Monday, December 5, 2011

Agoraphobic? Try Opera da Camera!

Opera da Camera (from left to right)
Taylor White
Meagan Zantingh
 Kathrin Welte
 Benjamin Kwong
Though you and I may not realize it, operatic singers live an interesting dilemma. Their most fruitful work comes, of course, from playing a major role in an opera or appearing in front of an orchestra, interestingly enough but, once out of school, singers don't often get the chance to perform a blend of styles, both popular and classical, in recital. Four very talented graduates of McGill's Schulich School of Music have decided it's time for that to change.

Meet Opera da Camera (opera of the chamber). Born from a passion to bring operatic music to new audiences, mezzo Kathrin Welte, mezzo Meagan Zantingh, baritone Taylor White and pianist Benjamin Kwong perform "semi-staged operatic variety shows", combining operatic and broadway music in an intimate setting. Their shows include quite a bit of drama as well, with the whole space often being used by the performers who also use props and costumes.

With all of these factors combined, Opera da Camera's performances are quite entertaining and, consciously, accessible. As Meagan Zantingh noticed, "there is a real divide between an opera-goer and the general [concert-going] public," and it is her hope that bringing themed concerts which "include songs recognizable by the audience, along with some that will be new to them," will warm them to operatic music.

Interestingly, part of Opera da Camera's mandate is to present concerts both in Montreal and the communities surrounding it. Their reasoning is two-fold, firstly, the townships rarely host an operatic musical event, and secondly, their concerts in the townships are co-produced with the community, saving Kathrin and Meagan, the two co-founders, quite a bit of work.

But what makes them unique? They tailor their programs in the townships to the audience. "When we programmed our first concert," Meagan explains, "we thought about the make-up of the audience and made a program of familiar works to them with a few new ones." If I had a nickel every time I heard that, I'd have ten cents.

Since they began last January, Opera da Camera have presented four concerts, two in North Hatley and two in Montreal, and they are looking forward to a busy season in the coming months. On the 16th they will be repeating this week's performance of 'Souvenirs de Noël' in North Hatley, and have a three-concert series coming up in the Rialto Theatre.

"The Rialto is a great place for us," Meagan says, "it has a great acoustic, it's an intimate setting... they put the show on their mailing list." The theatre also attracts 'Rialto regulars' (my own term), which OdC hopes to tap into, though there is a little bit of a challenge, "all of our concerts at the Rialto [have been and] will be in the mid-week," admits Meagan, but that's only a small detail.

The theatre, one of Montreal's oldest venues, hasn't seen an opera grace its stage in 80 years, and, with the help of these four entrepreneurs, a new chapter in the theatre's history has begun. "I think [the theatre] is open to the idea of opera coming back, and it would be great for us to put on a production one day," says Meagan.

'Souvenirs de Noël' will be first presented tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Rialto theatre and will feature all four singing Christmas carols as well as works in a more familiar instrumentation to the group. "Ben will sing with us in some great a capella arrangements," says Meagan, "it's nice to have that variety in a concert... and a pianist who can sing too."

So if you're out and about in the mid-week, put Opera da Camera's concert season in your calendar. If you live in Montreal, that is. For the rest of us, we might have to wait a bit, but, I suspect, not too long.
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