Michael Mori was announced as the new Artistic Director of Tapestry Opera earlier this year. Having worked alongside Tapestry founder, Wayne Strongman for two years as Associate Artistic Director and for the past eight months as Artistic Director Designate, this was the logical path of succession.
In his time at Tapestry Mori has such notable achievements as NewOpera 101 (helping emerging artist) and championing the integration of Hip Hop into Tapestry’s INside Opera program, bringing music theatre creation to at-risk youth in St. James Town. An accomplished stage director who earned raves for his direction of last year’s Tapestry Briefs, Mori’s next adventure comes to the Distillery District the first weekend of April, namely Tap:Ex or in other words, Tapestry Explorations: Revolutions.
As opening night approaches I ask Mori ten questions: five about himself and five about Tapestry and Tap: Ex.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
I was raised by a collection of matriarchs in fact. My mother was a teacher, both creative and strict, proud and goofy at the same time, also the first in her family to have a degree. My maternal grandmother was the social lynch-pin of 5 generations of her family, and my paternal grandmother was a scholar and translator in Japan during the US occupation, and an old school social networker (she would write 2-5 letters a day). All of these incredible women were used to going where women “didn’t go” and making choices for themselves. The lesson of defining yourself by your choices and dreams rather than society’s or others’, was modelled from early on.
I almost became an engineer and had a math scholarship to UBC, but my mother’s constant encouragement to follow my passion, turned me back to the arts. She convinced me that learning language was a matter of will and immersion and as a result I have had a lifelong attraction to trying every language I might have a reason to learn. My mother was selfless in her work with special needs students, and I model my work and life goals after hers.
To be honest, I didn’t take the arts as a career seriously until I became an adult. It was her encouragment and passionate language about music that kept me in the music and theatre world long enough to discover my own passion and calling(s).
2- What is the best thing or worst thing about being artistic director of a company such as Tapestry?
This is opera that has a chance to change the world.
Discovering a company whose mandate was to make opera current (and current operas) and discard the museum stuffiness of the experience, rescued me from giving up on opera. It killed me to see the vast expanse of separation between the interested educated person, and the weak currency of the “traditional” opera experience being perpetuated by most major opera companies around North America. As AD, I have a mandate to change that within our productions and an arts and opera network to rally around updating, unifying, and evolving opera culture in Toronto.
Being artistic director gives me the ability to work with emerging and world class artists, not only soloists who work at the COC and the Met, but also world-class playwrights and composers.
3- Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Watch: Roger Federer, Maria Callas, Anderson Silva, Pina Bausch
Listen to: Greer Grimsley, Russell Peters, Christopher Hitchins, Nina Simone
4- What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
“These are not the droids you are looking for”
5- When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Cycle, read, travel, dance… and when possible all in the same day!
Five more about Tapestry Explorations: Revolutions, upcoming April 4th & 5th at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District.
1-Please talk about the challenges of Tapestry Explorations: Revolutions in the growing tradition of Tapestry Opera and your history of adventurous & original opera.
Challenge #1: Selling out weeks in advance… Well a week in advance… after you publish this, Rob Ford might be videoed ranting about the dangers of “subsidizing the arts for nyew opera” while smoking a monster joint rolled in an Aperghis score. The picture will go viral, the publicity will be incredible and we will have the challenge of turning people away when there are no more seats left.
Our Challenge to Big Opera: Tapestry’s new repertoire itself is a challenge to traditional opera. Tapestry Explorations is a challenge to broaden the skillset and expectations of the practitioners of opera, challenging performers to actively broaden their virtuosity to include the physical. Our performers are already physical and athletic people, in addition to being very accomplished singers and actors. Revolutions will call upon every aspect of their coordinated abilities, to communicate and perform challenging music and drama.
The true challenge: branded “Words”
“Opera” “New Music” “Experimental” – Words are a dangerous thing.
There is a reason why Against the Grain and Queen of Puddings call(ed) themselves theatre or music theatre companies. The word “opera” seems immutable and connected to a rigid perception from both lovers of opera and those who couldn’t be bothered. Many who don’t know opera are afraid of it, and many who love opera are afraid of new music, especially new opera. That puts an experimental opera show in a great place to prove everyone wrong.
Revolutions is exciting in how it allows us to be daring and collaborate with disparate artists:
Marijo is incredibly dramatically intuitive as a choreographer and Greg lives and breathes exciting non-traditional music. We are on DAY 3, and beautiful and compelling sequences are emerging as if they had been rehearsed and researched for weeks!
2-What do you love about Tapestry?
I love the word Tapestry. The word speaks to a combination of colours, of threads, of textures and images. We are empowered by our interwoven connection to artists and artforms spanning the gamut of traditional and contemporary, a unique place in the opera world.
We are small, and like Royce Gracie, our size is also our secret power and gives us advantages over the heavy weights.
What else.. I love that it’s alive (opera), and that young and more experienced performers get turned on by working on repertoire that means something to them.
Tapestry is the only professional Canadian company to completely embrace the evolution of the repertoire. Tapestry has premiered fourteen full-length Canadian operas (compared to the Canadian Opera Company’s four) and over a hundred short to mid-length chamber operas. We have taken our productions across Canada, to New York, London, and Glasgow, but the works we have commissioned have had even greater reach, bringing Canadian operas to many major cities in Europe, Asia, and Austrailia. More importantly, we are building our model around bringing both new and jaded audiences to opera.
3-Do you have a favourite moment in Tapestry Explorations: Revolutions ?
There are two moments that pair really beautifully. The opening chorus from Bach and a duet by Aperghis between Neema and Andrea, choreographed by Marie-Josée. These numbers highlight music’s exceptional power to reveal humanity to us. Revolutions is about change, and exploring self to find a truer existence… and as we work we are discovering that there is so much in music both as performers and listeners, that precipitates self examination and change.
I am in awe of my performers. These voices are remarkable and any opera house in Canada would be lucky to have their talent. Given this stylized project, they have come in with open hearts and minds, and risen to every challenge (so far!).
4-How do you feel about the relevance of Tapestry as a modern-day citizen?
Zealous. Relevance is what opera companies talk about, but avoid when it means the financial risk of consistently programming new repertoire and supporting living creative artists. Tapestry takes this risk every year.
In a time when children are born with a device in their hand, and 99% of entertainment consumed is digital, the need for transformative live performance is greater than ever. Opera is transformative and Tapestry has relevant and compelling works to share with a contemporary audience and performance culture. So yes, I feel zealous. It is wrong that the majority of our talented emerging operatic artists, connect primarily to masterworks from a different country and time.
5-Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Nancy Hermiston and Wayne Strongman: My artist/producer icons
Both of these people took their unique balance of artistic and business skills and created influencial organizations out their drive and passion. Their lives are their work and the opera world has benefited greatly for it.
Nancy Hermiston is the Head of Opera and Voice at the University of British Columbia. Wayne Strongman is the founder and former Artistic Director of Tapestry, and lead the company for 34 years winning The Order of Canada, garnering multiple Dora Mavor Moore Awards, and leading opera creation in North America.
Tapestry Explorations: Revolutions April 4, 5 at 7:30 pm (doors open at 7pm)
Ernest Balmer Studio, Distillery Historic District 9 Trinity Street, Studio 316
Tickets: $35 +HST www.tapestryopera.com/tickets 416.537.6066 x222