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ARTS: Enjoy Annex-based opera online (May 2021)

June 11th, 2021 · No Comments

From ‘park and bark’ to click and stream – opera is evolving locally

Don Alfonso (Alex Bowie) and Despina (Bahar M. Harandi) plotting and laying bets on what will happen with the young couples whom they serve. From the Long Reach Opera Workshop’s 2018 production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

By James McLean

As a singing teacher, I am constantly listening to and watching for the development of students. When I went to see Long Reach Opera Workshop perform Floyd’s Susannah in the summer of 2016, I was knocked out. The young performers sang beautifully and I could see how far they had advanced after a short workshop in stage acting. As soon as the performance was over I spoke to founder Michael Donovan and asked to be put on the board. 

Since that time I have been supporting Long Reach’s growth as a music organization, which now attracts students from across North America to work with an outstanding team of instructors. 

Voice students in graduate programs from Boston to California are drawn to Toronto to receive first-class instruction in stage performance.

As the pandemic drags on and the risk of languishing increases, the timeless music of the great composers offers us a chance to tap into a joy that has lifted spirits through the centuries. 

Townspeople praying at a revival in The Long Reach Opera Workshop’s 2016 production of Susannah by Carlisle Floyd. From front to back: Thera Barclay, Nune Ananyan, Lori Mak, Taylor Gibbs, and John Schneider.

I hope you can join us on Friday and Saturday, June 18 and 19 at 7:30 EDT, for an online performance of arias and concert songs. Music by Mozart, Handel, Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Brahms, and many more will be performed by Long Reach Opera Workshop (LROW) students. 

The workshop was founded in 2014 by siblings Michael and Anne-Marie Donovan to fill a void they noticed while teaching post-secondary voice students. 

“I felt that many of my voice students would benefit from more stage experience and more interaction with other singers and professionals,” explains Michael, who now teaches at Acadia University in Halifax. “So, I asked my sister to come in and work with them and stage a few scenes.” 

Anne-Marie, who was teaching in the drama department of the University of Waterloo, jumped at the idea of joining her brother in Toronto’s Annex to help developing opera singers. 

“LROW was created to develop the whole person, the singer-actor, on the road to a professional career,” explains Ms. Donovan, who will be directing the live-streamed June concerts.  

Michael made his home in the Annex while teaching at York University and completing his doctoral studies.

That notion of the singer-actor is leading edge in vocal training today. It takes the singer beyond marching onto the stage to, “park and bark,” as the old saying goes, to a performance where the singer’s musical skills, emotional connection and acting ability make opera accessible to a broader audience.

The name, Long Reach, originates in New Brunswick where Michael and Anne-Marie have spent many summers with family on the banks of the St. John River. 

It reflects their commitment to helping young singers strive for their goals and realize their dreams. This commitment, along with their leading-edge approach to opera pedagogy is attracting top teaching talent too.  

“I was very pleased to both give a master class for Long Reach Opera as well as hear several of my students in lead roles in their production,” said Lorna MacDonald – Professor of Voice Studies, Vocal Pedagogy, and Lois Marshall Chair in Voice at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. “Everyone was open to suggestions and willing to take risks, and that shows the friendly, safe atmosphere that the leaders have cultivated.”

Long Reach has its roots in the Annex and plans to keep growing here. The workshop gave its first performances of opera scenes in the Heliconian Club on Hazelton Avenue. As they grew, they have shifted to the larger Walmer Road Baptist Church, then Trinity-St. Paul’s Church, and in 2022 they will perform in the newly renovated Knox Presbyterian Church on Spadina Avenue. 

I sincerely hope you can join us online in June for what will be exquisite performances of songs and arias from the French and German classical repertoire. There will be no parking and barking.

Tickets are $10 for students, seniors, and culture sector workers, $20 for the general public, and go on sale June 1 at

James McLean has sung over 100 operas and oratorios across Canada, throughout Europe, Israel, and Russia in a career which spans over four decades. 

He teaches singing privately in the Annex and at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. He serves on the board of the Long Reach Opera Workshop. 

Learn more at

Tags: Annex · Arts