Kristine Dandavino on Oshawa Opera

Kristine Dandavino on Oshawa Opera

Jenna Simeonov
In the midst of grim news for plenty of North American companies, I love to hear about new places to catch some opera. Mezzo-soprano Kristine Dandavino is Artistic Director of Oshawa Opera, founded in 2013, and looking forward to finishing its second season this April with La traviata on April 19th, and a reprisal of Norma on April 25th. I’m always in awe of people who start opera companies, no matter what size, and so I took the chance to ask Kristine a bit about this new company in what is perhaps an unlikely community for opera.

Why did you start Oshawa Opera?

Why not? Oshawa Opera was born in April 2013, around 1:00 AM during a sleepless night when our daughter Zoé was still not sleeping through the night (she was 3 at the time). As I tried in vain to make her sleep, I thought about what would make me really happy. Oshawa was always known as motor city, my husband and I moved here in 2005 to start our family. At the time, I wondered why we moved here and wondered how a musician could thrive living in an industrial city. Oshawa is growing as a bedroom community to Toronto and as a university city, the community is diverse and the desire for culture is growing. The city of Oshawa has launched a big initiative with Culture Counts and I figured, this is the time. This is the time to start building an opera company in Oshawa, not in 10 years, now. Other than the Opera Lyra and Opera York, there are not that many opportunities in Ontario for opera singers to continue to build their craft. Yes, there are several indie companies in Toronto but, not everyone can get to Toronto to hear these singers. A lot of seniors have told me, they used to to go to the COC but, they no longer have the stamina to travel to Toronto so, they are happy they can hear opera in Oshawa and get home in time for dinner!

What are some unique challenges about presenting opera in smaller cities?

Where do I start? Oshawa Opera is very new; we are in our infancy. Durham Region citizens don’t know we exist. They are curious, but they do not know what to expect. I view my role as founder of Oshawa Opera to be an educator. I have to explain everything; explain to sponsors the need for a program, what a concert program entails, and explain that we need volunteers for front of house duties (I have a great team of volunteers!!!!!). Potential audience members tell me “But, I don’t like opera!” This is where my mommy-training comes in. I say “Well, have you ever been to the opera?” Often, the answer is “No.” So, I say “Try it, you might like it. Try it first, and then you can say, you don’t like it.” This is where complimentary tickets can go a long way. Yes, we lose money but, we gain an educated audience member that can now make an educated choice. Finding an ideal venue for Oshawa Opera has been a challenge. The newly renovated Regent Theatre (where the symphony performs) is beautiful, but costly to rent and there is no piano. Hence, we are grateful for the support of Kingsview United Church. he sace is beautiful and open, and it houses a great grand piano. One day, we will have our own orchestra, mark my words! Our chorus is small, but mighty! I get a lot of enquiries from singers but, again, they are scared to sing in a different language or terrified to sing high notes. Again, I teach them that high notes (and low notes) are fun; and again, unless you try it, you can’t assume you “can’t sing in Italian!”

What kind of reception has Oshawa Opera gotten from its first season?

Exciting! We had to move from our first venue, because it was too small! Audience members have said “Who knew we had talent in this town!” We have made it our mission that children can attend our performances for free. This is how we are going to build tomorrow’s audience. All the children that have attended our performances have enjoyed the concerts and were quiet during the performances. Some children have said “It’s too loud!” or “That character is funny!” or “I want to sing for you, when I am big!” This all makes the countless hours worth it.

What repertoire do you hope to explore in future seasons?

We want to continue to produce the well known operas in shorter versions and adaptations. I am hoping to share next season in April 2015. Italian opera will always be a staple of our season. I am hoping to stage at least one production next year and I will continue to produce at least one concert in English. Understanding the sung words, for our audience, is crucial. So, without naming any specific titles, lets say, there will be Verdi in Oshawa next year, for sure!

Why are companies like Oshawa Opera important for the industry as a whole?

Again, to educate the public. The idea that the public does not know what it wants is false. We need to perform quality music for them to want more. That is what we need to do. I have had several audience members tell me “Oh, now I want to go to the COC and hear another opera!” Isn’t that what it is all about ? Sharing the love of opera. I had a child tell me, recently, “I can’t wait to be old enough to go to the opera ALONE. I don’t want to come with my parents, I want to go by myself!” I know my job is done!

For details about upcoming performances from Oshawa Opera, visit their website.

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