Toronto City Opera’s performances are approachable and fun
By Annemarie Brissenden
What could possibly go wrong when a poor peasant who only has eyes for a beautiful landowner buys a magical love potion from an itinerant doctor? Discover the hilarity that ensues in Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, performed by the Toronto City Opera (TCO) this month at the Bickford Centre.
“Donizetti’s music is so beautiful”—Beatrice Carpino, artistic director, TCO
“I really enjoy doing comedies, and Donizetti’s music is so beautiful,” says Beatrice Carpino, the company’s artistic director. One of her tasks is picking what the company will perform each season, and due to the TCO’s unique nature, she typically faces some unusual challenges.
“The chorus [is] not auditioned, so everyone has a different background in music and music reading,” she explains.
The TCO is affiliated with the Toronto District School Board’s continuing education general interest program. The company’s backbone, the chorus, consists of students who have signed up to learn about opera by being in one that is performed on stage. Although soloists have to audition, the only prerequisite for the chorus is that the students know how to read music, and sign up for both the fall and winter programs.
“Chorus members don’t always know what they are getting into,” admits Carpino. “If they can musically handle the experience, they are invited to be in performances.”
It’s the only amateur company in Toronto that stages a full costumed opera, so it’s an opportunity for singers who want to perform for a living to get some experience. For others who have full-time jobs in other worlds, it’s simply a chance to indulge their love of singing on stage.
Carpino, whose affiliation with the company began almost 25 years ago as a soloist, says that “we’re able to bring opera to the general public for a great price, and it doesn’t feel like a hoity-toity experience.”
Now in its 49th season, the company has gained a reputation for being inclusive and approachable for audience members and performers alike.
“The fact of the environment — open, friendly, loving — and the camaraderie we all have with each other” is a large part of the company’s appeal for soloist Tammy Short, who had stopped singing for nine years before returning to join the TCO four years ago.
Fellow soloist Gerald Hannon agrees.
“There’s no sense of superiority, no distinction between the soloists and the chorus,” says Hannon. “I like the democratization [of the company].”
Hannon is a retired journalist who has been with the company for 15 years. He joined as a chorus member, but was asked to audition for a solo part almost immediately because of his speaking voice.
“The secret of singing opera is that it really helps if you’re a man,” says Hannon, explaining that there just aren’t enough men for the parts. “At the audition, the room will be full of women all lined up.”
He has since built a portfolio of comic roles, where he feels most at home.
And L’Elisir d’Amore is right in his wheelhouse.
In what he characterizes as a “sweet love story” of a “simple boy in love with a girl beyond his station”, Hannon sings the role of Dulca Mara, whom he calls the “quack doctor”.
“It’s difficult, but not quite beyond me. I’m signing at breakneck speed, spouting off Italian like there is no tomorrow,” he relates.
Similarly Short — who graduated from university with a bachelor of music — is very excited to be singing the role of landowner Adina.
“I’ve always thought this opera would be so fun to do staged,” she says. “It’s in my comfort zone, and I love singing his music…I love singing the runs.”
Hannon says the opera is hard not to like.
“It’s very melodic, and it’s got a lot of good tunes.”
Or as Short puts it, “when you leave the theatre you’ll be humming the melodies. They stick with you.”
The Toronto City Opera will perform L’Elisir d’Amore on Feb. 26, March 3, and March 5 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 28 at 2:00 p.m. The company’s season also includes performances of Die Fledermaus on Feb. 25, Feb. 27, and March 4 at 7:30 p.m., and March 6 at 2:00 p.m. All performances are at the Bickford Centre (777 Bloor St. W.), and cost $28 ($20 for seniors, $15 for students). For further information, or to buy tickets, please visit www.torontocityopera.com.