Our society and our culture are seeking recovery now, trying to heal. Yes there has been illness & death. But even if we’re safe & healthy (very fortunate to be safe in this city, in this country) we’re troubled in our hearts, because of what’s happened to our culture. Concerts are not just music making, they are a medium for communication, an exchange between artists and audiences. If the audience is not there, the artists are distant: there is a kind of estrangement, an alienation. At times we’ve been locked down, kept in our homes by rules restricting who could see one another, sometimes permitted to venture forth cautiously.
Speaking of lockdowns, there’s a curious parallel to Toronto City Opera’s choice of work. This fall they’ll be doing Verdi’s Nabucco, an opera telling a story of the Biblical Israelites and their captivity in Babylon.
The most famous number in that opera is a chorus “Va, pensiero”, the sad lamentation of a people far from home.
It’s the latest example of programming influenced by the pandemic. Voicebox/Opera in Concert programmed La Voix Humaine, knowing that we’re in a similar predicament as the lonely woman talking into her telephone, an opera that never seemed so relevant to me until now. Lyric Opera of Chicago programmed Pagliacci, putting the chorus, (who usually function as the audience for the play within the play) in the seats of their opera house, allowing them to fulfill the social distancing requirement at the same time. Their edgy version of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, staged in a modern garage with the audience in their cars for a drive-in experience, included a the diva riding off at the end in her convertible.
And now Toronto City Opera offer Nabucco, including the famous chorus.
In this remarkable video, you see and hear thousands of people singing along, which seems an apt illustration when we consider Toronto City Opera. TCO are an offshoot of the Toronto District School Board. They began way back in the 1940s, when they offered an opera workshop at Central Technical School, but changed their business model and their mission statement in the 2017-2018 season:
“A new performance model was created with paid, emerging, young professional soloists, a new professional artistic team, and new performance venues to enhance the audience experience”
While the soloists have to audition, their chorus still get a learning experience, available to anyone who wants to sing, without any audition requirement. I’ve signed up myself, because I miss live music, miss singing and miss making music in church.
And I’m looking forward to be in their chorus singing “Va, pensiero”.
After I registered (including paying a fee), they sent me a link to download pages of the score, a list of cuts. We begin rehearsal on Thursday September 30th.
The safety protocols are reassuring:
• Double vaccination required for all artists and production personnel including all choristers
• Disposable singers masks provided by TCO for choristers
• TCO has rented a space that will allow for distancing for rehearsals and performances for performers and audiences
• Ontario Public Health regulations for concerts which require masks and audience vaccination will apply.
Toronto City Opera will be producing Nabucco as a semi-staged Opera In Concert in November. As an Opera in Concert the chorus will be using scores so memorization will not be required. TCO performances are conducted by Artistic Director Jennifer Tung with piano accompaniment by Music Director Ivan Jovanovic
Saturday November 13 – matinee at St Andrew’s – time TBD
Possible second performance Friday November 19 – venue TBD