Missing Greg

In the final week of 2021 I ponder the year that’s passed and contemplate the one that lies ahead. We all may have something we miss doing, something or someone that we wish we could see or hear. Re-reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol after seeing numerous cinematic adaptations prompted me to think about the many people I miss seeing and hearing.

The last show I saw before the closures brought on by the pandemic was the HMS Pinafore on March 7th from Toronto Operetta Theatre.

March 2020

I was hoping to see A Waltz Dream in TOT’s return to live theatre at the end of the month. At least that was the plan.

But it has melted away like the snowfall of a few days ago. Just like the remaining performances of the National Ballet’s Nutcracker, or Mirvish’s imported production of Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt that I was eager to see, TOT have decided to cancel performances in the interest of the health and safety of audiences and performers alike. Just when it seemed we were coming back, we’re again wondering. How safe is it to go to a show, and when will it end?

Greg Finney, an anchor –excuse the pun– for TOT’s HMS Pinafore in 2020, was to appear in the TOT’s A Waltz Dream. I think he’s often billed as “Gregory Finney” so excuse me if the choice to call him “Greg” is confusing.

I first saw him in the Against the Grain Boheme at the Tranzac Club a decade ago.

 (L-R) Justin Welsh (Marcello), Adam Luther (Rodolfo), Gregory Finney (Benoit), Keith Lam (Schaunard) and Stephen Hegedus (Colline)

He doesn’t necessarily play big parts, but he makes a huge impression.

What was it that Norma Desmond said in Sunset Boulevard? Someone recognizes her and says “you used to be in silent pictures—you used to be big.”

She replies, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

I think Greg makes his parts bigger. When he’s onstage he’s usually the one you’re looking at, regardless of whether you think he’s the star. Charisma?

Or maybe because he’s obviously having fun.

Greg Finney

The parts he plays may be meant for comic effect, but that’s much harder to do if you don’t understand humour or timing. His delivery is natural because he’s a natural. He doesn’t appear to be working, doesn’t seem to be acting.

I recall what I said about him back in 2013 when he sang Escamillo in the Peter Brook La Tragédie de Carmen presented by Loose Tea Music Theatre:
“Greg Finney steals the show every time he’s onstage (the funniest one in Against the Grain’s Boheme and again in Figaro), so I am thrilled to see him in a principal role.  This is an Escamillo who perfectly matches the extroversion of Warner’s Carmen, a flamboyant man of charmisma unafraid of crowds.  Finney’s voice is amazingly versatile, as he gave us plenty of voice in the Toreador Song, yet always gave us a perfect balance in his ensembles.  

I remember asking him about his career a few times, wishing to see him playing a leading role again. Finney isn’t a driven madman of an artist. He’s enjoying himself. I wish he would be given more opportunities to play big serious parts, but then again, maybe he’s content.

OH and of course he doesn’t know I’m writing this…? He’d probably think this is kind of corny. What the hell, I’m older, it’s permitted, especially at this time of year.

Another thing I’m missing hugely is church. Sometimes I would sing as a soloist or in the choir, sometimes I would be substitute organist, at Hillcrest Disciples of Christ in Toronto. David Warrack was usually the organist and music director. The last two times I played were in January 2020, stepping in due to David’s absence.

On occasion when the bass was off David would get Greg to replace him. When I had to step in for David at the keyboard, David would get Greg to sub as the tenor. Whenever he showed up, the choir sounded better.

And we had fun.

Greg reminded me a bit of Guy Lafleur the hockey player.

Guy Lafleur (right) getting a light from Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa in 1971

Lafleur was a famous winger for the Montreal Canadiens, who scored over 500 goals in 14 seasons, while sometimes smoking two packs a day. Does it seem unlikely that an athlete could excel while being a smoker? I think it’s even stranger for an opera singer who relies on his wind. But the thing is Greg could hold notes longer than anyone in our choir regardless of his smoking. Amazing.

I’m picturing the impact in operas or operettas that cast Greg. Whatever the size of the role, the rehearsals were surely more fun because of his presence. Not only is he a good singing actor, he’s a larger than life personality.

And I miss seeing him in the lobby. Of course I miss going to shows, which means I don’t see anyone in a lobby anywhere. But if I could run into anyone in a lobby he’d be my first choice, always interesting to talk to, usually well-dressed, friendly.

And I miss the sartorial splendor. Nice clothes in other words. If I had been ready with the iPhone in the lobby when I ran into him, I might have better photos to show, someone who on top of everything else, also knows how to dress with creative flair. I hope I can be forgiven for using an image I found on Facebook.

Greg Finney

One of these days we’ll be back. In the meantime, I miss the church services, I miss the shows and the chats in the lobby.

But I remember. And I must express my gratitude. Thanks Greg.

This might be the first in a series (we shall see…).

Greg Finney
This entry was posted in Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, Spirituality & Religion, Sports and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Missing Greg

  1. Guillermo Silva-Marin says:

    Amazing eloquence in a warm and insightful tribute so well spoken, so well deserved. Hurrah! for Greg. TOT looks forward to a remount of A WALTZ DREAM in mid-June 2022 and to Greg’s Count Lothar among some superb performers. Thanks Leslie Barcza for your kind words of appreciation.

  2. Pingback: Missing church | barczablog

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