Coast review of Susannah and Alcina

The Halifax Summer Opera Workshop

Susannah and Alcina grace the James Dunn stage in this year’s workshop series.

by Kate Watson

The Halifax Summer Opera Workshop For the past six years, the Halifax Summer Opera Workshop has been bringing young opera singers from across the country together for an intensive period of study that culminates in the staging of two full operas. This year, the offerings are Susannah, a modern opera set in the American South and Handel’s Alcina, a Baroque opera in Italian with English subtitles. Director Garry Williams has removed Alcina from its magical realm and set it during the Spanish Civil War. It’s a successful gambit that makes staging the opera on a shoestring possible. The plot is pure nonsense, but that doesn’t matter as this opera is filled with Handel’s stately/spritely music and some truly outstanding performances. Susannah is an engaging and tragic story anchored by Natalie Donnelly (although the role is double cast) in the titular role. Her voice is both lovely and powerful, and her stage presence is mesmerizing. She is supported by a fine, fine cast. These are two great shows that bring talented performers and a rare cultural opportunity to our city.

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Three South Shore singers shine in Halifax opera productions

Lukus Uhlman and Tracy Reynolds

Young Liverpool soprano Tracy Reynolds has been working for the past three weeks on her role in an opera in Halifax. It may seem a long way from the South Shore to the operatic stage, but Ms Reynolds is just one of three singers from the region singing with the sixth annual Halifax Summer Opera Workshop (HSOW) this year. Along with fellow Liverpudlian Sarah Townsend (who sang Mercedes with Maritime Concert Opera’s production of “Carmen” two years ago) and baritone Lukus Uhlman who is a native of Pleasantville in Lunenburg County, Ms Reynolds has been attending daily rehearsals and master classes for her role in one of this year’s operas. HSOW will present two fully staged operas this summer – Handel’s “Alcina,” a masterpiece of the baroque period, and Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah,” one of the greatest American operas ever written. “Alcina” will be performed in Italian with projected English translations, and accompanied by piano, and “Susannah” will be performed in its original English, also accompanied by piano. Both shows are fully staged and costumed. In total 26 extremely talented young singers from across North America have been working for the past three weeks with music directors Nicole Bellamy and Tara Scott and stage directors Garry Williams and Nina Scott-Stoddart. “It takes a huge amount of work for young singers to prepare for a career in opera,” says Lunenburg-resident Ms Scott-Stoddart, founder of the South Shore’s Maritime Concert Opera and co-founder of HSOW. “There’s just no substitution for learning and performing an entire role, because opera demands the highest level of ability in singing, acting, movement and theatre skills.” HSOW is a four-week training program which gives its participants (mostly undergrad and graduate music students) a chance to work on honing their stagecraft by learning and performing a complete role in an opera. “This is the only program of its kind east of Montreal. It’s a unique opportunity for theatre and music students to study opera in the Maritimes in a supportive setting,” says Ms Scott-Stoddart. The program was very attractive to the South Shore contingent. advertisement “The first thing that attracted me to HSOW was its location,” says Ms Reynolds. “It’s the best-case scenario – singing opera all summer in Halifax and it doesn’t get much better than that!” The others agree. “I love coming home to sing and the fact that I get to work with such wonderful people in my native province is just the icing on the cake.” says Ms Townsend. “I left the province to study music, so I feel it is extremely important to bring something back to Nova Scotia.” “I went to New Brunswick to study at Mount Allison” says Mr. Uhlman, “and the next stage of my career will take me to Montreal, so it’s wonderful to be able to perform right here in my home province.” All singers have fond memories of growing up on the South Shore. Ms Townsend remembers that Liverpool was a great town that nurtured her as a young artist. She particularly enjoyed having access to the Astor Theatre. “We have a fabulous venue in Liverpool and it was a great space to grow up singing in. Our community is extremely musical. We have the Queens County Music Festival, International Theatre Festival and the Winds of Change, to name just a few.” Ms Reynolds also remembers growing up in Liverpool with gratitude. “We had a fabulous music teacher, Kim Kirkpatrick, who I studied with until I went to Acadia. I loved going to my voice lessons and I knew I wanted to be an opera singer in high school. I sang in the Liverpool festival all through school and was in the Liverpool Girls Choir for as long as I can remember. I have wonderful memories singing on the Astor Theatre stage. I came back this past May to do a concert in Liverpool. I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to be back on that stage!” Before they move on to even bigger stages, all three look forward to performing in Halifax, for their friends, family and supporters. All shows are at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in the Dalhousie Arts Centre, 6101 University Avenue. For more information call 494-3820 or 1-800-874-1669.

Opera Cabaret, Tuesday August 10, 9 pm at MENZ Bar

Come and hear what opera singers sing for fun! HSOW’s Associate Collaborative Pianist, Catherine Schaefer, and some of the singers from this year’s workshop will present a relaxed show of cabaret numbers, musical theatre and various and sundry pieces.  At Menz Bar, 2182 Gottingen Street in Halifax.

Director’s notes on Alcina — HSOW 2010

Notes on Interpretation by GaRRy Williams, director

We have set Alcina on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, 1936. This seemed to give the opera an urgency, as well as the necessary conflict between two distinct value systems. One the one hand, we have the Spanish Republicans, fueled by the liberal ideals of socialism, and the Spanish Nationalists, driven by the values of conservatism and, in its tragic extreme, fascism.

Rather than making the opera’s title character an evil sorceress in a traditional way, we have imagined Alcina as a strong woman who champion dangerous ideas. She represents a doomed political-cultural moment, a dying social order, an experiment in women’s liberation, social equality and libertarianism.

In our production, we embraced the otherwise queer convention of men played by women who fall in love with women presenting as men. We confront the issue head on. Alcina runs a lesbian-anarchist night club L’Eliso, where gender inversion, sexual freedom and drug-induced escapist fantasies coexist.

I was influenced by the surrealists and stream-of-consciousness: Salvador Dalì, James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, Gertrude Stein. We have used dream sequences and and memories in staging some of the arias, particularly Ruggiero’s.

In some ways, we live in Alcina’s world. Canada is often perceived as a socialist state, protecting certain freedoms and socialist values. There is a real and constant possibility that these freedoms will disappear.

This a heart-breaking love story of jealousy, sacrifice and revenge, told against the backdrop of social revolution and the rise of fascism.

We have had such fun exploring this opera in a non-traditional way. It hasn’t been easy. We scheduled extra sessions to better understand 1930’s politics to unpack the concept for this production. We were continuously making discoveries about the material, the characters and the music – a process I expect to continue throughout the run. The opera is “full” in a way that is both challenging and rewarding to the singers, and quite exciting to the production team.

You can see Alcina on Friday August 6, Saturday August 7, Thursday August 12, all at 7:30 pm and on Saturday August 14, at 2 pm. at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in the Dalhousie Arts Centre in Halifax. For more information, see the Performance page.

HSOW 2010 starts tomorrow!

Twenty-six young singers from across Canada and the United States will begin their journey into the hearts of two operas tomorrow as the sixth season of Halifax Summer Opera Workshop gets underway in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada!  Our operas this year are Handel’s Alcina and Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, each of them great and engaging works.  Each will be fully staged and costumed and presented with piano accompaniment.

We invite you to check back here and find out what’s going on with our participants and learn more about their stories and the stories of the operas.

And we hope you’ll come and see the performances.  The casts will be announced by the end of Friday, July 23.

Sir James Dunn Theatre
Dalhousie Arts Centre
6101 University Avenue

Alcina by G.F. Handel

Friday August 6, 7:30 pm
Saturday August 7, 7:30 pm
Thursday August 12, 7:30 pm
Saturday August 14, 2:00 pm


Susannah by Carlisle Floyd

Saturday August 7, 2:00 pm
Sunday August 8, 2:00 pm
Friday August 13, 7:30 pm
Saturday August 14, 7:30 pm

You can purchase tickets from the DAC box office:   by phone at 902 494-3820 or 1-800-874-1669, online at the DAC Website or in person at the ticket office at the Dalhousie Arts Centre at 6101 University Avenue.

Tickets $20, $15 seniors/students, $5 children 12 and under