The Opera Questionnaire: Brent Bambury

CBC Radio journalist Brent Bambury will be known to many across Canada as the host of Day 6, but only Torontonians will know about his love of opera: Brent often MC’s opera-related events in Toronto, including one of the most successful education programs by the COC, the Opera Connect/Opera 101. (And Barihunk curators, take note. A potential honorary barihunk inductee here, non?) Here is his insightful and funny take on the Opera Questionnaire:


Brent B

The opera (or the scene) with which to intrigue a pop-music-savvy adult?

Pop music is structurally simple, verse-chorus or even less. And sometimes it tells a story, but often it’s a simple emotion set to music. Simplicity, quirky, bit of an attitude: oddly a scene I think might work is “Kleinzach” from Hoffmann. It’s got a narrative, some tension, sing-along potential and a hook.

And a film buff?

Hands down, Ride of the Valkyries from Apocalypse Now.

The work (or the scene) that is most likely to make a teen intrigued by opera?

There are so many pieces of music that have made their way into the popular culture which most teens would recognize instantly and never know the work from which they were excerpted. I’m thinking:

-Anvil Chorus
-La Habanera
-Ride of the Valkyries
-Flower Duet
-Nessun Dorma

But I’m sure that recontextualizing these works into the complete opera is the best way to bring young people on board. A huge chorus, fast tempi, action scenes, murder and mayhem are always good bets. No shortage of these in opera.

The best argument to use with opera traditionalists who argue that productions should be done the one “faithful” way and no other way?

Great art speaks to the present as well as the past. Just as musical interpretations allow for infinite variety so do possible productions. Tie it all to one idea and you risk making it moribund and irrelevant.

Have you ever been moved to tears at the opera?

Of course.

Have you ever nearly dozed off at the opera?

Not nearly. Entirely. But I was jet lagged.

What kind of behaviour by the fellow audience members do you easily tolerate and what kind inevitably distracts?

I try to be zen about audience noise and have sat through whispering, candy unwrapping, the zipping of purses, the shushing of others. It’s usually over quickly.

I do find it rude and distracting when people are checking a phone or opening a screen during a performance. I wish conversations would end the moment the orchestra starts and not as the curtain opens. And I don’t like it when people leave the theater while performers are still onstage.

Name three performances about which you always say to your friends, “You had to be there…!”

-Natalie Dessay – Zerbinetta Met 97
-Ben Heppner  – Tristan COC 13
-Gwyneth Jones – Turandot Met 95

Something that illustrates how well opera understands love and desire.

Mild und leise – Wagner

Your choice of segments or arias that show how political opera can be.

Nixon in China, The whole thing.

The Met in HD – good, bad, a mixed bag?

Haven’t seen but I like the fact that people are debating it. The popularity of the screenings seems to be a good thing but the argument that opera is a large scale experience, not a multi-camera offering like a Superbowl broadcast, is a fair one.

A composer that never ceases to amaze?


A work that keeps revealing new and new layers of meaning and pleasure each time?


Imagine I’m an opera house or a funder. Pitch to me three new opera commissions.

Hey Lucy – opera about how Lucille Ball became the biggest female star on TV, launched a production company and made mixed marriage acceptable to America.

Turing – Alan Turing, eccentric cryptologist, wins war for allies but is prosecuted by his government for homosexuality, dies eating poisoned apple.

Mulroney – Bigger than life flawed politician leads party to historic victory, succumbs to graft, just wants to be loved.


Brent Bambury has always had a deep connection to radio and was still a teenager when he launched his career at CBC working in Saint John, Halifax and Montreal. He spent most of the ’80s and half of the ’90s staying up late sharing his love for obscure and emerging music hosting Radio 2’s all-night underground music show Brave New Waves. Later he worked as an entertainment reporter and co-host of Midday and and in 2000 he helped Kai Black and David Carroll re-invent the game show genre with their popular Radio 1 show, Off the Cuff. After that, he hosted All in a Day (2002) and also helped design and host the national music quiz show GrooveShinny. In 2008, he returned to television to co-host Test the Nation with Wendy Mesley. The Saturday morning playhouse GO! was created around this time; with Brent as the host, the show was broadcast nationally for eight years. Day 6, his latest creation, blends journalism, current affairs, comedy and opinion. 

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