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 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.

Cour­tesy, Cather­ine Yap Paloma

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