Opera for voyeurs: Opera Peep Show Photo: Marilis Cardinal

Opera for voyeurs: Opera Peep Show

Greg Finney

From April 28-30 at Toronto’s Campbell House Museum, the ladies of Liederwölfe are serving up Opera Peep Show, a completely innovative way to experience opera. The premise is simple: show up to a cocktail party and grab a beverage, then have a look at the night’s operatic menu. You choose the opera bite you want to taste, and with small pay-as-you-go fees, you’ll get a key to a room in the Museum, where you’ll walk right into an ongoing opera scene, presented by Liederwölfe and Toronto-based indie opera companies Essential Opera, Urbanvessel, and re:Naissance.

Greg Finney spoke with Artistic Director Lindsay Michael and General Manager Francesca Perez, about Opera Peep Show, and Liederwölfe’s Montréal beginnings as “a giant classical music troll”.

Can you give us the “Cole’s Notes” version of the history of Liederwölfe Opera? How did you come up with the name?

Liederwölfe began as a bunch of music students at McGill; we were disappointed that our peers didn’t love opera as much as we did. So we started to ask ourselves, why? We realized that opera performances are long, expensive and the atmosphere makes it hard to just have a night out with your friends. So, we decided to create an experimental opera collective in Montréal, focused on improving audience experience to engage new audiences. We produced our first opera for a bar, and basically advertised it as a rock show and held it in a rock venue.

We named ourselves Liederwölfe - because at the time in Montréal- a lot of indie bands had the word “wolf” in their name (We Are Wolves, Wolf Parade). Rumours started that we were some super-group of wolf bands, and the place was packed for our first show. No one knew what to expect. Then we got on stage and sang opera, and everyone freaked out. Some people loved it, others walked out; there was shouting. It was basically a giant classical music troll.

At the time we were the first group to produce opera in a bar. Liederwölfe collaborates frequently with indie rock musicians. We presented a brand new opera based on the web-comic “Dinosaur Comics” at POP Montréal. We have also performed at NXNE and Montréal’s Francofolies, where we collaborated with the well-known Francophone band Malajube and the metal band Voivod.

How did you come up with this concept for Opera Peep Show?

We’ve been quietly working on this idea for almost 5 years. We noticed from our bar shows the thing people responded to most was the power of the human voice and being so close to the opera singers. So, we decided to create a project that emphasized those elements.

Opera Peep Show begins with a cocktail party in the bar, where the audience can choose different opera scenes from a menu. When they pick a scene, they pay a fee and are given a room key. They then walk into an opera scene happening in one of the museum’s rooms, already in progress.

Each scene is presented by a different Toronto-based indie opera company. Opera Peep Show experiments with pay-as-you-go micro-payments for the audience.

Opera Peep Show - How it works from Lindsay Michael on Vimeo.

What is the repertoire selection process? Do you select it, or are the participating companies choosing what they wish to present?

We give each company total creative control over their own room. We see it as a platform to allow them to fully express themselves to a new audience.

Tell us about the venue.

This venue is perfect for us. We’ll be in the basement of this historic home for the “party”; that’s where the bar will be located. And scenes will happen in the ballroom, the bedroom, the dining room and the withdrawing room. We thought this was a good fit, not only because the rooms lend themselves well to create an intimate backdrop for the performance, but it’s a space that invites audience members to explore.

We also love that it’s downtown and across from a major performing arts hub, the Four Seasons Centre.

Toronto is experiencing a sort of opera Renaissance; how do you see Liederwölfe contributing to this? Do you think this could be a national phenomenon?

It is! What’s happening in Toronto is very exciting. It’s been happening in fits and starts in small companies around the world for the past decade; it’s the Zeitgeist. The classical music community is trying to connect with new audiences. But what’s happening in Toronto is particularly exciting because we’re all working together to build that audience.

We see our company as a first stepping stone to all of the other companies in the city. We are trying to be a conduit that connects people, curious about opera, to a company that’s a good fit for them.

Photo: Marilis Cardinal.

Three parter: What was the last great movie you saw or re-watched? What’s your favourite treat to have for a reward? If you could share the stage with ANY singer, who would it be and in what?

(Lindsay): Film: I recently saw 10 Cloverfield Lane. I love horror movies and it was a very satisfying film to watch!

Treat as a reward: Truffle oil and parmesan popcorn.

Share the stage with any singer: Joni Mitchell - I would sing back up for her on anything she wanted. I know she’s not really performing lately, but this already isn’t a realistic scenario, so I’m running with it.

Anything else in particular you can tell us about the show?

Opera Peep Show serves up bite-sized moments of opera in a party atmosphere, where the curious can sample the best opera companies in the city with a drink in hand. *Opera Peep Show*’s pay-as-you-go, immersive format allows guests to choose their own unique experience and how much or how little opera they want in their night out.

Poster design by Shizu Yamaguchi.

What else have you got planned for this season?

This is it! It’s a giant experiment. If it works, we’ve been kicking around a few new versions of Peep Show that we’d love to try!

Opera Peep Show happens April 28-30, 7-10pm at Campbell House Museum. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.

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