Young Opera Singers Hit Halifax

“Something magical happens when you get forty young singers together to perform two of the greatest operas ever written — it’s an explosion of musical and theatrical energy that will knock you off your seat”.

That’s what GaRRy Williams says, and he knows something about energy.  He’s one of two stage directors for this summer’s Halifax Summer Opera Workshop, and he couldn’t be more excited.  This year HSOW  presents Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (directed by Williams) and Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Consul (directed by Nina Scott-Stoddart) at the Sir James Dunn Theatre from July 25 through August 3.

HSOW started in 2005 with a production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte involving nine performers.  In 2006 the number had grown to thirteen for a production of Don Giovanni.  Last year, in response to growing interest, the workshop expanded, producing two operas, fully staged and costumed: The Magic Flute and Giulio Cesare, with over thirty singers.  This year HSOW will welcome almost 40 singers, chosen from 200 applicants from across North America.

These singers, mostly university students or young professional singers from eight provinces and five states, are spending a month in Halifax rehearsing and performing the two operas.  Most of the singers are in their early twenties.

If you ask these young, modern people why they’ve chosen opera, most of them will let you know because they find it a challenging, exciting, passionate art form that demands everything they have to give to it.

One thing they won’t say about opera is that it’s stuffy, boring or irrelevant to their lives.

HSOW sets both operas in the present day, a move that the young singers embrace enthusiastically.

The Marriage of Figaro, arguably the most perfect comic opera ever written, features some of Mozart’s most divine music.  Based on the scandalous and even revolutionary 18th century Beaumarchais play, the story revolves around the Count Almaviva’s attempts to seduce his wife’s maid, Susanna, on the day of her wedding to Figaro, the Count’s servant.  The servants and the Count’s wife band together to outwit the Count and his minions, and true love triumphs, rather surprisingly,  in the end. Beaumarchais’ and Mozart’s insights into human nature make this story eternally fresh, and HSOW’s staging sets the action in one of the few places in the  modern world where the feudal right of droit de seigneur seems even possible: a surely fictional mansion ruled by the imaginary creator of a fictitious soft porn empire.
In stark contrast, The Consul, a Pulitzer Prize winning opera written in 1950 by American composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, is the story of one family living in a police state, who try to escape to a neighboring “free” country.  Sadly, this great work about state oppression is as current today as it was almost 60 years ago. This is without a doubt Menotti’s greatest opera: powerful, melodic, and ultimately not without hope. It’s a great piece of theatre, and desperately relevant in a world where borders seems even more rigid than ever, and it’s getting harder to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys”.

Opera is a difficult art to master, and opera workshops give young singers the opportunity learn and hone the essentials of both stagecraft and singing. The Halifax workshop has become one of the most popular in Canada. This year’s workshop includes yoga classes, group theatre warm-ups and masterclasses with Dal professor Marcia Swanston, UPEI professor Sung-Ha Shin Bouey and former Dal professor Elvira Gonnella, among others.

One of the principal aims of the workshop is to give singers from Atlantic Canada a chance to work on their craft close to home. This year Maritimers comprise over 20 percent of the company, including a significant contingent from the Dalhousie Music Department, which, along with Dal Theatre,  is a strong supporter of the programme.

The two operas have completely separate teams of music director, stage director and stage manager.  For The Consul, it’s Acadia University’s Tara Scott, Dal Opera Workshop’s Nina Scott-Stoddart and Stephanie Kincade.  For The Marriage of Figaro it’s Dal pianist Lynette Wahlstrom, DaPoPo Artistic Director GaRRy Williams and Lara  Mattison.   Other production staff are shared between the two shows. Dal student Bryan Kenney is the lighting designer, former Stratford Festival designer Anne Morison has come up with the simple but effective shared set, Bonnie Archibald-Ahalt is costume coordinator and Judy Reade is managing props.

Both works will be sung in the original languages (Italian for Figaro, English for The Consul) with projected English translations for the former.  Each opera is double cast, and will be accompanied by piano.

Enthusiastic, energetic and innovative productions presented by North America’s young and emerging artists. That’s HSOW:  opera that’s accessible in all senses of the word.



The Halifax Summer Opera Workshop presents two operas this year:  Menotti’s THE CONSUL and Mozart’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (Le nozze di Figaro) from July 25 to August 3 at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in Halifax.  All shows are fully staged and costumed, and accompanied by piano. Performances start at 7:30 pm, except for Sunday the 3rd, which starts at 2:30 pm.

Tickets: $20 adults, $15 for students and seniors and $5 for children 12 and under, available
from the Dalhousie Arts Centre Box Office at 6101 University Avenue, or by phoning (902) 494-3820 or 1 800 874-1669

The Halifax Summer Opera Workshop website is at


The Consul by Gian-Carlo Menotti
(in English)
July 25, 28, 31 and August 2 at 7:30 pm

The Marriage of Figaro by W.A. Mozart
(in Italian with projected English translations)
July 26, 29, August 1 at 7:30 pm, and August 3 at 2:30 pm

Sir James Dunn Theatre
Dalhousie Arts Centre
6101 University Avenue

Tickets $20, $15 seniors/students, $5 children 12 and under
call the Box Office at (902) 494-3820 or 1 800 874-1669

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