As far as I know, Opera Lyra Ottawa is the only company in the country that presents a special matinee performance once a year for school kids which serves two purposes: 1) to introduce young people to the art form 2) to create performance opportunities for generally younger singers through our Silver Cast initiative. Here are some comments from Ann Hodges, our Stage Director for our Silver Cast matinee this coming Friday.
Turandot had a wonderful opening on Saturday night and so you’d think that things might slow down a bit around here. But, for the Silver Cast, things have just begun.
The Silver Cast is a long-standing tradition at Opera Lyra. Generously supported by Mr Michael Potter, this is a special matinee performance presented to a packed house of students during the performance week. A second cast is rehearsed and integrated into the production for this extra presentation, with full orchestra. For this opera in particular, a special kind of singer is required because of the size of the voice and the experience required to step into roles like Liu, Calaf and Turandot. I have the privilege of working with our fabulous Silver Cast singers (Robin Follman as Turandot, Jeffrey Springer as Calaf and Mariateresa Magisano as Liu), helping them learn the staging and integrate their own interpretations of the roles. They’ve also spent time learning some practical backstage logistics — such as how to climb up to that high platform for Turandot’s first entrance!
We will spend a total of about 17 hours rehearsing the Silver Cast with the other principal singers. On Thursday afternoon the Silver cast goes onstage for the first time for their Orchestra Dress. It will be the strangest “dress” rehearsal you can imagine: The Silver Cast will be in full costume, while the rest of the singers (who’ve been performing in costume all week) work in their regular street clothes. Ping, Pang and Pong in blue jeans and sneakers, with Calaf in full Peking dress and wig — I look forward to it!
Friday morning is an early start: because the matinee starts at 11:00 am, there are makeup calls for the singers as early as 9:00 am – rather early for opera. The school buses start arriving, and the energy inside Southam Hall feels like a rock concert. There is a slide show that plays on a screen onstage beforehand with opera trivia and the basic storyline, and, prior to arriving, the schools have received study guides to provide additional background. There will also be onstage interviews with production staff and singers so the students get a real taste of all the elements that go into putting an opera together.
When the curtain goes up and the Silver Cast takes the stage, it’s always quite inspiring to see how effortlessly the newcomers slip into a huge production, and how seamlessly the chorus and rest of the cast work with them. The small nuances that happen with new faces and voices telling the story make it fresh for everyone.
And nothing can compare to the response from the students! They are attentive, responsive, and always give the cast the loudest curtain call I’ve ever heard. The students are a fantastic audience – they may be new to opera but they definitely seem to enjoy this magnificent art form that combines music, visuals and storytelling in such a spectacular way. Although it takes a lot of effort from cast and crew, Opera Lyra’s Silver Cast Performance is truly a golden opportunity for kids to experience opera at its best.