AtG's Summer Modern Intensive: "They are eager. Period." The Summer Modern Intensive Garden Party, Against the Grain Theatre, 2018. Photo: Darryl Block Photography.

AtG's Summer Modern Intensive: "They are eager. Period."

Jenna Simeonov

Canadian indie opera staple Against the Grain Theatre has kicked off its 2019 Summer Modern Intensive, a two-week workshop that centres on the canon of contemporary opera. This year, AtG joins with the opera folk at the University of Toronto to train young singers and pianists in the unique skill set that is performing 20th- and 21st-century opera.

The Intensive culminates with two performances of This is Prophetic!, a program of contemporary opera scenes, August 21-22 at the MacMillan Theatre. We spoke with AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany about his niche summer opera program.

How does AtG’s Summer Modern Intensive fit in with Canada’s network of opera training programs?

AtG is always trying to be as involved in what is going on in the world of opera across Canada. When we look at the landscape of the bounty of useful and successful training programs, we’d thought we try to offer us something different and unique. It’s a chance for singers from Toronto and outside, who may not be able to travel to Edmonton, Banff, Vancouver, Italy or Newfoundland to work in the big city and collaborate with a different group faculty and singers.

“The singers all study or have studied music and want to immerse themselves in the process and see how far they can stretch themselves.”

A big area of development that I am a huge champion of is the individual personal growth. Each artist is just that, an individual artist. They have something to say and need to develop the confidence and experience to be able to do that. Most of my training was and is by doing. By presenting and working on contemporary opera scenes which you don’t usually find in the standard repertory, we’ll be able to free ourselves from previous interpretations of the role and also hone our craft in terms of learning music, staging and process.

The Summer Modern Intensive Garden Party, Against the Grain Theatre, 2018. Photo: Darryl Block Photography.

What are some unique challenges to putting together a scenes program of solely contemporary opera?

I have been researching scenes programs and it can be very difficult to find a theme or a thread through them all. What’s exciting is that often the audience will not know (or be able to compare) what they will be seeing and hearing, which can be quite liberating for the performer. The audience may know Nixon in China or Regina but they haven’t seen Dialogues of the Carmelites or Gloriana. So a challenge can definitely be drawing in a curious crowd based on the musical choices.

“We do it because we love to create, we love to be challenged and we love to be pushed into new areas.”

What have you discovered about the young singers who are taking on this new opera repertoire?

They are eager. Period. They are excited and wanting to know more. We’ve brought in some fairly stellar teachers to work with them vocally as well as immersing them on the opera side with a faculty that work in the business. The singers all study or have studied music and want to immerse themselves in the process and see how far they can stretch themselves. It can be daunting, but they are up for the challenge. Already after one day, we’re seeing people take risks, smile, look perplexed, and all with a smile.

Joel Ivany, stage director and Artistic Director of Against the Grain Theatre.

Can you give us any hints to what’s “Prophetic” about this year’s program?

A question I am constantly asked is, “what is the future of opera?” I’ve talked about it with our co-collaborators, Sandra Horst and Michael Patrick Albano. I think we all agree that the future of opera lies in the people who are passionate about it. Sandra and Michael are giving up weeks of their summer to work on a new program because they are passionate about opera and training. AtG is wanting to pour time, energy, and love into participants who want to sing opera and care about this art form.

I believe it’s heading in a very exciting, and perhaps different path than people may have predicted, but that’s based on the individuals and groups of people who dedicate their time and careers to this business. We do it because we love to create, we love to be challenged and we love to be pushed into new areas and learn something about ourselves and this art form.

The Summer Modern Intensive Garden Party, Against the Grain Theatre, 2018. Photo: Darryl Block Photography.
This is Prophetic! happens August 21-22, 7:30pm, at the MacMillan Theatre.

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