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Opera Interactive
Posted on March 15, 2014

Thursday lunchtime saw what seems to be becoming a March break tradition; an interactive concert with soprano/edutainer Kyra Millan and her pianist accomplice Christina Faye.  This year she was backed up by Danielle MacMillan, Owen McCausland and Timothy Cheung.

Kyra’s show is really edutainment for kids and it’s very effective.  There’s lots of good material aimed at explaining singing and making it seem normal, unintimidating and fun and it works.  It is fun.  It definitely helped that besides Kyra’s high energy and very high coloratura soprano the audience got to listen to the darker tones of Danielle (singing Voi che sapete) and to Owen on terrific form with Quanto è bella as well as Danielle joining Kyra for the duet from Lakmé.  We got the spoofed version of the surtitle version of Der Hölle Rache again (of course).

Main thing, the kids, and the adults had a good time and maybe learned something.  It certainly made a welcome break in a killer work week.





And now for something completely different

Posted on March 14, 2013

It’s March break in Toronto which means lots of children friendly activities.  Yesterday’s lunchtime concert at the Four Seasons Centre was one of them.  It was a session/performance by soprano/educator Kyra Millan together with sidekicks baritone Jesse Clark and pianist Christina Faye.  There were lots of kids, mostly quite young, there.  Some had even brought their parents.

Christina and Jesse performed a number of songs and arias; Tesori’s The Girl in 14G, the Largo al factotum, Les oiseaux dans la charmille from Tales of Hoffmann and Chacun le sait, chacun le dit from La fille du régiment.  The Offenbach was quite hilarious as Kyra played a robot wife trying ineffectually to murder her indifferent husband with a large collection of likely and unlikely objects.  All the excerpts were performed in the original language and the kids lapped it up.

The second half of the session was a series of vocal exercises leading up to a performance of the Papageno/Papagena duet.  I was impressed by Kyra’s energy and her ability to communicate to the children.  This was really a great way to introduce kids to opera.  I’m guessing that more than a few parents will be being pestered to take their kids to the opera after this!

I’ve not really thought much about the COC’s children’s programs beyond being generally aware of the Xstrata schools tour (and that largely because I know some of the performers).  My kids are grown up and live in Australia so I’ve not had reason to check them out but yesterday caused me to go look at what the company has for children and youth.  It’s pretty awesome.  So kudos to the COC for investing in this area.

I might add too that yesterday’s audience was far better behaved than some I’ve encountered at main stage performances.

Photo credits: Karen Reeves



Interactive Opera for March Break


Contributed by Christopher Jones

The Canadian Opera Company gives young and old something to sing about on Wednesday (March 13) when artist/educator Kyra Millan, above, leads a lunch hour program called Interactive Opera, part of the popular Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Millan has been leading opera chats and voice workshops for more than a decade as part of the COC’s Explore and Learn education programming. She frequently goes into schools where she does her best to dispel some of the widely held preconceptions about opera.

“The most common stereotypes are the fat lady who sings and the diva in a helmet with horns,” chuckles Millan. “I’m particularly passionate about working with teenagers because they’re at a stage in their lives where they’re defining who they are. I can play with them a little and get underneath that ‘I’m so cool’ pose.”

For Wednesday’s Interactive Opera, Millan is joined by baritone Jesse Clark who sings “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and he duets with Millan – joined by the audience – in “Papageno/Papagena” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

“I try to make it simple and accessible,” says Millan. “For many people singing in public is one of the scariest things they can imagine doing. Uta Hagen used to say that the voice is the audible projection of the soul. So when I’m working with people and their voices it’s a privilege but it’s also intense because it’s very intimate, they’re super vulnerable, even in a group setting. So I use a lot of humour and I try to be as goofy as possible to make it relaxed and fun.”

“I believe everyone can sing,” she adds. “My challenge is to reveal a person’s natural voice, to uncover what’s already there.”

Katherine Semcesen, the COC’s Associate Director of Education & Outreach, left, stresses that her programs are not about putting bums in seats although fostering an interest in and respect for opera are certainly part of the goal.

“Our programming is about keeping the art form of opera alive,” she says, “in the hope that young people include it in some aspects of their lives whether that means listening to it at home, going to a Met Live Cinecast, maybe it’s singing opera. The mandate for our program is to provide people with access to this art form.”

One especially successful and exciting outreach program is the Youth Opera Lab in which young people, ages 16 – 21, participate in a workshop and COC rehearsal: on April 13 COC Production Manager Lee Milliken joins props builder Wulf Higgins for an intensive look at how some of the props in Salome were made, followed by a rehearsal of the opera.

“We’re seeing that youth are hungry for professional opportunities,” says Semcesen. “It seems like it’s getting earlier and earlier that young people are being encouraged to lay out a path for themselves, for their education and subsequent careers.

“Opera includes all the art forms so it can appeal to someone with an interest in videography, or design, or movement, or lighting. History teachers can use the program to mesh with their studies, to bring their lessons to life.”

WHERE/WHEN: Interactive Opera at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West, 416-363-8231), March 13 at 12 noon (NOTE: arrive early, concerts frequently reach capacity ahead of start time and no admittance after 12 pm); free.

Photo of Kyra Millan by Bo Huang; photo of Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre by Tracy Kay; photo of Katherine Semcesen by Chris Jones