The Prairie Perspective #3 — Learn

Dear friends,

This past week has been quite an adventure for me, and I want to share my struggles and triumphs with you.

In every new city one encounters that there are unspoken rules, local ways of doing things that you can only become familiar with in time. There are also natural rules that change drastically from west to prairie to east coast. These rules, I assure you, are tried and true.
Here are some of those rules in random order of importance:

1. Never travel to a city located beside a body of water without an an umbrella. You will get caught in a torrential downpour and the rain will wash all of your mascara down your face, making you look slightly more “Dark Knight” than is socially acceptable. Every time.
2. In Halifax, cars will stop for you at a cross-walk no matter how fast they are going, how far away they are. J-walking is unnecessary and if attempted you will be honked at and nearly hit by the one and only mean driver in Halifax in the shiny blue Toyota Corolla. Fact.
3. It is a habit of mine to take a new route to a recurring destination each time I go. You never know what cool gems (stores, historic sites, landmarks, friends) you will find on the way. When attempting this the first couple of times, be sure one’s phone is charged and GoogleMaps is accessible, for indeed you may find far more gems and spend far more time with them than you expected.
4. As a general rule, wait no less than one hour to decide that you are hungry after eating again and ordering a giant poutine from Smoke’s. You will not finish that poutine, and you will figure out it was probably a bad idea.
5. The McLobster is not a myth. It exists. It is a real thing.
6. Always go to used bookstores first, when looking for a specific book. For in sooth, after four new bookstores and a new book later, you will walk into Coburg Coffee and see the book you wanted on the “book exchange” shelf.
7. The Universe has a good sense of humor. Laugh with it when things like the aforementioned events happen to you! But maybe not when they happen to other people. Be a bit more sensitive in those situations…

Random life lessons are not the only things I have learned this past week. I was fortunate enough to participate in a masterclass with the wonderful Lorna MacDonald a couple of days ago, and was blessed with the insight and observations of this very smart woman. I think I was most inspired by her constant focus on the positive. She would only mention a bad habit or something that wasn’t quite working for me and the other participants, after we had felt what it was like to be on the other side of it. It was never “you need a brighter sound” or “your breath should be deeper.” It was “this is where you are right now, and that’s totally fine! Let’s see if we can make it even better and explore some things to see what those feel like.” In the same way as you find out eating poutine is a bad idea an hour after brunch, you wonder why you are struggling to sing one way after you feel how good it feels to not eat poutine with a full stomach…I mean after you have experienced an easier way of singing… I feel blessed to have worked with Lorna and see the processes she took the other participants through as well.

Finally, I have fallen in love. With Shakespeare and Britten. The Port cast dress rehearsal forDream is today, and I couldn’t be more excited. This is truly a special work of art, both in dramatic and operatic literature. The music of Britten brings to life the brilliant words of Shakespeare and I don’t know how he did it, but the magical and mystical quality of work springs to life. The lighting, costumes and casts of this show makes it something to revel in. Watching the cue-to-cues was like being inside the most beautiful otherworldly place imaginable, and I was only in the audience! When you see the product of the hard work put into this show, it’s like having a secret gem tucked away in your mind. You want to share it, but also keep it for yourself. That is what I love about live theater. You can share it, but there are always the scenes, arias, monologues, ironies, etc, that you can keep hidden in your mind and recall when you want to be translated back to another time.

As the Beatles say, “And our friends are all aboard, many more of them live next door and the band begins to play, we all live in a yellow submarine…”

Although we don’t all live in a yellow submarine, literally, (or figuratively really…) My fairy friends are currently at the theater now, getting into costume. Greg Myra, I’m sure, is ready to be our band at the piano, and the Starboard cast is getting ready to support us and watch our dress rehearsal, just as we will do for them tomorrow! If theater is an ocean, and Shakespeare is a submarine…I suppose Britten’s opera would be the…yellow one…? Aaaaannnnddd Epic Fail to assimilate the Beatles, Shakespeare and Britten. But they’re all British!! Ahhh TRIBOND! (did anyone play the board game?) Ok, I’m rambling. I’m just way too excited to start getting into make-up and costume!



Dare to Dream

Guest post by Neil Reimer

Apologies for the title.  However, it does summarize my point in writing this entry to HSOW’s blog page.  As a cast member in this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I play Demetrius, one of the four lovers), I have been struck by the uniqueness of this opera and have begun to wonder about its effect on me.

Every opera – every work of art, whether painting, sculpture, novel, etc. – creates a world which we are invited to enter, either as performer or audience member.  Some operas (Eugene Onegin comes to mind) are relatively realistic and the parallels to our own lives are easily understood.  Others are more fantastical, either by the scale of the human events they portray (hello, Aida) or by the creation of a world that is very far removed from our own.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the latter.

Learning a role with text written by William Shakespeare (or the Earl of Oxford, or Francis Bacon – but we won’t get into that now) is both a privilege and a challenge.  The privilege part should be obvious, for the English of Shakespeare is a great gift.  The challenge is linguistic in two ways.  First, there is the Elizabethan syntax, which includes phrases such as  “When we have chid the hasty-footed time for parting us.”  This is difficult for the modern tongue to speak and the ear to hear.  When this text is married to Britten’s challenging musical language, which includes a great deal of angular, chromatic phrases and complex rhythms, the singer is quickly aware that numerous hours will be spent in the practice room, and then more with one’s colleagues for ensemble scenes, where the complexity is multiplied.  (Another example, picked almost at random:  during the lovers’ quarrel scene, Lysander in his rejection of Hermia sings, “Out loathed medicine, hated potion, hence” in a string of sixteenth-notes running up to a high G, in the space of about two seconds.  And the six Rustics, or Mechanicals, have some incredibly fast, overlapping dialogue.)

But of course every opera has its musical challenges, and this is not actually my point in writing.

What has been growing inside me as we have moved further into our rehearsals and refined our work is just how far away the world of this Dream is from the everyday lives we live today.  In a way that’s obvious and it’s not like we expect to see fairies when we go for a walk in the woods (and probably wouldn’t want to, either, as they are not always benevolent), but it seems to me that it was not that many generations ago that there was a much closer connection between the human, natural and supernatural worlds.

This is the deal we have made, it seems:  our technological culture lets us do many things, but more and more it structures how we think and interact with each other, i.e remotely and through somebody’s software.  Some might debate this, but it seems to me that there is a lot less imagination required to play a video game or post things on Facebook than to invest oneself in a novel or opera.  We must continue to invest; that’s the only way to get a meaningful return.

In my day job I’m a policy analyst for the B.C. Justice Ministry.  I help to write laws.  And the world needs laws in order to function with some order, so I make no apologies for that because it’s necessary.  But how different to be Demetrius, running through the forest at night, chasing Hermia and being chased by Helena, enraged, despairing, transformed by the interventions of the fairies and eventually at peace.  All this for the purpose of portraying the mad urgings of love and being toyed with by forces beyond one’s control.  At some point in our lives, we will all feel this way.  Hence the purpose in going through it on stage.  I don’t think I have a lot in common with Demetrius, but I think I understand him, and as it’s often said, if actors can’t find something of themselves in a character they play, then they have failed.

So, yes:  dare to dream.  It’s very important that we continue to imagine different worlds, or we’ll likely be stuck with one we don’t care for.  And with this Dream we can inhabit one in which fairies sing, in a final beautiful chorus:

Hand in hand, with fairy grace,

Will we sing, and bless this place.

Now until the break of day,

Through this house each Fairy stray….

So shall all the couples three,

Ever true in loving be.

With this field-dew consecrate,

Ev’ry fairy take his gait,

And each sev’ral chamber bless,

Through this Palace with sweet peace.

As artists (and no less as audiences), the ability to wonder is our opportunity, and our responsibility.


Week #2 has ended… C’mon, week #3!!! Let’s do this!

So, another week has gone by, with many new experiences; some good, others not so good. For example, last Tuesday, I woke up with a super migraine, that I stumbled upon my own feet walking to the washroom. The lights in the hallway were so painful; every little noise was so painful. It was horrible! All I wanted to do was go back to bed and forget about everything. But I had to go to rehearsal. So I went, did my job, and people were kind enough to let me go early (thanks Bonnie, Jen and Tessa!). It really wasn’t my day. Good things: we basically staged “Gisela in her bathtub” and “The Harpies” completely! Everything is coming along so well. A few mistakes here and there, but each time we run through the shows, they are less and less than before.

On Thursday, as I was entering Dal Arts Centre, this man, one I had never seen before, comes to me and asks me if that was the building where the operas were being rehearsed. I said yes. He asked my name, and I told him. Immediately, he said: “Sacco?”… I was kind of freaked out… Sacco? What is Sacco? And in a matter of seconds, I remember… Sacco is the tenor role from Sacco and Vanzetti, the opera by Marc Blitzstein and completed by Leonard Lehrman, where “With a woman to be” (the aria I would perform in the American Aria Recital) is from. So I said: “Yes”. Then he said: “Why, hello! I’m Leonard Lehrman”. So I had just met the composer. I kindly showed him where we were all rehearsing, and he started telling me so many stories about the opera, about Blitzstein, about his wife, about everything. Then we had him sitting in our rehearsal for “The Harpies”, by Blitzstein as well. He gave us some notes here and there.

That same afternoon, I would have my coaching time with him. I was a bit scared, because there some parts of the aria were kind of difficult, and didn’t want to make mistakes. Contrary to what I expected, the coaching went well. He encouraged me to keep on working, and helped me a lot in the difficult areas. He only had the nicest words for me. Then, at night was his master class, which had an extra visitor: soprano Helene Williams, his wife. They both guided each participant in the master class.

On Friday, we had our rehearsal for the American Aria Recital. Boy, was that rehearsal long! Especially for those of us who had an ensemble piece with somebody from the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Benjamin Britten. As soon as I got out, I went directly to bed, as I knew the next day would be long.

So the first day of run-throughs came. Everything went pretty well in my opinion. As I said before, a few things here and there, but we managed to work through all of the One Act Operas. It was also the first time I heard “Riders to the sea” and “Thyrsis and Amaranth”. Beautiful music! But Riders is so depressing… What opera is all about! =D Then, at night we had our American Aria Recital at Peggy Corkum Music Room. The participants were: Nicholas Fuqua, Jeremy Hirsch, Nicole Smith, Laura Noack, Will Ford, Erin Passmore, Allison Mills, Max Zander, Kelsey Vicary, Rachel Wood, Alexander Wilson, Nina Scott-Stoddart, Helene Williams, Dr. Leonard Lehrman, and ME! =D I have to say that we all were great! So much talent! I was really happy and pleased with how great we all were. I was especially happy because I was able to sing those high B flats without my voice cracking! =D

Today… Well, today I woke up almost at noon, headed down to Smitty’s for breakfast, went to Bookmark to see some, well, books, Starbucks for a frapuccino, a little walk in the Public Gardens (yes, again… They’re so beautiful! I’d happily live there if I could!) and dinner at Smitty’s (yes, again) and now I’m sitting in room writing this blog entry, while I listen to Fantasia Barrino’s “Collard greens and cornbread”. I don’t know why I love this song so much! And her voice kinda gets on my nerves, but I like it… Mixed emotions…

So what happens now? Production week! Hectic rehearsals! Yay! Can’t wait! (No, I’m not being sarcastic) This is the week when the magic happens. I just want to wish everybody a great time in this next week! See ya!

Halifax Summer Opera Workshop: Guest Blog post from Tony Radford on a director’s perspective

Greetings all, I am the director of Carmen in which I am also performing the role of Zuniga.  I am responsible, along with the musical director Tara Scott, for constructing a vision for the show and leading the cast through the process. I am also part of the cast working in a physical and mental way with my fellow actors.  As a director one can prepare for the opera by doing research, examining the libretto, blocking the scenes and meeting with the production team, but  there is very little I can do to prepare for the mental challenges of making an opera with other actors and people who I have never met and never worked with.  We all throw ourselves into this show knowing that what we are creating will be unique.  This might be rather surprising to some, as most people have the impression that opera is an old-fashioned and oft repeated art form.  The music was written 140 years ago and it has been performed thousands of times but every production is different.  This production, I already can tell is going to be special and moving and very important.  Here is why:

The opera Carmen has many levels, but on one fundamental level it is a tale of personal destruction.  Don José’s descent into what might be described as murderous madness is extremely troubling and very dark. Carmen’s wish to be herself in the face of tragic destiny (which she comes to see very clearly as a destiny that is unavoidable) is heroic and at the same time very tragic. It’s these themes that the cast and our opera program are trying to digest, along with the physical demands of rehearsing. They rehearse hours on end, without a break, sweating, standing, singing and trying to remember their lines. In rehearsal they explore joy, laughter, tears, anger, frustration and uncertainty as they delve deeper and deeper into this world, perhaps too deep, to explore the boundary of their passion, rage, and angst.  The concepts of murder, death, independence and destiny are thrown into this emotional mix and at the end of two weeks we put it on display in performance. The rehearsal process can be messy and thus, very human. In my position as director I see every minute unfold.  This is real life; this is hard work; this is intense work and their youth and passion for the process is unique in the world of opera.  The commitment that these actors feel for their craft and their enthusiasm for this tale will make our show something I know Haligonians will want to see. So there it is, Halifax Summer Opera Workshop from my point of view.  We are half way through HSOW ’12. Buy tickets, you don’t want to miss our production of Carmen.

Dr. Anthony P. Radford
Assistant Professor of Voice, Opera
Voice Area Coordinator, Director of the Fresno State Opera Theatre
California State University, Fresno
Board of Directors, National Opera Association

Haliwood? Haligonia?

I’ve been toying with this idea for a post and hope you enjoy it! I went through my tweets from this week and picked the ones I think that illustrate best the various adventures of the week, and now I can provide a little more than context then I usually fit into 140 characters. Hurray!

16 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

Can’t tell if hungry or nervous. It’s probably both butttt it’s still confusing. #HSOW day one!

I touched on day one in my first post (here, but I think this illustrates a common state for me throughout week one! Our first rehearsals had rough patches, as any are bound to, but we’ve now settled into the music and are getting up to exciting things with stagings- I get a dagger! And to be omnipotent! And a literal deus ex machina!

16 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

Halifax things: poutine for dinner, saw lots of cute dogs and handsome runners ( @S__Evans would like it here) so nice to smell the ocean

I HAVE SEEN SO MANY CUTE DOGS IN THIS CITY. And runners. Halifax is a very friendly town, cars stop for pedestrians all over the place, and baristas seem happier. Maybe it’s all that ocean air? Or the much more pleasant temperature? The GTA, my home, is currently experiencing a grosssss heat wave and I’m in Halifax wishing I had a sweater to wear at night! It’s a nice change.

16 Jul Sarah Evans@S__Evans

There is no better feeling in the world then checking your phone at the end of a 12 hour shift to learn that you’re officially a RN

I have to throw this in, getting home late after the first day of program, I heard some awesome news- my best friend had gotten her nursing license, and a full time job at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto! YAY SARAH!

17 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

The practice room hallway is like musical guess who…or peek a boo? #hsow

The practice room hallway is endless fun for me to try and identify my friends through the doors- it’s endlessly entertaining. And it’s a great way to pick up new repertoire: P The practice room hallway is a very familiar place to me now, at the end of week one, and I’m sure we’ll get even closer throughout the program- my roles are solid but the learning process never stops and all of us singers are continually fine tuning and learning other music at the same time!

17 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

Gave my best ‘Raunchy Susanna’ in masterclass this evening #hsow

I got drawn to be in the very first masterclass of the program (no pressure, right?), given by Lenard Whiting. It’s silly, but I never thought I’d actually end up being drawn for the first one. Oh well! It was a great experience- I sang “Deh vieni” (so obscure, right? #sopranoproblems) and got through about…two phrases before Mr. Whiting had stopped me with new ideas! My job as the singer is to try out the new ideas and keep an open mind- masterclasses mean you think on your feet the whole time! This was probably the largest audience I’ve ever had in a masterclass setting (70 + people) and ALL OF THEM singers or musical people. It was a little intimidating. But overall a good experience, and I’m kind of glad I ended up in the first session to get me out of my comfort zone. We have masterclasses almost everyday and they have all been compelling and illuminating in different ways- I love hearing my colleagues, especially those in other shows who I don’t get to hear often, and I love to hear new repertoire! And the faculty always have significant knowledge to share. Yay for masterclass.

20 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

This morning in acting, I was a beautiful bonsai tree #hsow

We had acting session with Stephen Bourque this week, concentrating a lot on physical theatre, which is a new practice for me. This tweet just amuses me. Our culminating activity for the physical theatre sessions was to be a tree- free form, any way you feel being a tree is. I chose a bonsai. Because they are little.

20 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

Utterly charmed by the kids who set up a lemonade stand at Cobourg and henry. They are presh. Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit

Even lemonade stands are cuter in Halifax. Lemonade wasn’t bad either. Also, Cobourg Coffee is wonderful AND THEY HAVE FREE WIFI, thank you Cobourg Coffee. You can usually always find a couple HSOW people in and around this establishment.

22 Jul Rachel Wood@racheldubs

Dunked in the Atlantic ocean! #baptized

The first week of HSOW culminated with a social gathering (Thank you Nick, Victoria, and Shilpa!) and then a trip to Crystal Crescent beach on Sunday! It was freezing. But I had to get dunked for Wood family honour (I have Maritime roots! Florenceville, New Brunswick! I’m not just another transplant from Ontario!)

Week two started today, and we’re almost done blocking and moving into run throughs. Exciting! I have a my first costuming call tomorrow (REALLY HOPING I get a Viking helmet to wear as Helga- her name is Helga! The helmet seems mandatory!) And later this week we get to rehearse in our performance space! Casting announcements and show dates also went up, so check those out!  Thanks for reading my blog, and if there’s anything specific you’d like to know more about, please leave a comment! I leave you with this picture of Milena and I at the harbourfront festivities for the Tall Ships festival- best rehearsal break ever!

best break ever