Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Operamania 101: Battle of the Drama Queens

In 1975, Queen released what was probably the most seminal record of their career, A Night At The Opera. When Bohemian Rhapsody was released, it was considered to be a surprise hit due to the fact that the song's structure was so disjointed.

The magnum opus can be broken out into 6 distinct styles:
Introduction (0:00-0:48)
Ballad (0:48-2:36)
Guitar solo (2:36-3:03)
Opera (3:03-4:07)
Hard rock (4:07-4:55)
Outro (4:55-5:55)

Now hearing the song as a whole, one might try to pish posh that there's any (psuedo) opera in Bohemian Rhapsody. But au contraire, there is a certain operatic logic given the multi-tracked voices, full choral treatment and aria-like solos in the midsection of the song.

Besides the glam rock, hard rock, prog rock influences and the fact that Freddy Mercury often sang all the way up into the upper reaches of the musical scale with his tenor voice, one could even argue that Queen's music with its epic sound definitely has operatic overtones to it. Hello, Show Must Go On and We Are The Champions?

Even their 1986 ballad, Who Wants To Live Forever, is wrought with emotions that can be found in any tragic opera. So much so that soprano Sarah Brightman decided to cover the song in 1997.

With 26 million albums sold, Sarah Brightman who possesses a 3 octave range, is the world's biggest selling soprano of all time.

She is credited for paving the way for other operatic crossover artists such as Il Divo, Josh Groban, Charlotte Church, Russell Watson and Andrea Bocelli, with whom she sang a duet with for Time to Say Goodbye (con te partiro). That song went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide. Brightman also put forth an album of operatic arias, called Classics that included a solo version of Time to Say Goodbye.

But like Freddy Mercury, Sarah Brightman also succeeded in dabbling in different genres of music. She mixed her classical vocal stylings with electronic dance music, middle eastern music and gothic music.

Besides performing with all the usual suspects of classical tenors and countertenors, Brightman had duets with Kiss' Paul Stanley and Anne Murray, of all random people. Oh, and she not only sings in English but also in Spanish, French, Latin, German, Italian, Russian, Hindi and Mandarin, as the world witnessed in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As a fan of both Mercury and Brightman, I can't decide which one is the bigger diva. Both artists are revered for their vocal prowess, on stage glamour and theatrical showmanship. Both artists learned how to maximize the use of many different forms of music to reach a broad audience and endeared themselves to their millions of fans.

Mercury once said the reason why their concert was so large scale was that "We're the Cecil b. Demille of rock and roll, always wanting to do things bigger and better."

Just swap out rock and roll for classical/opera in Brightman's case and I think it's fair to say that that sentiment would apply to both superstar's stratospheric career.

~ Ling Chan

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Operamania 101: To Desire Greatness

Art and opera go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or haven't you seen the 1998 movie, Great Expectations?

Based on Charles Dickens' story and starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie tells of artist Finnegan Bell and his rise in the art world through a mysterious benefactor. On his journey to New York, the art capital of the world, Finn tries desperately to further himself up along the social ladder in the vain hopes to finally capture the girl of his dreams; the girl who was always beyond his reach.

At an event celebrating what is to be his first gallery showing, Finn arrives at the soiree where a female opera singer is singing the crowd an aria. The song is I Saw No Shadow of Another Parting (which also happens to be the closing lines of Dickens' book)

Although performed in the movie by another singer, on the Great Expectations soundtrack, soprano Dame Kiri te Kanawa does the honours of singing the aria.

Dame Kiri te Kanawa was considered one of the world's best sopranos during the 70s-80s. In 1981, 600 million people around the world heard her sing Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The following year, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Royalty's love for the grand dame did not end there. In 1986, te Kanawa sang Happy Birthday and God Save the Queen in recognition of Queen Elizabeth II's upcoming birthday.

Dame Kiri te Kanawa's sung version of I Saw No Shadow of Another Parting was the perfect complement to go along with the stunningly beautiful instrumental version by Patrick Doyle.

Great Expectations was a sumptuous movie to look at, from the lush greenery of Miss Dinsmore's Paradiso Perduto in Florida to the dazzling backdrop of Estella's New York City. But throughout it all, it was the music that moved the viewer. And at the prelude to one of the most pivotal and romantic scenes ever in a movie, it was the use of opera that captured the moment best.

~ Ling Chan

Camp Fire Stories With Our Father

Last Friday, VO had their annual staff retreat at the beautiful Van Dusen Gardens. We're celebrating 50 years so the retreat focus was on our Golden Anniversary: Past, Present & Future.

Special guest speakers included Rosemary Cunningham, Leo Sauve and the father of opera in Western Canada, Irving Guttman, C.M.

Irving Guttman's prolific operatic career has spanned five decades. In 1960, Guttman was appointed Artistic Director of Vancouver Opera, where he began his efforts to populize the operatic art form in Western Canada. He later served as Artistic Director of Edmonton and Winnipeg Opera.

He is also an internationally acclaimed stage director with leading opera companies throughout the world, having worked with some of the greatest opera luminaries of our time: Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland and Placido Domingo. Irving also played an active hand in engaging the early careers of Judith Forst, Maureen Forrester, Heather Thomson, John Fanning, Tracey Dahl, Richard Margison, Ben Heppner and countless others.

VO staffers sat rapt around Irving, camp-fire style, learning about the early days of Vancouver Opera; not to mention what the (very limited) Vancouver art scene looked like in the 60s.

When the folks back home in Montreal found out Irving was taking the job as VO's Artistic Director, they responded with, "There's nothing out there, there's no real culture, and I don't know how you can do it."

Irving reminisced about how Theatre Under the Stars provided a wonderful training ground for all the local talent who was then handpicked to form the opera chorus.

Vancouver Opera's first production was Carmen. Surprisingly or should I say shockingly, VO opened the premier show with only $35 in the bank. Luckily, the run was sold out, so everything panned out beautifully.

We listened as he spoke about all the past volunteers who laboured tirelessly to help put Vancouver on the map in the international opera community.

That morning, what we learned about Irving was that he dreams big and enjoys risk. He embraces opportunity and dives into challenge. And that his kick butt ability to hear the voice is unparalled. Even today, he is frequently approached by opera companies for lending his ear to casting singers.

Irving embodies all the qualities you'd want for a leader, a visionary and a founding father of an opera company. Had it not been for Irving, Western Canada's opera scene would've looked very different than how it is today.

A big thanks from all of your "children"!

~ Ling Chan

With A Flick of the Baton

Can't get enough of our amazingly talented music director, Maestro Jonathan Darlington? Well, then you're in luck.

Ever popular with Vancouver opera-goers, the internationally renowned and globe-trotting maestro also plays double duty as General Music Director and conductor of the Duisburger Philharmoniker in Germany.

The British conductor, who currently resides in Paris, has been doing a wonderful job leading the orchestra since 2002.

Keep up to date on all that's happening with the Maestro and Duisburger Philharmoniker on their blog.

Jonathan Darlington | Quick Words from Christoph Müller-Girod on Vimeo.

You can also stalk, erm I mean, follow Maestro Darlington on his Twitter.

We can't wait to welcome Jonathan Darlington back on November 6th, where he will lead international soloists, the VO Chorus and the VO Orchestra in a once-in-a-lifetime Golden Anniversary Gala Concert.

Jonathan will next return to VO's podium in the spring when he will be conducting The Marriage of Figaro and Madama Butterfly!

~ Ling Chan

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lending A Paw

Vancouver Opera went to the dogs this past Sunday with BCSPCA's Paw for a Cause walk at Jericho Beach.

The weather was just perfect for a walk: sunny and hot. Thousands came out to revel in this puppy heaven and help to raise funds for BCSPCA. All around us were pooches of all sizes: from Paris Hilton's purse sized chihuahua dogs to Digby the biggest dog in the world dogs.

While waiting for the 2.5 km walk to begin, one could be entertained by the agility demonstrations, or partake in the face painting and spray tattoos for both humans and dogs (!) or take a wander in the big marquee tent where there were displays from local animal rescue and welfare groups.

There were people of all ages participating in the walk. Lots of families too. Some of the VO staff even brought their kidlets and their own pets out for the event.

Here's a clip I found of Butch who filmed the walk and the events of the day. If you look closely, you can see the Vancouver Opera family in the background.

Look for us in our black VO t-shirts! (and the red wagon!)

I'll give you a hint of where you can see us:

*as Butch is introducing himself
*at the 5 to 6 minute mark (listen closely for our General Director's boisterous laugh)
*from the 9 minute to the end mark

Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday than in the company of lots of four legged furry faced friends?

Thanks to everyone who came out in support of the walk!

~ Ling Chan

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Operamania 101: Life in Technicolour

Summer is over. And although it isn't officially autumn yet, it sure feels like it, with the overcast skies and the drizzly rain outside.

Colour. I need me an infusion of techni-colour!

Filmed in Glasgow, Scotland, Sony Bravia used the overture from the opera, La gazza ladra (the thieving magpie) for its 2006 high definition LCD "Colour Like No Other" tv campaigns.

In the commercial, 70,000 liters of paint explode like fireworks all around a drab and dreary grey building. The pyrotechnic displays were perfectly synchronized with the instantly recognizable overture by 19th century composer Gioacchino Rossini.

The commercial ends when the building and surrounding wasteland is completely bathed in brilliant splashes of all the colours of the rainbow.

As grey skies signal the end of summer and a chill threatens BC arts groups, I'd like to think this Sony commercial serves as a reminder that the arts are like the splashes of colour in our daily lives. Without arts and culture, our worlds would just be empty and dull.

So don on that rain slicker and them boots. Crank up the Rossini. We need to splash around in the magic of bright colours.

~ Ling Chan

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Operamania 101: Bring on Da Heavies

This week's Operamania brings to the ring two Hollywood heavyweights.

Introducing the red corner, hailing from New York City, with a professional record of 2 Academy Awards, he is known for his method acting and long-time collobation with director Martin Scorsese, even taking a stab at comedy with Meet the Fockers, please welcome Robert "You talkin' to me?" De Niroooooo!

His opponent in the blue corner, also hailing from New York and is rated by many as the best pound for pound actor of the last 2 decades. Winner of one Oscar, 2 Golden Globes, one Emmy, 2 Tony awards and 3 Golden Raspberry awards, please welcome Al "Say hello to my little friend!" Pacinooooooo!

*Crowd roars*

These two actor continually go head to head for the bragging rights for the best actor of all time.

It's a surprise that in both actor's lengthy career, their movie paths only crossed 3 times. Pacino and De Niro first starred together as gangsters in the 1974 movie, The Godfather Part II. And it wasn't until 1995's Heat that they met again on screen. This time on opposite sides of the law. It would be more than another decade before teaming up again in 2008's Righteous Kill, in which both actors play cops.

But goes to show even when these powerhouse actors are not making a movie together, there can be something that can link them to each other. And that something is opera.

In the opening credits of De Niro's Raging Bull and the climax of Pacino's Godfather III, there plays an intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, a one act opera by Pietro Mascagni. An intermezzo, for the uninitiated, is an interlude inserted between the acts of an opera.

When the Intermezzo Sinfonico is played during Cavalleria Rusticana, Tirridu has seduced and impregnated Santuzza in retaliation to hearing that his fiancee Lola just upped and married Alfio. Lola who is jealous of Santuzza begins an adulterous affair with Tirridu. Santuzza who has been excommunicated from church because of the whole being with child and not having a husband thing, tells Alfio of his wife's affair.

Yeah, if there's ever a point in this opera for a break, it would be now.

After the intermezzo, Alfio challenges Tirridu for a fight to the death.

Thank goodness there's no real life fight between De Niro and Pacino for acting chops. But let's say there was? Who would you wager your bankroll on?

~ Ling Chan