In just a month or so I’ll be heading to Ottawa to start work on Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana as Assistant Director, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am about it! Not only is this a super opportunity for a young director like myself, but Opera Lyra Ottawa holds a special place in my heart, and in my career.
In fact, I owe the folks at Opera Lyra for introducing me to opera as an art-form.
More by chance than design, I happened to become one of the dancers in OLO’s production of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles when I was only sixteen years old. Near the end of August, after a summer of learning some classical East Indian moves with the other dancers, we joined the rest of the cast and the creative team in the rehearsal hall at the NAC. I have vivid memories of the experience: then-Production Manager Ron Ward taking the troupe of dancers onto the stage of Southam Hall for the first time; meeting Ty Paterson who, not only because of his height, seemed larger than life; stretching and jumping behind the chorus as they warmed up under the guidance of Lawrence Ewashko; and working with Stage Director Michael Cavanagh on some of the subtler moments in the show.
The experience was like nothing I had ever encountered before – the sound, the scale, and the intensity – and within a week of rehearsal I went from opera skeptic to opera lover. I even took up singing some of my favourite bits from Pearl Fishers (in the shower!).
Fast-forward a few years and I found myself, a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa’s Theatre program, in need of “real-world” work. Opera Lyra to the rescue! I was hired by OLO and worked in the office for three years, starting out as the person who handed out brochures about the company at public events and becoming someone who collaborated on almost every administrative project that made the opera company tick. All the while, both Ty and then-General Director Elizabeth Howarth continued to help me cultivate the creative skills which were so important to me: on more than one occasion they excused me from the office and invited me to work on a number of the OLO Studio productions while I was a regular staff member. And, when I started to consider the path forward and a career after OLO, they were both instrumental in helping me make the choice to pursue a Master’s degree.
Jump a few years again and I find myself working on a PhD in theatre at the University of Toronto. Now a dozen years since I first broke out some Kathakali and Bharata Natyam for Pearl Fishers, I’m thrilled to bits to be preparing for a return to OLO this fall. Not only are Pagliacci and Cavalleria fabulous operas, and not only will I get to work with some of the same people who made my first opera experience so thrilling (albeit in a new capacity), but in many ways I feel like I’ll be returning home.
Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana