The newest operatic kid on the block kicks off with Rose Marie
By Joseph K. So
What’s more quintessentially Canadian than the Rockies, Mounties, Indians and Romance? It’s billed as a Canadian love story between a French girl and an English boy, set in the wild west of the Canadian Rockies. Throw in a scintillating score with catchy tunes, sung by up-and-coming singers with beautiful voices and attractive stage presence, and you’ve got the right ingredients for success. That’s certainly the strategy of Wish Opera, in its inaugural production of Rudolf Friml’s operetta, Rose Marie. Founded in the spring of 2010, Wish Opera has as it mission the fusion of fashion and design with the beauty of the operatic art form in productions that appeal to the contemporary audience. Given its mandate to support and nurture Canadian artists, Rose Marie stars an all-Canadian cast, led by Quebec mezzo-soprano Maude Brunet as Rose Marie La Flamme. Her love interest, English Canadian miner Jim Kenyon, is sung by baritone Todd Delaney. Bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre is Rose Marie’s brother Emile. This musical was a huge hit on Broadway in 1924, and it was adapted for film no less than three times. The most famous version was the 1936 Hollywood movie starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and the song “Indian Love Call” became the signature tune of this screen couple.
Soprano Tonia Cianciulli is the driving force behind this ambitious venture. Recently she spoke with TMS about her new project:
Tell us a little about your background as an artist and what is your vision for Wish Opera. Can you explain the concept of combining music with fashion and design for our readers?
I am a classically trained singer – I studied voice at the University of Western Ontario. The idea for Wish Opera came out of an event I did for clients of my husband’s company six years ago. We took over an empty loft space in the Liberty Village area in downtown Toronto, painted it white and we had six or seven different artists displaying their works. We had a stage built for live jazz, opera, and fashion; it represented a fusion of the arts. We got great feedback from the arts community. This event provided a platform for artists to gain exposure and experience. Through that I developed a passion for working with artists of all mediums, and I see this as a way of expanding the audience of opera. By fusing the different art forms, we are opening it up to younger people, people who may not even think of going to the opera. In our productions, in addition to singers we also feature Canadian designers of fashion, furniture, interiors, and photographers.
Last year at the Wish Opera Launch Concert at York University, you announced plans for a production of Don Giovanni in a different venue and with a different conductor. Why the change?
We had planned to do Don Giovanni up at York University, but after the launch, we quickly realized that to sustain the company we needed to be downtown. A lot of our audience are in the downtown core – that’s just the reality of it. We found a new home in the John Bassett theatre at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It’s a stunning 1300 seat facility, and they are excited to have us there. We also found a new music director in Kerry Stratton. He’s got an incredible personality and is very supportive of Canadian talent.
Combining the beauty of music with fashion and design, which are by nature also expressions of beauty. In other words “beauty” figures prominently in the ethos of Wish Opera. Does that mean when it comes to opera singers, you want them to be beautiful too?
(Laughs) I guess that’s an understandable question! No, we are looking for singers who can perform the role – we are not looking to fill the roles with the same tall, skinny people! Ideally we want to hire singers who can do a quality job. Where the fashion comes in at this point is that we are pulling pieces from different designers’ lines that we can use as costumes. It gives the designers exposure and let people know that there are lots of local talent. For Rose Marie we have two designers from Montreal who have agreed to feature their lines on stage for us. There’s actually a scene in Rose Marie that takes place in a dress boutique in Quebec City where a little fashion show takes place!
That’s not in the movie…
No it’s not, because the movie is not true to the original operetta. In the original this scene does exist. The Montreal designers are Denis Gagnon and Marie Saint Pierre - they are very talented and certainly designers to watch. When we get a larger budget, we’ll be able to go to the designers and ask if they can create specific costumes for us. For now we are just going with what they already have.
Considering that you use contemporary designers, is it safe to say your productions are going to have a contemporary feel to them, as opposed to traditional productions?
Well, I am not looking for things to be abstract. If it’s more contemporary, it’ll be more accessible for the audience. We might be doing period pieces as well, but for now, I think we are just focusing on bringing things up to date and to make it accessible to the modern day audience.
Tell us about your plans for the orchestra…
We are forming a Wish Opera Orchestra. Kerry (Stratton) can speak to that. Trumpeter Andre Dubelsten is working with Kerry to pull together a team. For Rose Marie it will be an orchestra of 19 or 20 musicians. This work has a lot of Canadian content – it’s set in the Rockies and we have an all-Canadian cast. We’ve even have the RCMP on board. They are often reluctant to come to these events as people often don’t take them seriously. I had to convince them that it would be a good opportunity for them to educate the public. Before curtain, Constable Terry Russel will appear, dressed in his Royal Red Surge regalia, and speak to the audience about the significance of the Mounties uniform. Canadian painter Charles Pachter has also agreed to be on board. He is well known for his renderings of the Canadian flag and the Queen on the moose and his classic painting of a Mountie – you can’t get more Canuck than that (laughs)!
Friml & Stothart: Rose Marie
, April 15 & 16, John Bassett Theatre, 255 Front Street West, Toronto, Ontario. www.wishopera.ca
Photos » Top: Mezzo Maude Brunet as Rose Marie; Bottom: WO founder, soprano Tonia Cianciulli
Labels: interview, opera, toronto