Through the artist’s eyes

Taking the stage as a classical artist is exciting and glamorous but it takes years of practice and dedication. Education plays a vital role in every performer’s musical career – I, too, know from experience. Singing or playing in front of people is the easy part. How you get this is another story.

With events like Operanation, aspiring students are given the chance to learn from the best in the business as they embark on a life-changing musical path. Yes, again, I may be biased, but there is nothing I love more than seeing the arts and education flourish together hand-in-hand.

Canadian Soprano, Simone Osborne has been hailed as “a joy to hear” (Los Angeles Times) with “a sweet and clear sound, sensitive phrasing and gleaming sustained high notes” (New York Times). As one of the youngest winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she is also an alumni of the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble. As an active attendee, we take a look from the artist’s point-of-view.

As an artist, define your interpretation of Operanation.

I have always seen Operanation as the COC’s invitation to a young generation of Torontonians who may have yet to experience the Four Seasons Centre and the operatic art form in all of its glory. It’s an incredible introduction to opera thanks to collaborative performances with pop musicians, creative exhibitions, amazing food and drinks at the most glamorous venue in the city. In short, it is a night where guests are welcomed in true COC style, and everyone leaves feeling welcome, inspired, excited and eager to return for a full blown performance. Operanation shows the whole city that opera is meant for everyone, regardless of age, income bracket or experience. It breaks down the walls and shows people just how accessible and sensational opera can be.

You are a graduate of the Ensemble Studio – what does the support of the Operanation event mean for all current members?

The success of Operanation makes a huge difference in the lives of the young Ensemble Studio singer. Becoming a professional opera singer takes time, dedication and an incredible team of experts to show you the way. The COC brings in the very best singing teachers, coaches, language specialists, agents and masterclass teachers from all over the world. It gives each young singer a stipend to take additional singing lessons and pays each singer a living wage so that they can spend all of their time and energy honing their craft. This would not be possible without the financial support that comes from Operanation every year. By buying a ticket to Operanation, you are directly impacting the lives and growth of these young Canadian artists.

 What is your favourite part about attending as well as hosting the VIP dinner?

I love the feeling of giving back to a company that has been unbelievably supportive of me and of my career. The dinner is always exquisitely curated with a creative theme, wonderful food and great company. It’s a perfect way to meet other interesting, young professionals with a love of the arts. It’s a real VIP experience with fabulous conversation, lots of laughs and some stunning private performances. 

What are your thoughts on this year’s theme?

I love a slightly general theme because it opens the floodgates for tons of creativity. The fashion at Operanation is ALWAYS a highlight, so I love that “A Night of Curiosities” leaves enough room for attendees to go in whichever direction they choose. It also lays the ground work for some brilliant artistic collaborations, creations and experiences over the course of the evening.

Can you share anything about your fashion choices for the evening’s festivities?

I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the past three months, so I had to pick up a new piece for Operanation this year. As the host, I like to blend in a bit rather than completely clash with the artists or other speakers, so I’ve decided on a black, sequined Aidan Maddox number which should do the trick for both the glam dinner portion and full blown party mode for the rest of the night. Usually, I like to wear Canadian designers to Operanation, (last year, I was fortunate enough to be dressed by The Room at the Hudson’s Bay, and was gifted a gorgeous Sid Neigum gown) but given my busy travel schedule this month, a quick shopping trip was all I could manage, and there wasn’t anything quite right within the Canadian designed options. Next year!

Finally, if you can (even though you’ve performed so many), what is your favourite opera?

It would be impossible to pick a favourite opera to see or hear, but my favourite to sing is “Lucia di Lammermoor”. What soprano doesn’t dream of a 20 minute ‘mad scene’, dressed in a huge white wedding gown, covered in blood from head to toe, and brandishing a dagger. To me, it’s the soprano pinnacle.

There’s still time to purchase tickets by going online or by calling COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231. 

Anna Netrebko visits Toronto

The magnificently gorgeous and talented soprano, Anna Netrebko, made her Canadian debut earlier this week at the Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts. Along with her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, and Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  The Trio Magnifico performed for, of course, a very enthusiastic audience singing operatic works including Verdi’s Rigoletto and Dvorak’s Rusalka.

Netrebko also took some time to tour around our lovely city and I must say, she definitely left her mark. We hope to see her again soon. Until then, we’ll reminisce over her lovely Instagram photos.

*Performance photo by Vladimir Kevorkov

Video at the Opera

The year of the video is finally here. With YouTube, Instagram Stories, and Snapchat, just to name a few, the world has been steadily embracing a form of not only addictive social expression but a powerful marketing tactic as well.

For many brands and organizations, traditional marketing is starting to become a thing of the past as we are all realizing that more needs to be mixed into the promotional equation in order to succeed and stand out.

Arts and cultural establishments are realizing the same thing. Especially with younger generations exploring the world of symphony and opera, musicians and artists, too, are interacting with this new group by creating personal video channels and series, vlog diaries, you name it.

So why not conductors and creative directors as well? Opera Atelier’s Marshall Pynkoski did just that. For the company’s Canada 150 production of Charpentier’s Medea, they decided to create their first promotional video ahead of the upcoming performance later this month. OA soprano Peggy Kriha Dye is featured along with Artists of Atelier Ballet Madgalena Vasko and Tyler Gledhill in scenes which underline the themes of obsession, betrayal, and revenge that drive the opera’s action.

We had the opportunity to hear more from Pynkoski on this new marketing adventure.

MC: Video is very powerful. What made you decide to embark on creating your first promotional video?

MP:  We’re living in a world in which print advertising is fast becoming redundant. Ironically, if we hope to have a 17th-century art form survive, it is essential that we embrace the most effective technology at our disposal. Taking a lead from the great fashion houses and purveyors of luxury goods – we decided that a video that sells an idea rather than a specific product would be the most successful way of our capturing the public’s attention.

MC: How did you come up with the creative direction for the video?

The action of Medea is driven by sexual obsession, violence and revenge. Like all great Baroque theatre however, these themes are never played out literally on-stage. Rather, they are described textually and musically. Consequently, we wanted to create a video that would suggest these themes in a way that is compelling but oblique.

Peggy Kriha Dye, who portrays Medea on stage as well as onscreen, was asked to imagine her husband in the arms of another woman while at the cutting board. The attack on pulpy red fruit is a visual metaphor that requires no explanation.

Tyler and Magda, both Artists of Atelier Ballet, have both known each other since they were teenagers, and approached the erotic scenes with a sense of humour and professionalism that was exceptional even for dancers of their quality and experience.

MC: Can you explain the reaction you are wishing to achieve from someone watching this video specifically around the concepts of obsession, betrayal, and revenge.

MP: We wish to ravish the senses of the viewer. Beauty is paramount, but not in the sense of something “pretty” or superficial. Ideally, the viewer is drawn into the story in spite of themselves and riveted by the tension the artists create.

MC: What was your experience like overseeing the creation of the video in comparison to working with the artists during rehearsals before a production? Did you find it different, possibly more challenging?

MP: The artists in the video are people I know extremely well, and consequently the transition from stage performance to film was natural and organic. That being said, we never deal with such overt nudity onstage. Dancers, however, are so used to being tightly directed that the scene’s sexual contact was simply approached as a piece of elaborated choreography.

Of course, a great deal of the video’s success hinged on comfort of the performers with the videographer. In our case, we were extremely lucky to have the young Canadian videographer Marcel Canzona working with us. He was extremely sensitive, understood clearly what we were looking for, and has an extraordinary talent for editing and direction.

MC: How do other promotional videos speak to you personally?

For me, the most effective promotional videos market an experience rather than the product they are selling. No one is going to buy a $10,000 Dolce & Gabbana dress because they have seen it in an attractive photograph. The dress must become a take-off point for an experience that would not be achievable without its inclusion in your life.

Medea will be playing April 22-29 at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre


Within the first decade of the eighteenth century, George Frederic Handel was already ‘wow-ing’ the London crowd with Italian opera seria. His famous Rinaldo was all the rage but by 1735, another performance took the stage achieving the utmost success.

Love, honour, and deception run back and forth throughout Ariodante with libretto based on the work by Antonio Salvi. The story revolved around the King of Scotland’s daughter, Ginevra, betrothed to Prince Ariodante. Polinesso, the Duke of Albany, is also madly in love with Ginevra who has convinced her father that she has been unfaithful to her betrothed. Of course, love conquers all in the opera world, and both Ginevra and Ariodante, fight their way back to one another defeating those who tried oh so hard to selfishly keep them apart.

On October 16th, the Canadian Opera Company will perform its first ever Toronto production of Ariodante featuring, as always, a stellar cast, including Canadian soprano Ambur Braid. Playing the role of Ginevra’s truest friend and confidant, Dalinda, we had the opportunity to ask the B.C. native, on returning to her first home, the COC, along with her preparations for another exciting opera season.


MC: How would you explain Dalinda’s character?

AB: In this Richard Jones production of Ariodante, Dalinda is the maid, a passion-driven, yet tortured soul who just can’t quite attain what she thinks she deserves. There’s a lot of internal conflict and a fair amount of abuse, as she falls for the wrong man and ruins her life and the lives of the people around her. It’s a rough show for poor Dalinda.

MC: Many would say that “psychology is a fact of Handel’s work”. How do you interpret this when preparing for this role in particular or others that you have played by the composer?

AB: Psychology is a big part of opera in general. The plots are interesting because they tell the stories of humans in extreme situations. However, for Handel, one needs to dig a bit more into the psychology than you might for, say, Puccini as it’s not always transparent and one needs to find the motivation for all of those da capo arias. This makes Handel an intensely emotional experience and it is great when a director has a clear vision and concept. Personally, I always love the third act in Handel operas, when everyone is losing their mind and going completely bonkers. It’s fabulous music.


A scene from Ariodante (Festival d’Aix en Provence, 2014), photo: Pascal Victor/ArtComArt


MC: You were quite busy this summer performing at various festivals – what do you love most about the beginning of a new opera season?

AB: This season is particularly delightful for me as it’s my return to my home company, the Canadian Opera Company. That means that I get to see the people that I love and sleep in my own bed.

For more information on upcoming performance please visit

Costuming into Norma

There are many layers to an artist when preparing for an opera such as Bellini’s Norma. From studying the repertoire until you can no longer sing ‘Casta Diva’ to watching some of the most famous sopranos of all time perform the role you have been given to play. As for costume design, this may just be the icing on the cake. The amount of preparation that goes into making each character’s full production wardrobe is another world of its own and one that should not be overlooked.

jahn-jessica_costume-designerMy visit to the Canadian Opera Company’s costume department turned into a very inspiring experience as I had the opportunity to chat with the COC’s designer for Norma – Jessica Jahn. Based in New York City, Jahn was a professional dancer before making the career move as a designer.

A production that has already been performed both in San Francisco and Barcelona, she has been able to grow with her designs as well as with the artists performing in them before they make their premiere in Toronto next month.

So what was the thought process like before even diving into design mode?

“You have three goals as a costume designer,” says Jahn, “help tell the story through the costumes, make the performance comfortable, merge both of these together to achieve the final performance and storytelling experience”. In the case of Norma, the aesthetic goal was to create a fluid, cohesive colour palette that denoted a tribe or community. By looking the set design and productions from the past, and with so much to research, Jessica wanted to find one key fact or detail that would be the driving inspiration for her designs. Finally, you can’t help but also play the role of an anthropologist, historian, and psychologist – they all factor in.

Inspirations came from both tribal and native communities as well as runway looks from designers such as Alexander McQueen. Following in this direction, the entire cast of Norma represented a collective of people experiencing a deep story through costume. Tribal tattooing as shown on their foreheads and arms represented both historical and fantastical worlds colliding on stage.




Fabrics such as natural fibers, leathers, linen, raw silk and cotton moleskins were chosen complimenting organic and neutral tones that expressed both darkness and romance. “Collaborating with Sondra [Radvanovsky] was a bonus and something I find very important if you have the opportunity to work with the artists ahead of time. With so much experience, they are able to help guide you as they are the ones who will need to perform and change throughout a three-hour-or-so performance”.

A process that took almost a year and a half in the making, opera goers will not be disappointed.

For more information about the COC’s production of Norma visit

Photo credits: Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma inNorma (San Francisco Opera, 2014), photo: Cory Weaver