Mezzo in da house

Posted on September 14, 2011

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The public house, that is. The COC’s Opera 101 was held today for the first time north of Bloor (NoBlo? I don’t think it will take), in the patio of the multi-storey Duke of York. Brent Bambury MC’d with guests Susan Graham and Russell Braun, with audiences filling almost every available chair and table on two floors.

Brent opened with an impromptu call to action regarding the municipal arts cuts on the horizon and actually took the trouble to read the the wards where citizen input would be most effective (hint: those are the wards with councillors that the Mayor whips, and a couple of waffley ones). Excellent use of the podium, and a diplomatic and very gentle nudge. “COC doesn’t know I prepared this, but I must say a few words…” He finished with “You may disagree with me, you can tell me after,” but nobody seemed to as he got a hearty applause and a wave of approving nods. Then he did his usual “There are no bad questions” thing, adding “You may be wondering, for example, what is the difference between the mezzo soprano and a nutso-soprano. We’ll try to answer.”

Graham and Braun were great as guests, comfortable in the setting and with each other. Here are some of the highlights:

There are 25 dancers in this production, so Brent asked what will they all do. Braun at first joked that that many are required to lift him off the ground (which they will be doing), and then talked about the functions that dancers will take in the story-telling. In one Orestes scene, they will all be dressed as his mother.

This would be Susan Graham’s 5th go at the Carsen Iphigenia production.

But the first one for Russell Braun, though the two of them have been in an Iphigenia before, a Paris production which Graham proceeded to pan hilariously and kept returning to in the course of the evening. Braun remembered that his first entrance was usually delayed by the shouting from the audience, with pro- and contra-Gerard Mortier factions equally vocal. Graham later recalled that during her most important aria she was in the dark, while the silent actor who doubled as Iphigenia (a head shorter and “twenty years older”) was placed centre stage. She also developed laryngitis and had to cancel the prima and provide a doctor’s report (!) so that the director could magnify it and put it on an easel at the entrance to the Garnier for the audience to see. What made her keep going? Marc Minkowski in the pit. An unexpected bonus was that in one scene she got to make out with Braun. [It's the 2006 Krzysztof Warlikowski production we're talking about.]

Braun then explained that he can easily get behind a lot of seemingly crazy concepts. “Once I start liking the director, it’s not that hard to go along. I start liking the production. Also, in part, it’s a survival mechanism, since you’re stuck together for the run of the production and should make the best of it. Tell yourself ten times a day, ‘It could be worse.’”

In the recent Met production of Iphigenia, Graham never leaves the stage. “The problem is, you get thirsty,” she said. She had devised a special method of smuggling a sip or two while still on stage: one of the chorus singers had bottled water hidden in her costume and when she embraces Iphigenia, Graham seizes the opportunity.

We also learned that the mezzo is not a stranger to karaoke. What is her karaoke repertoire? “The Queen–”Bohemian Rhapsody”, of course. Then Hair and the “Age of Aquarius”. “La vie en rose” also sometimes comes up.”

“Susan is revered in Paris.” — Russell Braun

“The point when you forget you’re singing, when it feels like you’re simply talking, getting the point across” is the best that can happen, says Graham. She then described how this happened with Braun in their most recent ORCA rehearsal.

Braun: “I’m always nervous when I need to sing in Toronto.”  “Home town is tough,” — SG.

We also learn that her favourite mode of transport in Paris is bicycle. (Another mezzo who cycles–Rockout!)

After the formal part of the event, the singers stayed on to be mobbed for signing, hand-shaking and compliments.

Iphie opens on September 22.

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