The Magic Victrola captures the hearts of young audiencesBy COC StaffPosted in The Magic Victrola
DISPATCHES FROM THE OPERA WORLDA Conversation withSOPRANO MIRIAM KHALIL
As part of their work in the COC’s Company-in-Residence program, Against the Grain Theatre has been developing a new opera led by Artistic Director Joel Ivany and Music Director Topher Mokrzewski. BOUND takes Handel arias and ensembles, reconstructs them through a new interpretation by composer Kevin Lau, and layers the music against new English-language texts by Ivany, drawn from real world events. In the leadup to tonight’s opening, we asked AtG Founding Member and Ensemble Studio graduate Miriam Khalil to share her thoughts on the challenging process of creating art that responds to contemporary realities of persecution, oppression, and asylum.
In BOUND each artist’s performance is informed by a real-life story in the news. What’s the background of the character you portray?
My character is based in part on Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a Muslim American journalist who was detained upon her arrival at an airport in France and forced to remove her hijab under threat of deportation.
From December 1 – 3, 2017, the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre was packed with children who excitedly came to see The Magic Victrola, the Canadian Opera Company’s new opera for families. As on-stage duo Gracie and Sam play a mysterious Victrola they discovered in their grandfather’s attic, Papageno (of The Magic Flute fame) appears and begins to teach them all about opera. When scenes from classic operas like Lakmé, Gianni Schicchi, The Tales of Hoffmann and Carmen started to unfold before their eyes, young opera-goers were enthralled.
Children were treated to pre-show activities before each performance, where they created paper bag puppets and clay figurines, discovered costumes and props from past COC productions, and dressed up for an opera-themed photo booth.
Young audience members also actively participated in an interactive opera creation workshop, led by composer Chris Thornborrow. They developed their own mini-opera, coming up with the theme, tone, lyrics, and key as a group before putting it all together, which provided them with a more solid understanding of what they were about to encounter when Papageno and company hit the stage.
This production of The Magic Victrola was a product of the COC’s new Opera for Young Audiences program, which aims to engage children and youth with the art form through innovative and accessible operas.
The cast included artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio, along with recent graduate Andrew Haji. They shared the stage with Gemini Award-nominated Canadian Actor Ardon Bess (Grandpa), and real-life siblings Megan and James Dunn (Gracie and Sam).
Created with children in mind, The Magic Victrola is a one-act opera performed in English and sung in Italian, German and French. The familiar music and director Ashlie Corcoran's engaging staging made it the perfect introduction to opera for younger audiences.
Attending his first opera with his grandmother, Oliver, eight, waited eagerly for the doors to open before the performance. “I think it’s like a story told in the form of music,” he said, sharing his opinion on opera.
After the performance, he only had good things to say. “I like that it’s not just singing and that there’s character and drama put into it,” he said. “Sam was probably my favourite character.”
Mirroring Oliver’s enthusiasm, six-year-old Charlotte said that her favourite part was the singing. “I liked that they were in different languages.”
Overall, The Magic Victrola was a hit with the young crowd. Many of those who attended said that they were looking forward to future performances, and some newcomers to the opera scene even shouted that it was the “best opera ever!”
Photo credits (top to bottom): A scene from The Magic Victrola; Danika Loren in The Magic Victrola; Audience members participate in pre-show activities before a performance of The Magic Victrola; Chris Thornborrow leading The Magic Victrola pre-show activities; Samuel Chan and Danika Loren in The Magic Victrola; The cast of The Magic Victrola, photos: Gaetz Photography.