Mezzo in da house

Mezzo in da house

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.


16 thoughts on “Mezzo in da house

  1. sounds so cool, these artist meet the public events in casual settings :-). finally the season is getting started! i’ve never heard SG live before, wonder if she might swing by boston at some point down the line. cycling in Paris? how cool! i somehow never thought it’s safe to cycle in Paris, must be from movies where crazy drivers twirling madly around and stuck in rotary. anything white-shirty (minus CT) this yr at COC? boston baroque here is doing Gluck Orpheus with a CT grrrr.

  2. Ah… don’t get me started wallowing. No — except the Messenger in Saariaho’s Amour de loin (which is more neutral than trouser), there isn’t a single trouser role this year. Correction: there is one, Nicklausse in The Tales of Hoffmann in April/May.

    Yes, isn’t it great that the singers are willing to come out for a chat in a pub? Not every singer is comfortable in situations where not everything is under their control, sometimes they cancel etc. Not these two.

    BTW, SG was a very good Ruggiero in the now classic Christie-conducted Alcina with Fleming, Dessay etc.

  3. This sounds not only like a very enjoyable event (props to both singers for charm!) but a very interesting event idea. I’m wondering if the New York City Opera might, perhaps, benefit from a similar set-up. If you don’t mind my asking: was there an entrance charge, or do the opera house and pub assume they’ll turn a sufficient profit from the custom?

  4. That’s exactly the right question, since I forgot to mention: the event is free of charge. I think the pub or the restaurant where it’s held come in as a co-sponsor, and they probably make up in extra business, but I think O101 is part of the COC’s regular education activities.

    The event used to have a really dandy sponsor in this hip place called The Drake Hotel many hears ago, when it was held in their basement and there was no pressure to buy food or drinks, where all chairs were theatre type seating and (!) there were even snacks served for the audience. I don’t know what happened, but at one point the Drake changed its mind and moved everything to their restaurant area, then other pubs and dining establishments sponsored a few… So it’s a travelling event.

    But as long as they leave at least SOME single chairs available around, the event will be free. When that’s gone, when you have to book a table and dine and drink to watch it, it won’t be a free event any more.

  5. Ah, the good old Duke. Definitely takes me back to student days. In fact the Divine Ms M and I went there last time we were in Toronto.

    … and now I definitely have to get me to an opera, or listen to one, or watch one of the YouTube clips you post. Anything. It’s beyond pathetic that I comment on your blog only when there’s a reference to one or another Toronto pub. Anyone would think my hobby was drinking, which is very far from being the case.

    1. Don’t worry — I like pubs at least as much for the society as for the beer (not to say that part’s irrelevant, of course, by any means. Particularly a good amber ale). Same here.

      I’m the most sociable misanthrope I know. Which probably blows my cover right there — exposes me as a wannabe. Your true misanthrope, no-one really knows or encounters, not even themselves. (Could there ever be such a thing as a *self-respecting* misanthrope?)

  6. Finally got a chance to read the SG interview which I thought you had linked to here… perhaps incorrectly? Anyway, it was interesting! Always curious to see how interviewers interpret their subjects. Funnily enough, I had never realized how tall SG was… maybe as a result of some “standing barefoot on the other side of the stage” style tricks? Or maybe just a trick of seeing most things from standing room at the top of the Met.

    1. Oh sorry, yes I did post it. Then I realized I’m commenting WAY too much on my own posts so said to myself, listen, you need to get this under control, girlfriend.

      Yes, SG is tall but Otter is taller. (Couldn’t resist.)

      1. Oh, I thought of it as a sort of “reader bonus” rather than too much commenting, myself. Thanks for clarifying; I feel less scatter-brained (this may be a pleasant illusion, but shhh.)

        …Yeah. And she owns it. 🙂

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