Jenna Simeonov Greg Finney
The dwindling calendar days of the year, the family time, and the potential hangovers tend to bring out our best days of nostalgia. In my case, it's flipping through the collection of events I've had the fortune to attend over 2014, remembering the good, forgiving the bad, and noticing no ugly. In the spirit of wrapping things up, I offer up a list of my most memorable moments of the year. And since he's contributed to Schmopera with his own sets of expertise over the year, I also asked guest writer Greg Finney to list his 2014 highlights.


1. When Peter Sellars spoke to teenagers about Handel, war, and poverty.

While he was in town for his production of Handel’s Hercules at the COC, I had the chance to sit in on a talk that director Peter Sellars gave to young opera fans. He spoke about Handel’s sense of charity, of his understanding of women’s suffering during wartime, and about valuing the arts. It was a densely inspiring talk that extended to these young listeners a deep understanding of the arts’ role in today’s culture.

2. Working on #UncleJohn in Banff

I joined Against the Grain Theatre at The Banff Centre to work on Joel Ivany’s new piece, #UncleJohn. It’s the second in Joel’s original libretti for the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas, starting with Figaro’s Wedding and rounding out with the upcoming A Little Too Cozy. The team, the location, and the project were all inspiring, and it made for a pretty fantastic summer. Check it all out here.

Opening night of #UncleJohn at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff, AB.

3. When I interviewed Canadian playwright and opera newbie Daniel MacIvor.

With composer Rufus Wainwright, playwright Daniel MacIvor is preparing to write his first opera libretto, Hadrian, commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company and set to premiere in 2018. We met out at the beautiful Banff Centre, and we picked each other’s brain about librettos (wondering about Mozart’s text repetition, etc.). We talking about writing words not to be spoken, but to be sung. He was an enlightening person to meet, piquing my curiosity about Hadrian to new heights.

4. When I saw Obeah Opera

I went with Greg to a workshop performance of Nicole Brook’s Obeah Opera, the “a cappella theatrical epic” which tells the story of Black slave women and their fates during the Salem Witch Trials. The story is a heavy one even on paper, but I wasn’t prepared for the experience of it live. The women in this ensemble piece showed a rare example of a group’s unity, of oneness, both musical and narrative. You know how the absolute best shows are sometimes hard to describe? Unfortunately for you, readers, Obeah was one of those. Greg could probably vouch for me, though, judging by his emotional state at the show’s end.

5. When I heard top-notch Canadian music, performed by Canadians.

The Canadian Art Song Project brought its hard work and skillful artists to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, showcasing a collection of songs by Canadian composers. I was moved by artists like Monica Whicher and Kathryn Tremills, and excited about the additions to the ever-growing Canadian musical canon.


1: Robert Carsen’s Falstaff

Grabbing top honours for me this year, has to be the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Verdi’s Falstaff. This opera holds a special place in my heart. I was in a production years ago and that experience is what pushed me into this glorious career. Seeing such a stunning performance of this masterpiece reaffirmed in me as an artist why I do this to begin with. The singing was phenomenal - to hear Finley sing Falstaff is probably one of the best things that could have happened to this young baritone. It was brilliant. Mistress Quickly (Marie Nicole Lemieux) taught us all how to be a pro, and actually all the singers knocked this one out of the park - I only felt that Russell Braun may have been a little miscast, but that was really my only issue with the entire production. I still have wet dreams about that kitchen.

“The Kitchen,” from Robert Carsen’s Falstaff at the COC. Photo: Michael Cooper

2: Renée and Joyce singing national anthems

Some people probably don’t see this as much of a big deal. I tend to disagree. We had Renée Fleming sing the American National Anthem at the Superbowl and SLAY it. It’s a difficult song to sing at the best of times, never mind the thought of having singers doing it (at such high profile events) who really don’t have the range required for this arduous piece. Renée knocked it out of the park, literally reminding Americans (and the rest of us) what their national anthem SHOULD sound like (not everybody is Whitney). Even Major League Baseball upheld the status quo on this one and asked the awesomesauce Joyce DiDonato to sing the anthem for the World Series. It’s nice not only to think that we’re past the hijinks of the likes of Roseanne Barr and moving into an area where even the commonest of denominators love hearing a properly trained voice.

3: AtG’s Pelléas et Mélisande

What an eye-opener is Against the Grain Theatre. I’ve been blessed to work with them on some amazing projects (La bohème, Figaro’s Wedding, AtG’s Messiah, #UncleJohn). Joel Ivany’s creative mind is exactly what we all need in this industry to keep us ALL revitalized. This production of Debussy’s only opera was stunning, and couldn’t be more perfect. Sung outside in a beautiful garden space with occasional natural accompaniment of the wee birdies hiding amongst the ivies and trees. We were introduced to the lovely Andrea Nùñez and I fell head over heels for French baritone Etienne Dupuis. If you have a chance to hear this guy, run - don’t walk. You’ll fall just as hard. #tripleswoontimesinfinity.

Etienne Dupuis as Pelléas in AtG’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Photo: Darryl Block

4: Tamar Iveri and Valerian Ruminski

In an era of acceptance and in an industry which regularly celebrates the diversity involved both on and off the stage, it was downright appalling to hear some of the horrible vitriol that came from the mouths (well, fingers) of some of its brightest voices on the stage. We heard from Tamar Iveri (via her Facebook page), comparing the LGBT community to feces and a scourge that should be eradicated. She claimed the words were her husband’s, not hers - colour me “not convinced” (#bigot). Ruminski followed not long after, tweeting some incredibly hate-filled words directed at a young man headed to Ottawa Pride. That’s right, this one went down on our home turf. Canada. The world leader in acceptance had its reputation besmirched by the hiring of someone who can’t keep his personal opinions personal. After just seeing the film Into the Woods, I kind of want to rewrite “Children Will Listen” to include “careful the posts you posts, people can see them”

5: NYCO pulling a phoenix

For over 70 years, New York City Opera was bringing delicious, creative productions to New York fans, and in October of 2013 they had to close their doors and filed for bankruptcy. New York City Opera claims to be the ones to have made stars of Plácido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Samuel Ramey and Jose Carreras (2 of The Three Tenors ain’t bad). We were all still mourning the death of this cultural treasure when news broke of the New York City Opera Renaissance, a foundation dedicated to returning New York City Opera back to the moniker of “The People’s Opera”. They’ve applied to take over the company and (I believe) are just waiting on the final ruling of the bankruptcy courts. All signs point to us having this great company back on its feet. Plans are already running to have them back onstage for us in 2015.

Have a wonderful New Year, readers! I hope a soprano is within earshot of tonight’s Auld Lang Syne. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re always within earshot. Cheers, and see you in 2015!

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