Friday, February 6, 2015

Magical Flute, Amazing Moments

Given that it has taken me almost five decades (ugh) to attend a live opera performance, it's possible I may not live long enough to attend another one.  I mean, I would certainly like to; it was a tremendous experience that I would love to repeat, and far more accessible than you might anticipate.

Five or ten or more years from now, if I haven't returned to this epic melange of voice, symphony, colour and motion, if someone should ask if I have ever been to an opera, I look forward to smiling and saying, "Only one...but I did see it twice."

I had previously mentioned just how much work Fenya and her two Cantilon comrades have put in while preparing for the Edmonton Opera Company's production of The Magic Flute.  There were eight 4-hour rehearsals in the ten days leading up to opening night this past Saturday, plus another three hours technical setup on one of the afternoons, all while diploma exams loomed at the same time.  Thankfully Fenya only had one exam this time around, which she wrote a week ago Friday.  Once that was out of the way, there wasn't even an opportunity to sleep in, as her choir had another rehearsal for their presentation of Mary Poppins on Saturday morning.  It appears that "no rest for the weary" is not so much a cliché as it is an inviolable maxim for those in the performing arts.

In addition to Audrey, Glory and myself, the opening night audience included Fenya's Auntie Betty and cousin Kara-Lynn from Rocky Mountain House, as well as Auntie Tara and Uncle Jerry from Leduc.

We enjoyed a glass of wine in the lobby of the Jubilee auditorium, and examined an infographic by photographer Nanc Price that layed out precisely how much work and just how many people are involved in staging such a complex production.

Seeing Fenya's photo and bio in the Intermezzo magazine cemented the reality and scope of the event in our minds, while simultaneously adding a glaze of surreality to the proceedings. Soon the time came to take our seats,

How do I encapsulate such an experience?  With great difficulty, it turns out.  My points of appreciation included:
  • The deep resonance of hearing one of Mozart's last scores being performed live by talented musicians.
  • The giddy glee I felt at watching three lovely ladies brandishing spears at an origami-inspired giant serpent and trilling "Die monster, die!" in German, as a significant pyrotechnic effect laid the beast low. 
  • The beautiful menace of the Queen of the Night, dominating the stage in her amazing costume, and Teiya Kasahara's amazing rendition of one of the world's most recognizable arias.
  • The solemn bravery of the hero, Tamino (Adam Luther), juxtaposed with the humor and nervous energy of his counterpart, the birdcatcher Papageno (John Brancy), who provides a baritone Han Solo to the tenor's Luke Skywalker.
  • Jessica Muirhead's performance as Pamina, alternately funny and heartbreaking, and all tremendously moving, despite my lack of fluency in German.
  • The perverse villainy of Monostatos, portrayed with oleaginous mirth by Michael Barret, and balanced in such a way that, as creepy as it was for adults, wouldn't give younger attendees nightmares.  Also, another brilliant costume by Deanna Finnman.
  • A story that marries magic and reason in a tale extolling the virtues of diligence, love, and friendship.

The overall vibrancy of the entire production cannot be adequately captured in words, so I strongly recommend you check out Nanc Price's photos via her flickr album; they are simply breathtaking.

I would have enjoyed myself tremendously even without Fenya appearing in the cast, but the first moment she, Alla and Aanchel came onstage, my heart nearly burst. Fantastically attired, moving with confidence, smiling brilliantly, and singing sweetly, all at once the work and anxiety leading up to that moment crystallized onstage, and I literally felt my breath catch; this was the real thing.  My daughter was onstage for a professional production of the world's 4th most performed opera, and she was clearly having the time of her life.

'Pride' is not nearly big enough a word to describe how I felt, and how I still feel, days later.

We were grinning from ear to ear when Fenya arrived from backstage with her makeup still on, receiving accolades and hugs from everyone, and flowers from her sister and cousin.

John Brancy (Papageno) stopped to introduce himself on the way by, and to compliment Fenya on her singing and hard work; a complete gentleman.

The next morning, Audrey's sister Vera called to ask how it had gone, and confessed that she had taken to checking online for airline seat sales every couple of hours in hopes of coming to see the opera, but to no avail.  While she and Audrey commiserated over the phone, I used my iPad to confirm a suspicion, and once I'd done so, suggested we use some of our accumulated Air Miles to fly Vera  out on Tuesday.

Having sorted that out, she then contacted Oma, and after flying into Calgary Tuesday afternoon and driving her to Edmonton, the two of them (accompanied by Audrey) took in their first opera that evening, and shared our gobsmacked admiration.

Thursday afternoon, I decided it was ridiculous to not go see the opera a second time if I had the opportunity to do so; I'd greatly enjoyed the experience, and who knew when another opportunity like this might present itself? So I arranged tickets at the will-call window and texted Audrey so that Glory would be ready to go.  That evening even more friends of ours were in attendance (Pete, Ellen, Scott and his daughter Elizabeth (who seemed pretty chuffed that her occasional babysitter was singing in an opera)) as well as Rev. Mervin and his wife Debbie from our church, and most of the Cantilon Chamber Choir.

Everyone I've spoken to seems to be quite as impressed as I was, not only with Fenya's debut and the tremendous performance by the Three Spirits, but with the production as a whole.  The reviewer from the Edmonton Journal even mentioned them briefly, saying, "The Three Ladies and Three Spirits are compelling vocally and dramatically."

But as good as it was, the performance itself was not the highlight of the experience.

The best part, by far, was listening to Fenya tell the backstage stories, about the things that worked right away and the ones that didn't, the improvisations they were able to add, and the discipline needed for their choreography.

Every story she told about an off-colour joke, or good-natured teasing, made it crystal clear that the other principal cast members did not regard the three of them as mascots or accessories, but as valued colleagues, worthy of respect.  You should read some of the cards she got from them; instead of the "Great work and good luck!" or variations on "Have a great summer!" from high school yearbooks, a renowned soprano like Teiya Kasahara took the time to compliment Fenya on her harmonies and sense of pitch. Jessica Muirhead praised Fenya's acting and singing, and chided her with a reminder to smile (a common theme during rehearsal).

As a parent, you are naturally inclined to be proud of your children, and I am certainly proud of both of mine.  Watching one of them make one of the first big steps in transitioning to adulthood, that is to say, going to work with a bunch of talented professionals and impressing them with her dedication and ability, that's really something else. The simple initiation into independent adult conversation, away from one's comfort zone of home and family, is not to be understated. Most importantly though, working so hard, for so long, on something so complicated in detail and breathtaking in scope, and to have it all come off without a hitch and to be rewarded by an appreciative audience? Magic, truly.

Driving home last night for the final time, I knew Fenya's feelings would be mixed; relief at having the performances (and rehearsals) behind her, but sadness at the inevitable passing of a tremendous experience.  "You've worked really hard, with amazingly talented, dedicated and generous people,and you've accomplished something absolutely amazing," I told her.  "That's the best that anyone can hope for in their work, and, God willing, this won't be the last time you experience it, no matter what you end up doing with your life."

To the cast and chorus and staff and musicians of Edmonton Opera's The Magic Flute, thank you so much for giving Fenya, Alla and Aanchel an experience that so closely mirrors the story from the opera itself: a magical journey from darkness to enlightenment, through perils both spiritual and corporeal, and accomplished through perseverance, friendship and love.

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