Another familiar face returns to the OLO stage!

I’m very much looking forward to my return to Opera Lyra Ottawa in a few short weeks. This company has meant a lot to me ever since I made my debut in 1999 with a staging of The Pearl Fishers. I read Cassandra Silver’s recent blog entry with great interest, since she mentioned that same production and talked about what it meant to her. For me it was my introduction to this fantastic company, which has evolved over the years while remaining true to a very high standard. The standard bearer was and still is Tyrone Paterson.

Ty and I go back many years, to a shared history with touring productions and standard rep pieces with the opera companies of Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg back in the 1980’s. Oh, the stories we could tell – and still do on occasion, after a bit of refreshment. This blog, though, is not the place for those tales, which is lucky for our reputations I think! Instead, it’s all about looking forward; to Cav/Pag, to a new season for Opera Lyra Ottawa, and to a happy reunion with the staff, stage crew, production team and choristers of this vibrant, exciting opera company.

Our production of these two one-act jewels gives full value to their performance origins. We’ve chosen a traditional setting, with gorgeous sets and costumes from L’Opéra de Montréal, and I am not updating or re-imagining the storylines as is so often done these days. This is not to say the piece will not be “modern”, however, in the sense of connecting to a contemporary audience. I’m a big advocate of a fresh approach to traditional opera: no “park and bark” for us! My aim is for these dynamic, intense, powerful pieces of sung theatre to have all the impact that their creators intended. The audiences of Leoncavallo and Mascagni’s time were blown away by the realism and primal power of the music and stories of these great works; our goal is for Ottawa’ audience to have that same experience. Nothing less will do.

This is the third time I have mounted this double-bill. The first was at the Hawaii Opera Theatre in Honolulu in 2001, and the second was a few years ago in Winnipeg, with Ty conducting. The two productions were as different from each other as the climates in those cities! I love challenging myself to present different versions of these highly familiar operas, but not because I’m tinkering with them in a quest to “get it right”. Rather, it’s to give full value to all the differing elements at my disposal; sets, costumes, conductor, and – most of all – the cast. I’m not a puppeteer, forcing the artists to conform to my view. Nor am I a museum keeper, blowing the dust off a display of staid, by-the-numbers opera. Ours is a living, breathing art, brought to life by the best performers available to us. My job is enable them to do their best work for you, and to make these stories resonate for us all.

This is why I’m looking forward to it so much, as I always do. In the meantime, I’m off to Europe: 2 1/2 weeks of travel through Italy and France. I’ll be soaking up the rays, the culture and perhaps a bit of the local vintage as well. As I tour through Italy the characters, the surroundings and the storylines of both Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci will be with me, and I hope to bring back another fresh perspective on these wonderful operas to share with you all.

Michael Cavanagh

Stage Director, Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci

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