back to music of his past. I’ve included tracks from two Québécois artists he is currently listening to: Daniel Bélanger and Jean Leloup.

I’m particularly thrilled with Jean-Michel’s recommendation of Nilla Pizzi, who is a discovery for me. Jean-Michel also mentioned some of the voices that sing Don José, and we include, one after the other, Jonas Kaufmann and Neil Shicoff so that you can compare these different voices and approaches to the character. Part of the joy of exploring music is to discover your own palate and what you love in a particular role. The more you explore this way, the more exciting it is to go to the theatre and hear different singers interpret a role. Jean-Michel also included two exquisite Lieder that pay tribute to his days as a baritone, featuring Hermann Prey and Simon Keenlyside.

It’s a pretty eclectic mix this week – I hope you find some new music that lights up your soul. And don’t forget to send your opera stories and selections to You might hear your story on a future podcast! Happy Listening!

Podcast #3

Friday, April 10, 2020 | 4 pm | On Demand

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.

Photo credits:
Gaynor Jones as Leonore in Pacific Opera’s 1988 Fidelio. Lech Janaszek photograph
Gaynor Jones as Agathe and William Neill as Max in Pacific Opera’s Canadian premiere of Der Freischütz, 1994. David Cooper Photography

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.

Photo credits: Members of the Chorus of Pacific Opera’s 2019 Suor Angelica clown around. Clockwise from top: Amanda McAlpine, Carol Pudwell, Margo Brody, Caitlin Wood (Alms Sister), Cheryl Pocklington, Rebekah Janzen

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.

What you hear on the podcast is only a small portion of the conversation that I have had with my guests. The playlist reflects the fuller content of our chat.

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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?

Photo credit: Scene from the 1984 COC production of Anna Bolena with three of the tall ladies-in-waiting on the left in their gorgeous costumes. Gaynor Jones is hidden in the shadows. And Joan Sutherland – La Stupenda – is on the right.

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 You might hear your story on a future podcast!

Podcast #2

Friday, April 3, 2020 | 4 pm | On Demand

Today brings words and music from some of the unsung heroes of opera production – Chorus Masters – with the accompanying Listening Party Playlist.

Kimberley-Ann Bartczak, Resident Conductor and Répétiteur with Calgary Opera, talks about music that has had an extraordinary impact on her, including the transformational power of Bluebeard’s Castle and the wonderful chaos of the second act of La bohème, whose music is always astonishingly fresh and new.

Kim also remembers Strauss’ Morgen! (Tomorrow!), which was played as the prelude to her own wedding ceremony. Its message – tomorrow will be a beautiful day as long as you are with me – resonates more than ever today.

And tomorrow the sun will shine again
And on the path that I shall take,
It will again unite us lucky ones
As all around us the earth breathes in the sun.
And to the shore, broad, blue-waved,
We shall quietly and slowly descend.
Speechless we will gaze into each other’s eyes,
And the wordless silence of happiness will fall upon us.

Leslie Dala, Associate Conductor and Chorus Director with Vancouver Opera, recalls productions that stand out for him, including a 2017 Turandot – an opera that he calls a dream piece for any chorus director, where the chorus is very much a part of the fabric of the drama.

Leslie also recalls the 2010 Canadian première of John Adams’ Nixon in China, as well as a 2006 production of Faust, during which conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin stepped in to pinch-hit for a chorus rehearsal when Les was otherwise occupied with the birth of his son.

Today’s Listening Party Playlist.

What you hear on the podcast is only a small portion of the conversations I had with my guests. Today’s playlist reflects the fuller conversation.

read more

Leslie Dala was happy to use his time with the playlist to expand his offerings of tracks beyond the stories he told. For Turandot he thought we might as well start at the beginning and include chorus interjections to get you in the mood for the theme of the chorus in the opera. He also kindly asked for the final track to, as he wrote me, ‘end on a more positive note’. Much appreciated in dark times.

For Nixon in China, Les asked for the opening track of the opera so that you can really hear the atmosphere that John Adams was creating before moving into the plane landing.  As Les and I mentioned, I was in this production and sang the role of the Second of the three Mao Secretaries. It was incredibly hard to memorize. I read in an interview that John Adams said he never really thought about singers having to memorize his music. I could tell. The metres changed continually and there was no pattern. I was never on stage for a moment that I was not counting and keeping track of repeated patterns using my fingers and my toes. In the playlist you will hear my favorite track from the show, featuring my good friend and one of my favorite singers, Tracy Dahl. She sang Madame Mao in Vancouver, and on this recording. In this scene the full chorus is on stage in rows and Madame Mao wanders among us to sing of the power of the little red book. I will never forget the incredible sound of Tracy’s voice in this number. It made the hair on my arm stand up. I looked forward to it every night and it remains one of my most memorable moments on stage.

In his final story, Les talks about Faust and the incredible visual in the final scene.  There was a giant disc on stage as a set piece, that he guessed weighed a few tons. In the Nic Muni staging, every night when Marguerite goes to heaven, the disc was lowered onto her until it appeared to the audience that she was crushed beneath it. Theatre crews take good care to make the performers safe, but how brave was Erin Wall every night as that took place! Les and I talked about Nic Muni quite a bit. I had worked with Nic in Toronto in the early 1990s when he directed Alban Berg’s Lulu for the Canadian Opera Company. It was my debut at the O’Keefe Centre and the production starred Rebecca Caine of Phantom of the Opera fame. This production also included much loved Canadian baritone Victor Braun. I was playing the role of a young boy in the show (Der Gymnasiast) and I will never forget being on stage with all the male chorus and characters, underneath a giant video image of Rebecca Caine’s eyes during the film music of that opera. We were all on our knees and as we all looked up at her image slavishly we fondled ourselves on stage. Provocative show and the kind of work for which Nic Muni was well known.

Les talked about being among the chorus in the balcony for the final transformative and dramatic “Apothéose”  in Faust. He has chosen a terrific recording and I encourage you to have the visceral experience he had – turn up your speakers at home and stand before them so that you can feel the music go right into your marrow.

The final story on the podcast was about Kim getting married. We talked about the way professional musicians approach wedding music. As a singer, when I married, I didn’t want a singer at my wedding: I knew I’d never be able to choose which friend to ask or listen without a singer’s critical ear.  Kim had a harpist friend play Morgen because if someone else played it on piano, she knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate. I totally understand. Once you have performed and know a piece of music, you can’t become a passive audience member when you hear it.

We talked about her stress over the late arrival of her brother with the cupcakes and the struggle to walk down the aisle slowly enough to get all the music from Romeo and Juliette she had programmed. She wanted to be able to savour every note of that music. That goes back to my mention in the podcast of the importance of directors in opera timing everything a chorus does. Kim’s wedding selections are all in the play list and they are so beautiful. I really appreciate her sharing this intimate moment from her personal life.

Finally, as both our guests told stories that featured Metropolitan Opera Music Director and beloved Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet Séguin, I had to include him in this playlist. My thanks to Kim for sharing a few tracks with him at the podium.

Happy listening!

Note: If you don’t already have a Spotify account, you will need to sign up for a free account and either download the app or listen on the web.

Podcast #1

Friday, March 27, 2020 | 4 pm | On Demand

Today Rebecca chats with Pacific Opera’s music staff about some of the amazing and amusing musical experiences that have stuck with them over the years – and the stories behind these memorable experiences.

Join Artistic Director and Conductor Timothy Vernon; Chorus Master and Associate Conductor Giuseppe (Joey) Pietraroia; and Robert Holliston, our Curator of Public Engagement and regular host of Inside Opera and Pacific Opera’s Lobby Talks. And then enjoy today’s Listening Party Podcast Playlist.

Robert Holliston recalls a road trip to Seattle for one of the great operatic evenings of his life – the riveting experience of seeing the great Jon Vickers in Peter Grimes. It was Robert’s first time seeing a large-scale Britten opera – an astounding memory of a live performance by an absolute master of the art form.

Robert also lets us in on a secret: the key to knowing when you’ve experienced a great concert is when you leave the concert hall and walk six blocks in the wrong direction. Find out who the performers are who led him so far astray!

Robert also recalls seeing Kopernikus by Canadian composer Claude Vivier – an event memorable not only for the work and the performance, but for the perfect post-Vivier libation that he discovered afterward.

Joey Pietraroia recalls being a teenager in Montreal, planning a career as a jazz saxophonist, when a free ticket to a concert in the Montreal Forum introduced him to the wonder of symphonic music and turned his heart toward a career as a classical musician.

Joey also reminisces about his encounter with Gustav Mahler’s massive second symphony, known by those in the know as Mahler Two. As a conducting student studying at McGill with none other than Timothy Vernon, Joey had the thrill of conducting one of the off-stage brass sections for the grand finale.

BONUS: A little more on Mahler Two. This enjoyable overview explains why a performance of Mahler Two is such a mind-blowing event. It includes video excerpts and some wild conductor gifs.

Did you know that Pacific Opera’s Artistic Director Timothy Vernon actually sang the Queen of the Night in public? Timothy started his musical career at the age of six when he joined the Boys Choir at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. Over the years he advanced to became a soloist, and, in his own words, “a very swell-headed young rebel”.

When he was 11, Timothy made the trip across to Vancouver to attend one of his first live operas – the thrilling 1958 Don Giovanni that marked the North American debut of Joan Sutherland and featured an assemblage of Canadian luminaries with whom Timothy would later work – Leopold Simoneau, Pierrette Alarie, Bernard Turgeon.

Timothy recalls this historical production and the subsequent adventure of going backstage to chat about singing with the evening’s Don Giovanni, the great George London.

For those on a deeper dive, here’s a brief explanation about what is in today’s Listening Party Playlist. What you hear on the podcast is only a small portion of the conversations I had with my guests. The playlist reflects the fuller conversation.

read more

Robert spoke about the Claude Vivier opera, Kopernikus, which does not have a recording on Spotify that I could share. I did want to offer you a taste of Vivier and so included a piece for violin and clarinet. If this piques your interest, I encourage you to listen deeper into that catalogue on your own.The recital by Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis that Robert talks about has yielded a complete recording of Schubert’s Schwanengesang. I included only the track that Robert specified, but I encourage you to listen to the whole work.

Joey requested the final movement of Beethoven‘s Ninth Symphony and the Egmont Overture, with specific conductors for both, which are reflected in the play list. You will find Joey’s favorite Pavarotti aria in the list, as well as mine. I heard Ah, mes amis live in San Francisco in a concert he gave in 1991 and have never forgotten it, with those outstanding nine – that’s right, NINE – high C’s in the aria. Amazing!

Timothy spoke of a particular Don Giovanni that he saw in 1958 in Vancouver, and I have been able to find almost the whole cast (on different recordings). I regret I was unable to locate any Mozart recorded by Bernard Turgeon, but I did take advantage of the opportunity to share the two tenors Timothy referenced, Fritz Wunderlich and Leopold Simoneau. Timothy requested Simoneau singing Il mio Tesoro and Wunderlich singing Dalla sua pace, but I couldn’t resist sharing them back to back singing the same aria. It’s so interesting to hear two different artists of such skill and renown in the same piece and then to decide for yourself which one you prefer.

You will find a bonus pair of tracks from Don Giovanni as Timothy spoke to me about his love of the recording conducted by Ferenc Fricsay featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. At Timothy’s request you will find the overture and the scene where the Don gets dragged into hell.

Happy listening!

Note: If you don’t already have a Spotify account, you will need to sign up for a free account and either download the app or listen on the web.

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Rebecca hopes to devote a future episode and playlist to stories of our patrons and listeners. If you have a story about the music that has had an impact on your life, please share it:


Playlist Archive

May 1, 2020
April 24, 2020
April 24 Chorus Highlights
April 17
April 10
April 3
March 27

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