Fading Gigolo

When is a Woody Allen movie not a Woody Allen movie? Maybe when you cast him in someone else’s film.

Fading Gigolo (2013) is a dark quirky romantic comedy that has superficial resemblances to a Woody Allen film.

  • It’s a comedy of manners
  • It’s classically structured
  • It’s a New York story
  • It features great performances from a small cast
  • The jazzy score creates subtle moods

But upon closer inspection there are a few interesting differences.

For starters, there’s the performance by Woody Allen. For once he seems relatively well-adjusted. Or in other words he simply delivers his lines because we’re not really meant to focus on him, Murray, the owner of a failed specialty bookstore.

Nope, this is someone else’s story and that someone else is John Turturro, as writer of the story, director and playing the protagonist, who may have the gorgeous name of Fioravante (because he also has a few other aliases).  But this name suits him well, given that he’s an expert flower arranger, among so many skills you just know he’d make an ideal friend & companion.

As usual I’ll avoid giving it all away, but I do have to say a few things about Turturro’s remarkable film.

Within sixty seconds Turturro has immersed us in the plot and justified the film’s title, as Murray casually tells the younger man with the gorgeous name that his doctor (an attractive woman) needs to find someone to participate in a threesome: and you can guess who’s going to be that someone.  Murray is a deus ex machina, a cross between an old-fashioned Jewish matchmaker and a pimp.

Is Turturro teasing us?

Maybe film-makers really are pimps, as capable of making dreams come true as Bergman or Fellini. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the one who sets this all in motion, enabling the fulfillment of dreams –whether we mean the dreams of the lonely doctor or of his middle-aged male friend – is a film director.

And is Turturro perhaps saying that everyone in film (actors and collaborators) are the director’s  ho? Maybe all of the above.

We have the weirdest mix of characters in this film. Sophia Vergara & Sharon Stone give us a very upscale version of sexiness, women who can afford to pay for their pleasure even if you’d never expect such remarkable women to need to avail themselves of a professional companion. We’re certainly in a magical place of wish-fulfillment and forgiveness, not least because we get to see Sharon Stone.

I am again impressed by Liev Schreiber’s range, his ability to get deep inside a character, to thoroughly surprise you, and all the while speak in one of the most musical speaking voices I’ve ever heard. Between Schreiber and Vanessa Paradis, as well as a few gorgeous moments from Stone, we get to hear subtly nuanced voices, teased out in delicious clarity by a director with an ear for detail.

I won’t tell you anything further, for fear of giving it all away. But Turturro does offer us several moments of pure lyrical stillness. As with any well-executed classic, Fading Gigolo bears repeated watchings –although as an opera fan and lover of great film music I’m inclined to call them “hearings”– leading you to more and more nuances in subsequent viewings. I’ve only seen it twice in 24 hours, but look forward to seeing it again.

Now if only Turturro would make more films.

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Tonight I saw Love in the Age of AutoCorrect, a Loose TEA Music Theatre adaptation of Stravinsky’s Mavra and Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne on the Terrace of Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu.

I’m trying to catch up (the world is changing, right?  That’s not news).  I joined Twitter a few days ago.  (old people bewildered by technology? That’s not news).

An audience note made it clear we’re not in Kansas anymore:

please talk, text, take photos, Instagram, Facebook and most of all Share@! Use #Autocorrectoperas or tweet to @LooseTeaOpera to talk to us@ Just try not to check your email, cause you’re supposed to be having fun.


Gregory Finney and Morgan Strickland as the modern couple.

Why not?  In these operas, the characters onstage were texting etc, why shouldn’t we in the audience?

I embraced the opportunity to boldly tweet / post / click, etc.

Justin Stolz leaning forward to dust my iPhone lens

Justin Stolz leaning forward to dust my iPhone lens

The photos on this page are mine, including one magic moment when Justin Stolz as Mavra agreed to dust the lens of my camera (i have an out of focus shot of him gamely controlling his laughter a moment after his bold ad lib).

I also have a shot of Andrew’s screen –held up to me by Keenan Viau—showing that the romantic tit for tat he was engaging was literally tit (even though I didn’t see any tats: see for yourself).



The story-lines of both operas have been reframed as modern rom-com, heavy on the techno-speak.  Texting and sexting become key plot points, even though we’re still listening to Stravinsky and Mozart.  The English adaptations by Alaina Viau and Markus Kopp jar with the modern references, all the while in operatic singing: which might explain some of the explosive hilarity in the room.  Imagine operatic voices singing “I love you more than my Xbox.”  I found it easier to take in the Stravinsky than the Mozart, but there are huge laughs to be had in both.

There was certainly no fear that a purist could reject the modernization, given that neither opera is particularly well-known.

Gregory Finney, Parent in Mavra, and Mark Z (a modern computer magician) in Andrew and Andrea was remarkable to watch, often hysterically funny even in the close proximity of the intimate presentation.  Morgan Strickland was two very different characters, a determined romantic as Parasha and then a very contemporary innocent as Andrea, every word enunciated with crystal clarity.   Stolz had some of the biggest laughs in drag as Mavra, at least until he realizes (s)he needs a shave (“Holy Shit I need to shave”), and is caught in the act: of shaving. Viau too, was two very different characters, between the more staid neighbour in the Stravinsky and his edgy Andrew; he has a genuine gift for physical comedy and a very likeable smile.

Jennifer Tung was solid at the piano.  Meanwhile, Alaina Viau wears several hats with Loose TEA (listed in the program as director, conductor and adapter), including having had the extra drama this month of having her original venue cancelled.  Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu came to their rescue, in a surprisingly congenial space, both visually & acoustically.

Love in the Age of AutoCorrect will be presented again Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30 pm.

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The Most Popular Operas

I teach a course at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies called “The Most Popular Operas”, a great excuse to watch and listen to some of the most wonderful music ever composed.

“Popular operas”? While the first video you get on Youtube when you search “Justin Bieber” has over 93 million views, when i typed “Three Tenors” I found a link exceeding 4 million: not too shabby.   Yes opera singers can be stars.

But “popular” is still sometimes a bad word. Cinematic excellence is sometimes ignored by the Academy Awards, even though worthy of consideration. Robin Williams made us laugh, but at Oscar time? A more serious film such as The Fisher King (for which Williams was nominated), or Good Will Hunting (including the role for which Williams finally won honours) earned him more respect.

Similarly, operas can be tear-jerkers or comedies that sell every ticket.  Or opera  can be serious art that earns critical respect without selling all the tickets.   You may not realize just how popular opera has been: in past centuries, and even now in some parts of the world.  I use Operabase.com—an international website capturing box office statistics—as my authority on popularity.

The objective of this course is a pain-free introduction to opera, using popular operas as a natural lead-in, the same way that we’d study drama via Shakespeare or the symphony via Beethoven. I avoid needless jargon because i want you to understand.  We engage in each work on its own terms, exploring the cultural background. The word “opera” has meant something different in every century, and continues to evolve with changing styles & tastes.

In the process of being introduced to the form of opera, meeting the stars who you can find on DVDs & recordings, you’ll also be introduced to the operas being presented in the coming season by Toronto companies:
• Handel’s Alcina (Opera Atelier—October).
• Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (OA—April)
• Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Canadian Opera Company—January/February)
• Rossini’s Barber of Seville (COC—April/May)
• Verdi’s Falstaff (COC—October-November)
• Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (COC—October-November)
• Wagner’s Die Walküre (COC—January/February)
A double bill of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle (COC—May)

Some of these operas are nothing more than vehicles for brilliant singing, some are intense psychological explorations through music, but they’re all magic, opportunities to lose yourself. There’s no right way to enjoy opera, but my aim is to help you find your own favourites while exposing you to beauty & pleasure.

Don’t blame me if you develop a new habit: going to the opera. I believe it’s contagious.

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company/Opéra National de Bordeaux (ONB)/Houston Grand Opera co-production of The Barber of Seville, 2012, ONB. (Photo: Guillaume Bonnaud). Click on picture for more information.

Posted in Cinema, Music and musicology, Opera, Opera Course, video & DVDs | 2 Comments

Forbidden Music

Although my luggage for the trip to the cottage included a pile of books on diverse subjects –popular culture, a novel, psychology, and a few musicology books—the one that seized my imagination was the darkest of the group. How could it be otherwise, in a week already coloured by Israel vs Hamas, and Russia continuing in this centennial year of the First World War to remind many of the aggressive stance of the Nazis in the run up to the Second, a week when we lost Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, conductor Franz Bruggen, and soprano Licia Albanese.

click for link to purchase book from Yale University Press

No wonder I was drawn to Michael Haas’s Forbidden Music: the Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis.  Lady Gaga et al would perhaps have been more suitable in a sunnier week (am I talking about the weather or the headlines?). Haas’s study is more than I bargained for. When I alluded to it in my recent blog post about the books I was taking with me, I cited Viktor Ullmann & Der Kaiser von Atlantis. I assumed I’d be reading about the 1930s.

I did not expect to be reading about the 1814 Congress of Vienna.

The multi-disciplinarity of current scholarship keeps surprising me. Yes I know, this is what we’re to expect: that for example, any good book about a musical phenomenon must address its context, the culture from which it springs.

But I didn’t anticipate this. Music is only one part of this book.  I did not expect to have so much insight into anti-Semitism, into the heart & soul of central Europe over the past two centuries.  These insights are presented without judgment, but dispassionately, with a scientist’s clarity and lack of bias.  We’re given insights into the Jewish soul, the bourgeois population seeking to assimilate in every aspect: and that includes the consumers & creators of music.

And we see the resistance to that assimilation of those in Germany & Austria (that is, the various incarnations of each country).

In passing you can’t help noticing how many others share the anti-Semitic views of Richard Wagner, but who’ve been largely given a free pass by history. Hanslick & Brahms have a rather intriguing place in this story, considering that

  • While Brahms is usually seen as the anti-thesis of Wagner, he too was anti-Semitic (although he didn’t publish treatises, just cried out his bigotry at people across crowded restaurants)
  • Hanslick, the apologist for Brahms, and Wagner’s great enemy, epitomizes the troubling question, a man who was probably partly Jewish but concealed his race. I squirmed reading about him, as i squirmed for Schreker and Schoenberg

Maybe this isn’t news to anyone –that racism was endemic—but Haas’s treatment is spectacular for its insight & clarity. I’ve written before about the Mendelssohn family (having seen a wonderful DVD) and the mystery of the European Jews who stayed put, apparently incapable of seeing the disaster that was coming. What I especially admire about Haas’s study is how well he frames 20th century events as a natural development from the psychology of 19th century culture, which furnishes the inescapable context. Reading the story of the Jews’ quest for assimilation and acceptance helps explain a great deal.

I found myself unable to put the book down, dark as it is, because it seemed to open up this nasty world for the first time. Monstrous as Wagner was, he no longer seems as inexplicable as before. Mahler, Korngold, Schreker and Schoenberg are placed into a kind of history that’s much more than musicology.

I’m not finished this book that I only started a few days ago, but even so I’m comfortable recommending Haas’s book to anyone intrigued by the music of Germans (meaning the broader Germany that includes Austria-Hungary) in the last century or two.

Posted in Books & Literature, Music and musicology, Opera, Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

My eyes are bigger than my stomach

I have reading to do.

Do you ever go to a bookstore and get carried away with what you see? Of course with a bookstore there’s no time-limit. You can buy books that you read this week, or this year, or: much later.  I find that money is what stops me: that is, running out of money.

If you take books from a library, there’s no monetary concern –so long as you return the books and avoid the fines– bur there’s some expectation that you’ll read them, because they have to be returned.  It’s anti-social to take out too many books, and makes no sense when one can only do so many things at once. One can only read so many books at a time. Indeed, some would say you can’t read more than one book at a time. I’m funny, I usually have a few going at a time, but books of different sorts.

But right now, I am in the literary equivalent to that place where someone might say “your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” Too ambitious, too hungry. I’ve taken out more than I can possibly read.

I am going to take a bit of a break from the blog world.  This will be the last thing i post here for a few days.

Is this similar to what they do on a farm? You can’t just keep harvesting crops from the ground without exhausting the nourishment in the soil. Sometimes you have to give it a break. I believe it’s called leaving the land “fallow”.

But it’s probably a bad analogy. If I were to leave my mind to go fallow I’d be hanging out, window-shopping. staring at the garden, playing the piano, walking around enjoying the summer. I wouldn’t worry about my brain, but, oh well, I have this hunger for books, and am intent on reading. I can’t possibly read them all, at least not this week. But they’re inspiring just to look at.

What books are inspiring me?

1) Wagner Kino: Spuren und Wirkungen Richard Wagners in der Filmkunst by Kristina Jaspers, Steffen Vogt and Jan Drehmel, is eye candy that seduced me today in the library. As with Martin Geck’s Wagner book, this one exhibits structural features that could in some ways be influenced by Wagner’s operas. Where Geck had digressive episodes examining other figures from Wagner’s life, this book features a back and forth between essays and interviews, including Werner Herzog and Hans Jürgen Syberberg. But I’m not going to read these essays in German, not this week anyway, as I don’t have the patience it would take, although when motivated I’ve done this before with the help of a dictionary. This week I’m more interested in mining the book for its images.

What a beautiful book!

2) Richard Wagner: New Light on a Musical Life by Lohn Louis Digaetani looks promising, with a flamboyant cover illustration. The author says we might wonder “why another biography”, but explains that there’s new correspondence & new documents that make a new book potentially interesting.

Hm… I’ll look at this eventually. This won’t be the first thing I read.

3) Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis by Michael Haas is a book I’m intrigued by, having seen a review (NY Times I think). The topic is endlessly fascinating to me, layers of pain & angst that reveal themselves wonderfully both in the histories and in the musical texts. It’s been over a year since I’ve mentioned Kaiser von Atlantis, a work that changes how you listen to “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” forever. We’ll be hearing Gerald Finley here in Toronto soon, so why not this clip again: that puts the music into its context…? Finley’s singing of these chromatic passages is some of the most impressive singing i have ever encountered.  
4) Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion, and Culture (a collection of essays by several authors) is another book with a few exotic visuals, although this one doesn’t require a dictionary. I picked it up because I like Lady Gaga and wanted to see what contemporary academics are writing about her. Given the reception of her latest album (unfriendly and hostile as I recall) I’m worried that her career may be in its twilight. I think of her as a very talented artist, not least because she’s funny… 
5) The premise for the novel Orfeo by Richard Powers is so intriguing, I have to check it out. Is this a spoiler? I encountered this, and it enticed me to take out the book. When you start inter-connecting music and microbiology, writing music in microbes, with a thriller subtext, the inter-disciplinary challenge grabs me on principle. I want to see if he can do it (or if i mis-read what i thought i saw in the review). The reviews I have seen suggest that the writing is virtuosic, but I want to see if it moves me, or merely impresses me.  As with the composition of music, sometimes we’re overly pre-occupied with questions of competence & showing that you actually belong, rather than composing something (music or text) that’s enjoyable or beautiful or in some sense meaningful. I suppose I am not interested in writing that’s meant to impress others who can follow your complex games, rather than a genuine expression of something. But now I am curious, and must see for myself.

And so it’s not totally crazy, as they’re from different food-groups. I have 1-a picture book, 2-a biography, 3-history, 4-contemporary culture and 5-a novel, hmm yet all very narrow in their focus on music.

Or will I simply stare at the sky?

Posted in Books & Literature, Cinema, video & DVDs, Music and musicology, Opera, Popular music & culture, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Angriest Man

When I was a child the word was “mad”. I get mad. You get mad.

Later I decided I was mis-using “mad” because there was a better word: “anger”. It’s a subtler thing, a more adult thing, or so my seven-year old self must have thought. Mad is this other thing, because mad is crazy, mad is insane, mad is put-him-in-a-straitjacket. Angry, on the other hand? It’s something you choose. You make me angry. Ah so it’s not even my fault, or so I thought as a child.

Of course I’ve changed my tune at least a few times since then, even before I saw The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014), tonight’s occasion to contemplate the nature of anger.

Robin Williams plays Henry Altmann, the aforementioned angriest man. It must be hard being trapped in a stereotype, even harder when you have multiple stereotypes. This is not the frenetic comedian we first encounter early in Williams’ career (as in Mork and Mindy or Good Morning Viet Nam), nor the over-the-top cartoon voice Williams (as in Aladdin or Happy Feet) but spiritual break-through Williams, as in Dead Poets Society, Hook, Fisher King, or Good Will Hunting (and there are plenty more I could name). In fairness, Williams is a chameleon of huge range, who likely has added life & legs to any script he’s ever seen.  He could play all the parts if they’d let him.

And he’s remarkable, when angry. Anger is the river that runs through this film, erupting from the circumstances of the story, and Williams’ Altmann could be Huck Finn, given his eagerness to pole his way down the angry river. Williams is physically in the film, and he also narrates what’s inside his head, so we have his emotions framed for us.

There’s another parallel tale, of Doctor Sheila Gill, Altmann’s doctor played by Mila Kunis, and also having her own nutty voyage complete with pills, rages, a dead pet and yes, also narrating her story from her own side.

Speaking as someone who sees anger as madness and something to be overcome, I enjoyed the ride through this film, an amusing study in emotions and miscommunication. This is the most believable Williams portrayal I’ve seen in a long time, possibly because he’s no longer the big star terrorizing directors, possibly because he’s older and wiser.  I am afraid of older Hollywood actors who bray at the camera like a cautionary tale about too much cocaine and not enough directorial restraint (are you listening, Al?)

At times this is a slow, ponderous film, yet in many places it’s delightful, unpredictable, and genuinely deep. I can’t help noticing that the director is Phil Alden Robinson, a man who’s directed fewer than ten films in the past 25 years, including Field of Dreams, one of my absolute favourites.

Yes Field of Dreams can be glacial at times, yet ultimately rewarding. It also includes a marvellous performance from James Earl Jones, who is one of the best things about The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.

Will you like the film? I don’t know. It may have too much content, too much philosophy, and not enough comedy or drama. At times it’s like a parable, but tonight this is precisely what i needed.  I’ve had more than enough anger lately.

Let me close with a series of quotes I found on the internet concerning anger. Just google “quotes anger” and you’ll find zillions more. These are my favourites. I think you’ll have to decide for yourself whether anger is something you can work with or not.

  • Horace:
    Anger is a momentary madness
  • Buddha:
    Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
  • Seneca:
    Anger is acid that does more harm to the vessel in which it is kept than to anything onto which it is poured.
  • Achebe: An angry man is always a stupid man.
  • And someone I can’t identify said:
    Anger is like a poison you take, expecting someone else to die.
Posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Psychology and perception, Reviews, Spirituality & Religion | Leave a comment

Ten Questions for Greg Finney

Who is Gregory Finney?  As he puts it in one of his biographies, he’s “a predominantly Comedic Baritone with Tenoristic leanings and background”.  This is an artist who is a bit of a chamelon, able to sing high or low, play comic or serious.  Escamillo (Loose TEA Music Theatre ) AND Alcindoro (Against the Grain).

Finney will be back with Loose TEA Music Theatre for roles in their double bill Love in the Age of Autocorrect beginning August 21st.

Originally from Cape Breton Island  Finney’s opera career started out by something he calls “a bit of a happy accident”. Trained as a classical actor through the Royal Conservatory of Music in Speech and Drama, he continued his studies with a Music Degree, double majoring in Music Theatre and Vocal Performance from Acadia University. He’s sung in honour choirs (Nova Scotia Youth Choir, National Youth Choir), Professional Choirs (Toronto Mendelssohn Singers), Musical Theatre (Footloose, Beauty and the Beast, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) Operetta (Die Fledermaus, Countess Maritza, The Merry Widow) and Opera (Figaro’s Wedding, La boheme, Die Zauberflöte, La Donna del Lago) and has a number of Canadian, New York, and World Premieres under his belt.

On the occasion of his appearance in Loose TEA Music Theatre’s Love in the Age of Autocorrect I ask Finney 10 questions: five about himself and five more about his portrayals.

1-Are you more like your father or your mother?

I’m like my mom for sure! She’s a spitfire, that Sheila Finney. She’s a very stubborn, strong, and overly-supportive person to everyone. She’s become the matriarch even on my father’s side of the family. We get riled up easily, but we calm down just as fast.People will be surprised to know that I’m like her a lot in that I’m constantly worrying about something. I come off pretty calm and collected, but inside the brain it’s a whirlwind of panic, anxiety, worry, celebration, music and wait-am-I-supposed-to-be-somewhere-else-right-now? She gave me the fearlessness to try anything at least once, and being open to appreciate new things. That’s the only way I was able to open my mind up from my pretentious beginnings as an all-black wearing aspiring Thespian to a working opera singer.

My dad gave me this pretty badass beard though, so it’s kind of a wash.

Gregory Finney

Gregory Finney

2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being an opera singer?

I think the best thing would be that I get to combine three of my favourite things: Singing, Acting, and making music with others. As someone usually cast in a comprimario role, I find myself getting to sing some of the most beautiful ensemble music in the world. Also, I get to flex my comic chops a lot in these roles usually. The worst thing would have to be either A) the pay rate disparity between union and non-union performers and B) the amount of times I’ve told someone about my show and I get “I’ve never heard of that one…” in response. I just try to use that moment to teach them a bit about it, and hopefully talk them into maybe seeing their first Opera.

3- Who do you like to listen to or watch?

First up, Beyoncé is my spirit animal.

Other than my colleagues in rehearsal (I know it sounds dorky – but I love it, I’ve learned more in the wings watching my coworkers than ever have at the crook of a piano), in my down time I don’t tend to listen to Opera/Classical unless the mood strikes me (I’m always up for a good Verdi or Mozart break though). If you see me around town, I’ll have my iPod blasting – seriously, BLASTING – and it can be anything from The Band to Aretha Franklin to Naughty By Nature to Swedish Folk Music to my Cape Breton/Celtic Favourites. The majority of my music tends to be R & B/Hip Hop or classic Motown era soul or any singer who seriously commits to their vocal production. Current artists on regular rotation include Pharell, Emeli Sandé, Frank Ocean, Adele, Florence and the Machine, Aretha, Candi Staton, and a TON of Otis Redding. 

I’m a big fan of TV and Movies that don’t tend to challenge me intellectually. I love a good brainy artsy film, but I find I like to escape into explosions, magic, and fighting. So, anything with Sally Field, Meryl Streep, William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Jennifer Lawrence for truth onscreen. Or Dragons. Or LOTR. Or Harry Potter. Or any of the Marvel Movies… I’m pretty easy in the theatre to be honest.

4- What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

Oh My Goodness!! I’d love to be able to A) Ride a horse B) Swordfight (not fencing) C) Combine the two. I have a real thing about wishing I was a real live medieval knight. I don’t know why? But I always thought I’d be good in a joust. It probably stems from my Tolkien addiction – I want to ride a horse with a broadsword aloft and yell “Forth Eorlingas” just once before I die. I also wish I could tumble. I’m a pretty physical actor and I’m a fairly good dancer so I wish I could just rip off a back flip or a side aerial once in awhile.

5- When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favorite thing to do?

I like to eat. A lot. I enjoy Whiskey and Prosecco while I eat and lighter beers like pilsners and lagers. I also go through serious bouts of ravenous reading – but then I stop and it takes a while to get that momentum back up. I spend a lot of time on imgur.com laughing at things. I have roommate dates where we like to make dinner together and catch up on our favourite TV shows. I also like escaping from the city to somewhere where there’s water. I grew up on the Atlantic Ocean and I miss it a lot. I can trick myself sometimes with Lake Ontario because I can’t see the other side of it, but you can tell it’s nowhere near as deep. The blue is a remarkable colour in the north Atlantic. You don’t see it anywhere else. Oh, and I like to have dance parties in my kitchen/living room/wherever I’m standing.


Five more concerning the upcoming works from Loose TEA Opera…

1- Please talk a bit about the roles you’re singing and how you approach this kind of part.

Well for this double bill of one-acts I’m kept pretty busy. In the Mozart Andrew & Andrea (Bastien und Bastienne) I play Mark Z. (Colas). If you know the story of Cosi Fan Tutte at all, this was sort of the precursor to that work with my character being the prototype for Don Alfonso. The good thing about it is, it’s Mozart. So the shapes and the melodies are very familiar and singable and easy to commit to memory. With a role like Mark Z., he’s cocky, smart, well-to-do, good-looking and unfortunately is entirely aware of all these things. It’s a fun conceit to be working in for someone as self-deprecating as I am all the time. He thinks everything he does is the best thing for any situation – as we all know someone like this we’re all well aware that this is not always, in fact is rarely, the case.

The Stravinsky poses a bit more of a challenge for me. The role I’m playing is of the Father. This has been adapted from the original character of “Mother” which was written for a Contralto. The range sits well, although it is quite low at points, but the style of lyricism is a bit foreign to what I’m used to as a Lyric Baritone. There are distinct differences in writing for the female voice and the male voice. I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before when I played Prince Orlofsky in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s DIE FLEDERMAUS. The tessitura remains similar, but it’s the flourishes and the navigation into the extreme ranges are different between men and women, so it takes a bit of time to finesse it so that I still sing the line Stravinsky intended, but not sound like a man pretending to be a woman. The shows themselves are quite funny so obviously I feel right at home. I don’t think (Loose TEA Artistic Director) Alaina relies on me being funny, the material is funny and as long as we’re doing our work right, then the audience will laugh.

Loose TEA Director Alaina Viau (complete with tea cup?)

Gregory is a funny guy, Mark Z. isn’t really a funny guy, but he sets up some funny situations. It’s all part-and-parcel with the marrying of acting and singing for this genre. I view Opera as a play. But the language that the play is written in is Classical Vocal Music, and the Playwright is the composer AND the librettist.

2- What do you love about Loose TEA and this kind of operatic project?

I love working with companies that young people are steering. Don’t get me wrong, I revere the old guard and continue to admire and learn from them all at any opportunity I get, but with Opera as it stands in today’s current climate, I think it’s up to us (the new guard, if you will) to redefine what “Opera” and “Going to the Opera” mean in the 21st century. Gone are the days of putting on a tux or a gown on a Tuesday night to sit through a presentation of Carmen. I think our first step is to make it part of popular culture again, like it was back in the day when Opera Stars were the matinee idols, not just the movie stars and the photoshopped men and women in glossy magazines. Every time I meet someone who’s come to the opera “for the first time” to one of my shows, I usually hear these two things. “Wow, that was so great!” and “I understood WAY more of it than I expected to.” People get scared of the foreign language thing and forget that we’re telling a story. We’re going to act it out for you, trust me you will understand it all. I think the first step is getting that reaction from new audiences, while not alienating the purist/classicists. It’s a delicate balance, and that’s why I like working with companies like LooseTEA. It gives the public a new perspective on some very old stories with very contemporary themes. I also like the intimate venues. Smaller houses allow me to connect with my audience on a more visceral level.

3- Talk about the title and how these operas are being updated, made relevant to a modern audience.

The two operas (the Mozart is really an operetta in my view) deal with mixed signals and crossed-wires. They deal with miscommunication of the written word. Well, we don’t write letters very often these days, unless you count texts. Which really, we should – they’re just short letters that you don’t have to send through Canada Post. I think changing the “letters” to “texts” relieves the audience of having to justify to themselves “Why didn’t they just say it out loud? They were right there!” or “Why didn’t she give him the letter herself?” We live in an age where once a day I get an “Oops, wrong chat…” message. When you draw that parallel, the audience is given more free reign to revel in their suspension of disbelief (Wait… what? They sing EVERYTHING?)

4- Please put Loose TEA and your recent opera work into context, in a culture that doesn’t always bother with opera & classical music.

It’s my goal to remind Canada (and hopefully the World if at all possible) that Opera is more than just pretty voices singing loudly. It’s theatre. These are stories. The characters are people – often REAL people from history – that are 3 dimensional, with stakes in the circumstances to varying degrees. Yes, it’s about lovely singing – but it’s opera, the singing should be a given. We need to get back to making this theatre. Audiences are drifting away to other forms of theatrical expression because we’ve been failing them in recent history in this regard. They pay upwards to $300 a ticket or more (for a fancy seat in a fancy house) for an opera, and what we’ve been giving them is a concert where all dramatic impulse is dropped at the downbeat of an aria. Opera singers have an AMAZING capability of sound. The colours, volumes, ranges that are produced are unparalleled and to think that you can’t sing that well and act that well at the same time is ridiculous – I offer Sondra Radvanovsky’s recent performance in Roberto Devereux. I believe it’s performers like her that are what’s going to take Opera through, from now in the 21st century and into the 22nd.

Leonardo Capalbo as Roberto Devereux and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta in the Canadian Opera Company production of Roberto Devereux, 2014. Conductor Corrado Rovaris, director Stephen Lawless, set designer Benoît Dugardyn, costume designer Ingeborg Bernerth and lighting designer Mark McCullough. Photo: Michael Cooper

Leonardo Capalbo as Roberto Devereux and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta in the Canadian Opera Company production of Roberto Devereux, 2014. Conductor Corrado Rovaris, director Stephen Lawless, set designer Benoît Dugardyn, costume designer Ingeborg Bernerth and lighting designer Mark McCullough. Photo: Michael Cooper

LooseTEA and other opera companies I’ve sung with recently (Against the Grain Theatre, Fawn Opera etc…) are all leading the charge with this mentality. The story is now gaining more importance in the overall presentation. Audiences don’t want to just hear Rodolfo and Mimi sing that they love each other, they want to FEEL it as well – and I believe they have every right to feel it, and it’s our job as actors (yes we ARE actors and my favourite companies to work for don’t refer to us as singers: we are called actors) to guide them to this. We can’t give it to them directly, but we can show them where it is.

5- Is there anyone out there who you particularly admire, and who has influenced you?

There’s a bunch of them. I’d be remiss if I didn’t send a shout out to Guillermo Silva-Marin over at Toronto Operetta Theatre/Voicebox: Opera In Concert/Summer Opera Lyric Theatre. When I made the conscious choice to focus on operatic rep as opposed to Musical Theatre, he took me under his wing, taught me the differences between the two genres with respect to music preparation, role preparation, hierarchies, and rehearsal ethics and etiquette. He also guided me into discovering which fach is really best suited to my skills and vocal colour. He’s been a friend, a teacher and a colleague. He’s also very supportive of young singers fresh out of their degrees (or often, still pursuing them).

Director Joel Ivany

Director Joel Ivany

Joel Ivany and the crew over at Against The Grain Theatre are very dear to me. I’ve done a few shows with them now and every time I do it’s one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life – musically and dramatically. Also, being able to present works in a new way with my peers (who in my opinion are the best in the country) makes me feel like all the years of having coffee for dinner are paying off.

I owe an incredible debt of gratitude to all the collaborative pianists who’ve helped shape my niche. Nicole Bellamy, Jenna Douglas, Michael Rose, David Eliakis, Christopher Mokrzewski, Jennifer Tung and more I’m sure I’m forgetting. These folks are the best at what they do, and they are just as instrumental (see what I did there?) at helping us singers prepare our roles as voice teachers and directors are and they never get the praise they deserve publicly.


Loose TEA Music Theatre present Love in the Age of Autocorrect,
adaptations of operas by Mozart & Stravinsky:
August 21-24 at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu
198A Davenport Road, Toronto, ON M5R 3R3
Tickets: $30 general,
$25 student with ID available on our website or at the door

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