Alley Oop takes opera to the street
There’s a contemporary school of thought that says theatre is where you make it. So why not opera? And why not a glam staging of opera favourites in a downtown Calgary alleyway on a Friday night?
Edmonton’s Darcia Parada has been onto site-specific productions of opera since 2000, when she started Mercury Opera.
Parada, a trained opera singer, was living in New York at the time she came up with the grassroots idea of doing opera almost anywhere but in a theatre.
A bit of history about installing culture where you wouldn’t expect it and attracting people outdoors after dark to places they wouldn’t normally go otherwise: The first show on Parada’s playlist was an updated version of the opera Cavalleria rusticana, which she staged, complete with 28-piece orchestra, inside a 4,000 sq. ft. New York loft located between Little Italy and Chinatown.
Aesthetically, the production, set in Little Italy, represented “a cross between The Sopranos and the look of Matrix,” she recalls.
But 9/11 and turmoil in her personal life intervened, and Mercury Opera took a break.
Once everything got sorted out a few years later, Parada gathered up her new ideas for making opera more widely accessible and community-engaged — and moved back to her hometown.
Since then, Mercury Opera has put on three shows in Edmonton. The first was a hit production of Pagliacci, “reimagined in Coney Island on Mermaid Parade Day, and set in a circus tent.”
The next season it was Puccini’s Il Tabarro — this time on top of the Edmonton Queen riverboat, in a reimagined setting of post-civil War New Orleans.
In 2010, Parada and Mercury Opera took Pagliacci to New York, hoping to perform it on Coney Island, but instead running afoul of New York bureaucracy when it came to the number of seats you could put in a tent.
“So we had to reconfigure everything, and ended up performing the opera inside the Coney Island Circus and Sideshow,” Parada says, describing the facility as “a really cool building” that happened to be the original inspiration anyway for her novel Pagliacci setting.
Then last summer, it was Madame Butterfly’s turn, in an area of Edmonton earmarked for revitalization.
Parada says she trimmed the opera to two hours and updated it, as a kind of “shaggy dog Hollywood tale” set in Nagasaki in post-bomb 1945. In November, she decided to try something new — and try it in Calgary tomorrow.
Rather than presenting another full-on opera production, Parada has strung together famous opera arias and duets to create what she describes as a kind of “Opera’s Greatest Hits event,” known here as Alley Oop.
The one-night-only, intimate operascape in an alley and parking lot facing gritty 7th Avenue (between 1st and 2nd Streets S.W.) features the singing of a quartet of highly trained sopranos, accompanied by a Calgary-based string quartet, Volante.
Performing chart toppers by Puccini, Mozart, Delibes and Saint-saens — and thereby giving people a different perspective on “place,” Parada says — are mezzosoprano Alicia Woynarski, a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera’s Regional Council Auditions; coloratura soprano Lauren Woods; mezzo-soprano Barbara King; and soprano Michele Cusson.
The singers’ Greco-romanesque costumes, complete with gigantic headpieces, are by Alberta fashion designer Natasha Lazarovic. Admission ($42) includes: Ticket and passport pickup on Stephen Avenue (6 p.m.).
Pre-performance party hosted by Stephen Avenue businesses (6 p.m.)
Says Parada, “Then (at 8:45 p.m.) the event patrons will be led by a stilt walker into the back alley. . . .”
My Life in Widening Circles is the title of the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble CD launch and concert on Saturday at the Rozsa Centre.
Representing the Calgary group’s third recording on the Centrediscs label of the Canadian Music Centre, the CD is devoted to music by R. Murray Schafer, a renowned Canadian renaissance man — composer, philosopher, scholar, scientist, poet, author and artist.
The disc focuses on his chamber music, both instrumental and with voice, from three different periods of Schafer’s life.
The title of the CD comes from the first line of Schafer’s Six Songs on Rilke’s Book of Hours (2006): “I live my life in widening circles.”
The concert also features music by Roydon Tse, the UBC winner of the Land’s End Composers Competition, and T. Patrick Carabre, former artistic director of the Winnipeg New Music Festival.
The concert is at 8 p.m. Tickets are at the door, or call 403-220-7202.
A Skype talk by Schafer himself at 7:15 p.m. will precede the concert.
Flamenco fans take note: Canada’s rising star in the flamenco guitar world, Gareth Owen, performs in concert on Friday at Cardel Theatre.
The 24-year-old son of late flamenco guitarist Harry Owen and dancer Veronica Maguire, Owen has lived and breathed flamenco all his young life.
Calgary flamenco guitarist and aficionado Peter Knight, who was taught by father Harry in Toronto in the early 1980s, remembers Gareth as a toddler, barely over a year old.
“I can recall going to his house with a Gypsy Kings cassette in hand, and when we put it on, he leaned up against the chair I was sitting in and bopped along for one side. He used to shake whenever a guitar was pulled out.
“And now he’s the face of flamenco guitar in our country.”
Now West Coast-based, Owen lived for a time in Jerez de la Frontera, where he studied with guitarists Jesus Alvarez and Nino Jero before cutting his first solo album, Gareth Owen Flamenco Guitar, in 2008.
Owen has performed to critical acclaim at festivals throughout Canada and is currently touring in support of his newest album, El Cobre.
Concert: 7:30 p.m. Tickets: Call 403-289-9660. The theatre is at 180 Quarry Park Blvd. S.E.
Mix and mingle on Sunday with Calgary dancers at Dance ’n’ Dogs, a free social event to celebrate International Dance Day.
No, it’s not a canine show where cute dogs in funny costumes bop around on their hind legs to music.
It’s a chance to get together over a little food and drink with dancers Helen Husak, Naomi Brand and Veronica Benz of the Calgary Contemporary Dance Collective, co-sponsor of the shindig social — which runs 7 p.m.to 9 p.m. at Tubby Dog, 1022 17 Ave. SW.
Mezzo-soprano Alicia Woynarski and soprano Lauren Woods will perform in Mercury Opera’s Alley Oop, an evening of operatic hits in a downtown Calgary alleyway.