September Buzz

In the circles I share in person or online I am thinking about the question of buzz, to which I alluded recently.

Julie sitsI’m excited to be going to a brand-new opera tomorrow night, namely Julie Sits Waiting.  It’s hard for there to be a buzz before anyone has heard a new work, so we shall see how “she” (Julie) is received at her opening.  Newness excites me, so I am sure this will be fun.

In the meantime, TIFF has drowned out any other sort of buzz.  When paparazzi from all corners of the globe suddenly learn how to spell “t-o-r-o-n-t-o-“ and even start clogging our streets, chasing the beautiful people, live performance, particularly of classical music & opera, can be forgiven if it doesn’t just fall by the wayside, but cowers, daunted in comparison.

And so, my question is not so much “what’s next” as “what is the next thing you’re interested to see and hear”?  I will offer my answer: an opinion about what I think should be getting the attention.


One of the Fledermausketeers, in Constance Hoffman over-the-top designs. Note, the best pictures can be seen via the COC’s Facebook group (click on the image).

So far in my small corner of the world, the new Canadian Opera Company Die Fledermaus is more than holding its own, and that’s probably according to plan.  I would bet that the COC are making the effort to show us flamboyant photos of the Fledermausketeers, confident in their other fall offering.  When the other opera is Il trovatore starring Ramón Vargas, Elza van den Heever, Elena Manistina and Russell Braun, there’s likely no reason to worry that nobody is yet discussing it.  After all, both of these operas open at the end of this month (Trovatore on Sept 29th, Fledermaus onOctober 4th)

There’s another entry, though, that deserves buzz.  Nobody that I am aware of has yet said anything about it, but I get buzzed just thinking about Opera Atelier’s Der Freischütz.  Set to open October 27th (when the COC operas would be coming to their last few performances in their runs) the first historically informed Der Freischutz in Canada is definitely news.

I have to wonder if that whole historically informed performance (HIP) smokescreen has been counter-productive for Opera Atelier.  Not long ago, as we sat around the table for the last COC podcast, discussing our personal highlights of the past season, nobody mentioned Opera Atelier.  I wish I had remembered to at least give their Don Giovanni a mention.  The HIP discourse, a conversation that has served to shelter Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski from certain kinds of criticism is like a sword that cuts both ways.  I believe that as a result of their constant emphasis of HIP, Pynkoski has been under-estimated as a creative force in this city, and therefore not getting the credit he richly deserves.  His Don Giovanni was a very witty take on a work that I thought I knew inside out, a breath of fresh air.

David Fallis

Opera Atelier’s resident Music Director, David Fallis

When they come to the romantic music of Freischütz I expect Pynkoski to be as original as he’s already been with the baroque and classical periods.  Much will depend on David Fallis, back from Glimmerglass with a fresh score–and a different century– to conquer.

So what about it… what are you looking forward to?

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2 Responses to September Buzz

  1. I think OA has two problems as far as “buzz” goes; one of style and one of substance. Let’s take substance first. OA has been going for twenty years now and very little has changed. They still have the power to delight people coming to them new, as the reaction of friends to Armide at Versailles and Glimmerglass showed, but there’s little to keep the existing Toronto audience enthused. I find it really hard to get excited about a season that features The Magic Flute again! I will go and see Der Freischutz out of curiosity but I’ll mentally be marking my Pinkowski/Zingg bingo card and waiting for the castanets. I really have no expectation that it will be particularly enlightening.

    Then there’s style. OA doesn’t seem to care for publicity. Apart from handing out flyers at MetHD broadcasts the approach is perfunctory and sometimes worse. Last year’s plug for Clemenza at one of the COC lunchtime concerts was embarrassing. What was billed as a concert was 90% talk by Marshall and much of that was about how he had thought Clemenza was rubbish and had to be talked into doing it. Really compelling stuff! OA’s use of social media is poor too. They could take lessons from a company like Against the Grain who do understand how to get the word out.

  2. barczablog says:

    I think the point about Marshall & publicity may be well taken. I am reminded of some of the small businesses I have seen, whose growth may be hampered because they’re too hands-on, and do not let the specialists do the various tasks. But don’t forget, Opera Atelier are much smaller than the COC, still taking their first tentative steps towards broader recognition, and yes, expanding in tough economic times. How fortunate for us in Toronto that we’re seeing our companies prosper when in other cities arts organizations are not just curtailing their programs but even going belly up.

    But i disagree about the content onstage. It may be true that Marshall had a low opinion of Clemenza, but what we saw onstage? Not just good, but excellent. While their characteristic style was still there, the past few years have seen a few fundamental changes. I used to joke that Opera Atelier is a ballet company pretending to be an opera company: but not anymore (although this meant that when they came to Lully & Charpentier, the French composers from a tradition where ballet is central, they were perhaps the only company in the world who could do those composers justice). Pynkoski impressed me both with Clemenza di Tito (the most exquisite chemistry i’ve seen for an onstage ensemble in Toronto) and with a very original take on Don Giovanni. Do they have what it takes to make the leap to Carl Maria von Weber? we’ll see.

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