I’m intrigued by the upcoming production of Tanya’s Secret produced by Opera Queens, an adaptation of Eugene Onegin, a work that seems to invite questions.
Mike Fan | 范祖铭 (they) aka Tanya Smania (she) is the artistic director and driving force behind this upcoming exploration of Tchaikovsky’s best-known opera. (click here for ticket info)
Currently I’m thinking a lot about gender in the arts. For instance Shakespeare in Love (seen a few nights ago) seems suddenly an apt prep for Sky Gilbert’s Titus set to premiere next week. Lurking in the Hollywood film is something transgressive. Doing the play as we now do it with a woman playing Juliet violates the rules for Shakespeare’s time. Juliet was written to be performed by a man. Having women do it –as they did in the film and as we now do it—breaks the rules, even if for 2022 it’s still wild to imagine a male Juliet.
Could be we have it upside down.
Full disclosure. I enjoy singing repertoire usually reserved for women. It began petulantly when I noticed how women routinely sing song cycles written for men such as Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, while the reverse never seems to happen. Is it possibly because these songs often sound better with a female voice soaring above the staff? Don’t answer that! Back in 1999 I did a concert at the University of Toronto with counter-tenor Mathieu Marcil commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Richard Strauss. Mathieu sang four of Strauss’s earliest compositions, songs that seemed apt for his counter-tenor voice given that Strauss composed them all before puberty. To close I sang the Four Last Songs (normally sung by women). Our bookends were in effect Strauss’s first and last songs. I also played the piano…
Men have boldly presumed to compose music purporting to speak with a woman’s voice, at least in the centuries when women couldn’t get their music performed. I’m sure it’s not wrong to stand in for the voice of a male composer, even as we wonder which gender is being signified. No I’m not trying to confuse you, just pointing to the ambiguities that are already there, to confound and torment us with mixed gender signals, coding that often seems meant to lead us astray rather than to properly guide us. At the end of the day we see opera as a playful form, with more life & vitality than we expected, lots yet to be explored.
I’m grateful to be interviewing Mike Fan | 范祖铭 (they) aka Tanya Smania (she), the busy artistic director of Opera Queens (website), seeking insights into so many fascinating questions about their upcoming adaptations of opera, captured in their spare moments in the hours before their show goes on later this week.
barczablog: Are you more like your father or your mother?
Mike aka Tanya: Interesting question! Growing up my dad was not home much busy finishing his Doctorate while I was in embryo and then the post-doc trek that brought us from Alberta to Indiana, Texas and then Ontario where we landed when my father got his position at the University of Guelph. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying, I spent a lot more time with my mother growing up and think I subconsciously resented him for a while. It wasn’t till later when I myself became rather busy and started being less available to my loved ones that I realized it is just the necessity of growing any career in an ambitious way. I definitely inherited that from my father, the ambition. My mother too. Also from my father — the keen research mind and visionary spirit. So I see a lot of myself in mother who has been a huge presence in my life – in terms of responsibility.
barczablog: What is the best or worst thing about what you do?
Mike aka Tanya: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” as they say indeed! I have walked through many dark times in my life so in general I’d say fortunately for me generally things have turned out for the better. Or, rather my perspective on life changed as I began to discover my true self and embrace it rather than run from it. I’m very much “swimming downstream rather than upstream” if that makes sense. But I do lead a quite crazy life.
Generally especially in these pandemic years I’ve had the great privilege of performing most of the time in opera, art song, film, and theatre – role after role (or sometimes 4 at a time in my recent “Qui as tué Leclair” project with Infusion Baroque) as well as teaching, hosting, and advocacy but with Opéra Queens I also produce as Artistic and Executive Director – meaning I do most things from casting to bookkeeping and grant-writing, booking venues to washing microwaves. It’s only our 2nd year and we’ve managed to receive nearly $200,000 in grants and brought many on seasonally on our productions, but ultimately we’re not yet at the point where we have operating grants so it’s a lot on my plate.
I’m the ambitious type if you haven’t yet discovered so rather than sing a small role and do it all I undertake something like, you know – Tatyana, which is a lot of singing and not just in the Letter Scene in a complex Slavic language as well as do it all. This rehearsal run we’re having I think probably takes the cake in terms of being the best and worst of times. This role is something I feel that I could sing every night of my life and that was truly destined for me – yet a lot of days I’m sleeping 3 hours a day, rehearsing for up to 6 as a singer and spending another 6-8 doing admin and overseeing rehearsals. Somehow though – because it feels exactly where I’m meant to be it feels right, it feels aligned – it feels fated (a theme in Onegin as well, fittingly) and somehow feels much easier and fun overall than other chapters of my life – as a budding concert pianist or a premed student for example. I think my life now really embodies the “if you love what you do you never work a day in your life.”
Not to say it isn’t without challenges or difficulties (especially under COVID-19 no less – I think our cast now is at least 50% different than when we embarked on “Tanya’s Secret” 2 years ago) but I feel that when I am living and working with the grain things fall into place much more effortlessly despite the energy and work involved. So, I have a great appreciation that there is no light without shadow nor tree without soil. After trying on many wrong hats, as overwhelming, demanding, and frustrating as this life I lead now is, it’s ultimately just right for me – good, bad, and ugly. I accept it all because I understand what it is to “have it all” on paper and still be unhappy.
barczablog: Who do you like to listen to or watch?
Mike aka Tanya: I think our connotation of my company “Opéra Queens” takes on more of the regal, queer, elegant sense of the word but indeed it stems from the bygone era of “gays at the opera”. Even within young classical singers today of my generation I feel that many aren’t interested in going to the opera, listening to recordings, etc. Which is fine – but I’ve always been an old soul. Onegin was actually my first opera at 13 and I felt this innate connection and kinship. I’m weird like that. So I’m very much opera opera opera 24/7 – give me the latest opera recording, ticket, book, magazine, gossip, it’s truly an obsession for me. I’m much more prone to sing all of Violetta by heart than Lizzo – I give the impression that I’m young and hip sometimes but truly I’m an intelligent and an excellent actor. Most are quite surprised that I don’t know most pop music at all – I’m a true classical nut!
That said I’m quite a voracious sapiophile – I found that I’m quite drawn to world and folk music, particularly bossa nova and Latin music. I also of course am partial to traditional Chinese music – pipa, erhu, and guzheng for example are some of the most ethereal sounds on earth in my opinion. Jazz is lovely and I musical theatre has its moments. But I’m truly an Opéra Queen through and through – I find I’m very drawn to sopranos those active particularly in the 50s-80s – Callas, Tebaldi, Vishnevskaya, Kyra Vayne. The inner diva in me come to life I suppose.
That said I’m rather eclectic – makes sense for someone who speaks 7 languages, lived in 5 cities before 1st grade, and who has degrees in Opera and Voice, Piano, and Speech Arts and Drama Performance as well Biomedical Science…I love a good documentary, sitcom, depressing indie flick, rom-com, historical drama – and I do enjoy trashy reality TV and YouTubers. I think rather than a release it’s the inner life coach in me – I find human behaviour fascinating. Either when we are on best behaviour or our worst. Perhaps in the end always leading back to my life onstage…?!
barczablog: What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Mike aka Tanya: I’m tremendously gifted I must say, thanks to the Divine Creator, my parents, and my mentors. I proudly say this because most my life I thought it was quite the opposite and was derided by classmates, bullies, and even teachers and “mentors”. I’m a freak in a way but it took me a while to realize that it was a positive thing – if I channel for good, of course.
However, as with my voice we must know our strengths and our weaknesses. I am stubborn, a workaholic, exceedingly ambitious, extremely sensitive, a terror when provoked, and love eating too much and moving far too little. I have a lot of energy but it also means I often can’t sleep and need to work myself to exhaustion before I can have a few nights good sleep and resume the cycle. So I guess there’s much to address with this fixer-upper – but isn’t that all of us? Self-knowledge and awareness I think is more important than pining after any mythical perfection. I’m perfectly imperfectly as we all are and isn’t that swell? That said, being anywhere anytime whether teleportation or the ability to fly would be fantastic. I love learning about and seeing the world and other cultures and especially in the pandemic – flying has certainly been easier. Also, have you met the TTC?
barczablog: When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?
Mike aka Tanya: Hahahahahaha…see above! Honestly though, I’m at a point where I really see the need to say no and to carve out time for me. I have a lovely, supportive family who I don’t see nearly enough and it’s lovely to sit down for dinner and tell each other about our various exploits. Mine are more exotic and far-reaching perhaps but ultimately due to everything we’ve been through together we have an intimacy I don’t think I have with most. I also have some dear friends connected at the soul with whom we always spend hours together in a blink of an eye. Always something to talk about and the time apart means we have many things to celebrate and commiserate.
I also have the loveliest partner and kitty who remind me that I do have a reason to make space beyond performing, producing, making income, etc. He is delightfully chill and creative but not an artist per se – we love simple things like watching TV, grocery shopping (we both loooove food), and exploring Toronto. The first 3 years of our relationship we were mostly in different cities so it’s just nice to be together mostly day in, day out. I make a lot of noise so when I’m out of town he’s not unhappy either! Of course, I love to go to the opera, the ballet, concerts – whether hearing a busker or a concerto with orchestra – as I said before I’m a culture nut. Oh, and I love museums! I think I would be content living in one. I read all the captions which is an absolute horror for anyone I go with but I’m very studious and detail-oriented.
I am fortunate to live by the water which has always been a dream – I love to walk along the boardwalk and see the ships, the gulls, the islands – it’s very inspiring and I haven’t gotten to do it as much in the summer, at least in the daytime. I think I worked so hard over the years to cover up my unhappiness and my insecurities but I think I’ve arrived at a point where I’m fortunate enough to love what I do and to love the life and people I have beyond what I do. An embarrassment of riches!
barczablog: Please think about what Opéra Queens, the Toronto indie opera company, aims to achieve. If you’d like to give us a manifesto or a lecture on your goals & ideals that would be welcome. And tell us (if possible) what’s next after this show.
Mike aka Tanya: First, I must say, I began Opéra Queens in my Masters in Opera & Voice Performance at McGill’s Schulich School of Music in Montréal so we began there and still maintain an active presence there! So I’d say that’s one big aim – to connect these two relatively close metropolises of Toronto and Montréal which are relatively close but often disconnected culturally. “Tanya’s Secret” is our real first mainstage show in Toronto but also our largest so far (and perhaps ever) so it’s exciting getting to bring our magic here.
I like to say Opéra Queens presents opera “in full colour” in every sense of the word. That means with majority queer-trans and IBPOC / BIPOC cast and crew where possible as well as the music we perform and commission. However, beyond those viewpoints I also am interested in creating paid opportunities for other marginalized groups – countertenors, big voices, plus-sized and differently-abled bodies – how can we provide them all an opportunity to have their glory in the rainbow? As someone Chinese-Canadian, 2nd generation immigrant, queer, and non-binary – I’m pleased and utterly surprised at the mostly positive reception and enthusiasm we’ve received so far. I was bullied in my early life for the things that made me “weird and different” and as America Ferrera says in her TED Talk – “my identity is my superpower – not an obstacle”.
I’m pleased to say that we do have Canada Council for the Arts funding for a production “Night of 1000 Cleopatras” slated for Summer 2022 in Montréal. There is time to find a way to bring it to Toronto too but we’ll see what’s possible. We’re presenting both known and rare Cleopatra scenes, arias, and art songs from Händel to Leroux, Massenet to Barber as well as a new commission “Cleopatra Built” on E. E. Cummings by Dr. J. Marchand Knight. We premièred scenes from the opera this past May at the Watershed Festival at Queens University – appropriately named, I must say!
Last summer we also filmed two digital productions “Drama Queens” and “Latin Night”. It’s truly been a year of hard work of post-production but we should be ready to release this Fall at last! We presented scenes from both shows in Montréal and hope to bring them to Toronto too but in the meantime the world will get an opportunity to experience works by Viardot, Malibran, von Martines, Serpa, Cilèa, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, and more! Maintaining our virtual audiences is so key because we have so many that joined us for Zoom shows, podcasts, and pre-recorded performances in the pandemic and especially for queer-trans folx – the anonymity, privacy, and accessibility the online world affords is wonderful! Hoping to help tear down that stigma of “online content” – live performance is great but it’s all about options!
barczablog: Does this kind of art (eg the Onegin adaptation) give us an opportunity to discuss gender without framing it as a lecture or essay? Is exploring this subject via theatre a way to avoid pretentiousness and even to be playful and unpretentious: a change from what opera sometimes is (for non-opera types)
Mike aka Tanya: That’s the intention! A lot of it we want to speak for itself. The soul is the soul. When I sing Tatyana as a tenor in drag, she is still a young girl looking for love, bookish, and intelligent, passionate, yet dignified – all things I like to think I am as well. Christina Yun who sings Lensky is a soprano – yet why is a soprano not also passionate, foolhardy, and goes to her death bravely? Opera has a long tradition of gender-bending and drag – but why has it only been relegated to middle-aged mezzos singing teenage boys? I mean, the straight male patriarchy is definitely a reason. But we at Opéra Queens seek to expand the possibilities of classical music – which seems avant garde but it’s really bringing us to where all the other art forms have gone – including ballet. Billy Porter as the Fairy Godmother? Kinky Boots? Hello opera, it’s time!
And I love this question – some of my mentors especially thought or continue to think that something like Opéra Queens is meant to mostly be a parody or light-hearted endeavour. Yes, we do have our moments – you’ll see in “Latin Night” what edible objects I use in Carmen’s Habañera besides oranges – but ultimately we seek to expand who’s onstage, what’s onstage, and how it’s presented without compromising the substance and artistic quality. In the same way that a mezzo singing Cherubino doesn’t affect the Countess’s sorrow or a soprano singing Oscar doesn’t impede the plight of Amelia and Gustavo’s illicit romance – queer-trans and BIPOC art can and should be taken seriously too.
Drag and gender-bending have often been taken in a comedic way, particularly when male-presenting artists inhabit the feminine – but there are valid stories to be told that aren’t. And stereotypes need to be questioned and shattered. I shouldn’t only be singing Pings, Pangs, and Pongs as an Asian or relegated only to the “gay stuff” as a queer performer. I like all of us am a multiplicity of things, complex and shallow, happy and wounded, intelligent yet clumsy. Straight white performers have had the luxury of playing all the roles available in the West, even ones that don’t necessarily “belong” to them. We ask: and us? And when we do, do we need to be a joke? Or can you listen to our stories our way and see that we are also humans with the same beating heart, the same smiles as well as tears?
barczablog: Do you see yourself getting new audiences, those who don’t know opera in the usual ways, or would you rather play to audiences who know opera in the usual ways: but who will be surprised by your approach?
Mike aka Tanya: I hope so! So far it’s been incredibly rewarding and worth the long hours when we find there are those totally new to opera and classical music in our audiences! After a Schulich 5à7 show we did at Tanna Hall in Montréal a jazz major came up to me and said, “I’ve always felt alienated and uncomfortable to go to classical concerts, but seeing your face on the poster – someone that looked like me and on stage persuaded me – and I loved it!”
We’ve had people literally shaking with excitement after our shows because they had never seen themselves reflected in such a personal way or were just excited to see repertoire old and new performed in a groundbreaking way. In fact, one of those is Alexander Cappellazzo, one of our Lenskys whom I met in Montréal after our Kin Experience concert and whose enthusiasm was a surprise and delight to me!
As well, we opened our first auditions this year and received numerous applications from across the world – many of whom unfortunately we don’t have the budget for yet but give me lots of inspiration for future grants and projects! So much of the time we’ve heard, “We’re so glad this exists…We don’t have this where I live…I’m closeted and live in a traditional, religious, conservative town where I could never do this.” I had no idea the scale and impact that I would have created with Opéra Queens. I began it as something that I saw needed to create space for my identity and vision but it’s incredibly rewarding to see it go beyond myself. Isn’t that the greatest bliss – to know that our work reaches beyond one moment, one concert, one person – and into the lives, minds, and souls of others, to brighten their lives and help them feel seen, heard, and valued? As a mentor once told me prior to this whole Opéra Queens adventure – “I think you’ve found the M-word – your Ministry”. I may not be preaching, but I’ve find a Greater Purpose beyond myself – a privilege and honour I don’t take lightly.
barczablog: Opera is this costumed over the top medium, where the characters don’t resemble normal people. Can you talk about camp and drag at the opera, and why gay & transpersons might feel naturally drawn to the medium?
Mike aka Tanya: Exactly – isn’t this just a pairing that’s so natural?? And yet so underdone? So often I’ve felt and I know many of us QT persons feel so marginalized and under-represented at the opera as a concert-goer, performer, or crew member because we’re often subjected to the rules and limits of a traditional canon that force us to conform. Very colonial, yes? I’ve been told to “sit straighter” (as in more like a straight man, not more upright), “take out the camp”, etc. Which all makes sense if we’re aiming for a certain characterization and concept but…when do we get our turn? Even with newly commissioned operas – how often do we see two men kissing onstage in opera? Non-binary representation? Trans people who aren’t being abused? Even in mainstream media? Opera as you say is truly excess and isn’t queer-trans expression so often about being loud and proud, bold and beautiful? It’s a luxury we get to do this Canada and to be more of who we are here – and why our mission to raise funds for Kyiv Pride through our production embodies our wish that the world and in the sphere of “Tanya’s Secret” in particular in Eastern Europe that everyone will one day have the basic human right of existing as they are without persecution.
barczablog: Tell us more about your production.
Mike aka Tanya: I sing Tatyana as my drag diva persona Tanya Smania (named for Tatyana – so this is a real dream role for me). Among the highlights are baritone Georgios Iatrou who’s flown from Greece to sing his first Onegin and whose drag persona Nina Naï is fabulous in her own right! Lenskys Christina and Alexander have been mentioned – mezzo Catharin Carew is both my mother and lover Larina and Gremin – not our original intention but a rather Game of Thrones development given the pandemic. Olga is shared by Corinne DeJong and LA-based baritone Louise Floyd. Nurse is sung by treble Zwischenfach Dr. J. Marchand Knight (first mezzo role after a life mostly as a coloratura soprano) and Corinne on her other night. Thai countertenor Rain Saran Senavinin joins us as Triquet and we have lots of lovely singers in our Ensemble and who’ve been joining us internationally via Zoom as covers!
We have two Maestras leading the charge from the piano – Cecilia Nguyen Tran and Tina Faye. We have Egyptian-Canadian stage director Bridget Ramzy – who by the way I’m excited to have direct our Cleopatra show next year! I’m sure she will have fascinating insights. We have it fully staged and costumed in the gorgeous Betty Oliphant Theatre via the National Ballet School – with some twists of course. There is no chorus but we’ve turned many of them into ensembles. Ukrainian songs by Lysenko will be sprinkled in the first half – a contemporary of Tchaikovsky’s and reflecting Tchaikovsky’s Ukrainian roots and ties. Our aim in this time of conflict to ask what are borders? And could we love and unite rather than hate and divide more often? What would the world look like then? Rather than bringing on someone for costumes, not only for budget but to unleash our queer creativity – we’ve managed to snag some pretty fascinating lewks, especially in Act 3 which we’re setting as a drag ball!
barczablog: Do you have strong ideas about the work, meaning Pushkin’s poem and Tchaikovsky’s adaptation?
Mike aka Tanya: I really don’t think so – as “cutting edge” as our “Tanya’s Secret” adaptation is I think we’re really going back to what Tchaikovsky as a gay man likely would have wanted – to express his desires openly. The relationship with Onegin and Lensky is highly homoerotic and the acting out Onegin does throughout the show indicates to me a high degree of repression and closeting.
Also, titling our adaptation “Tanya’s Secret” is not simply a vanity placeholder (though it is nice to be the leading lady diva at last) – Tchaikovsky originally did want to name the opera Tatyana! But – it would still have been too innovative for the time, given that it was based on such an iconic novel as well. But the bias is clear – the fact that Tatyana gets all the memorable leit-motifs, that 12-14 minute Letter Scene, the massive 1.5 hour first act tipped in her viewpoint – it’s clear that Tchaikovsky put his passion and desires that he couldn’t expressed openly through her. A form of compositional drag. Also, it’s a way to uplift the Divine Feminine – in an art form when women are often abused, misunderstood, and ignored. In Act I in particularly we really wanted to highlight the sisterhood and togetherness of the four leading ladies and their relationships – which Bridget and I have not always felt depicted with great detail or sensitivity. Perhaps because diversity needs to happen with stage directing and behind-the-scenes work as well as onstage!
barczablog: It’s an opera with party scenes and large dance set-pieces that may be difficult or impossible to include, an opera full of social behaviour, posturing, actions and responses (sometimes suave, sometimes crude & rude).
Mike aka Tanya: This can be true and something I immediately thought of – though one day Met Opera, ROH, COC, etc. – if you offer us an orchestra and your stage and production team, we are happy to go all the way! I said I was ambitious. At the same time with much of indie opera – I think our mission is to tell the stories that need to be told – focussing on the message rather than simply the production value. Sure, it’s lovely to have a glamorous, splashy Zeffirelli production – but does it offer commentary on our life today? How we’ve evolved as a culture and civilization? There are so many possibilities that we’ve yet to see.
We’re lucky to have a swift yet talented Ensemble and off-night soloists that help fill our stage. At the same time, the individual storylines are so much more highlighted – especially telling multiple queer-trans storylines that can get lost in big crowds. And we afford our artists the ability to tell their stories in a more individual and personal way, self-agency and creative license is I think an integral part of queerness – or really being an artist in general, because we leave the door open for those who are simply great allies, questioning, etc.
In the end whether it’s 5 or 50 people, humanity is humanity in its beauty and terror. In particular, we weren’t so keen to depict the “traditional Orthodox Russian” staging you see especially given the times – but rather the rural/suburban/metropolitan queer identity and who it may change. Act I is a traditional, conservative, rural small town evolving into a try-hard awkward Sweet Sixteen party gone wrong in Act 2 to a swanky and perhaps superficial Drag Ball in Act 3. The dance pieces you’ll hear aren’t staged with a corps de ballet but we do interesting things with them that definitely tell our story…
barczablog : Talk about Peter Tchaikovsky’s sexuality and how that changes your reading of the opera.
Mike aka Tanya: As I’ve said, this close relationship between the leading men Onegin and Lensky is so tantalizing. In our production, Tatyana as a young trans girl means that her feelings of being isolated and misunderstood ring more truly. I’ve always felt this sense of nostalgia and bitter-sweetness in this music so close to my heart as a melancholy young queer person and I think it makes so much sense in this queer-trans context. In terms of how everyone is costumed too – it gives them a chance to butch or femme themselves up. We’re liberated from aspiring to the heteronormative settings of most operas and that it’s sanctioned in a way by Tchaikovsky’s identity. That didn’t stop us from tackling Carmen, Agrippina, Samson et Dalila, etc. but it does add a sense of kinship and knowing with Tchaikovsky being gay – we hope he’s looking at us with his blessing knowing that what we couldn’t express openly in his life finally gets the chance to come to life.
Moment to watch for – I’m fascinated by the Russian word “drug”. Tchaikovsky uses it quite a bit and in his romances and Onegin and I don’t think it’s an accident. It’s a word transcending genders meaning alternatively: friend, beloved, spouse…in particular in the duel scene we have Onegin and Lensky essentially singing this love duet calling each other “drugs”…for us it just seems so obvious but those perpetuating the norms sure like ignoring them as hard as they can, don’t they?
barczablog: Which character in Onegin do you identify with? And what’s your favourite scene?
Mike aka Tanya: Well, personally I think it’s obvious! Tatyana! Since the beginning I identified with her in Act I – shy, dreaming, idealistic, awkward bookworm – but with deep passions and convictions. I like to think I’ve evolved in Act 3 Tatyana – I’ve found my Gremin and I put my duty and responsibility and the long-term over the short-term and the superficial. It’s the story of a person coming into their own and surprising those around them with the power within. I know not everyone gets her including our cast – someone called Tatyana “a wet blanket”, but that’s what’s wonderful about this opera. You have the dreamers and the skeptics, the lovers and the murderers, the redeemed and the unredeemable. I like to think Onegin is an “encyclopedia of love” – from familial to romantic, platonic, etc. and in our version we have all the combinations not usually seen in a hetero context!
barczablog: Do you have any future possibilities for adaptations in mind, possibly with cross-gender exploration..?
Mike aka Tanya: Well, in our Cleopatra show I’ll be tackling Barber’s rendition which is rather juicy. I’ve premièred Charmian in Marchand Knight’s “Cleopatra Built” which I supposed I’ll continue into our full presentation next summer (I had to replace one of of my own singers…as the quick study I am). Down the line I’m also interested in producing a “Sodom and Gomorrah” show, to tackle Salome and Samson. I’ve also been working on a collaboration with Haute Opera on a queerified Bluebeard. One day I also want to commission an opera called “Memoirs of a Gaysian” – somewhat autobiographical, about my life as a a closeted premed student turned fab opera-singing drag diva. Lots to unpack there. I definitely need to write a book or two which may be a tie-in…honestly there are enough ideas between us for several centuries I think. One step at a time!
barczablog: Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Mike aka Tanya: Marianne Bendig Grandoni definitely comes to mind – my voice teacher in my 2nd undergrad at Laurier and someone I still try to see regularly. It was a real full circle moment bringing her to sing Gremin and giving her this opportunity to sing a drag role which is rare for her these days. Unfortunately Marianne is no longer able to join us for our shows but what happens in the rehearsal room is also important and it’s been wonderful having her there!
She represents the kind of intergenerational atmosphere I like to create in the rehearsal room – we have singers just out of undergrad to those well-seasoned looking for more openness than is usual in the “biz”. Mentors like Marianne keep that eternal youthful spirit of lifelong learning, enthusiasm, and openness devoid of ego or pretension given her calibre. We all have something to learn from each other at any stage!
Tanya’s Secret produced by Opera Queens, is their adaptation of Eugene Onegin, Fri Aug 26 at 7 PM, or Sun, Aug 28 at 3 PM. (click here for ticket info)