Opéra de Montréal: winning our hearts
May 5, 2014
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Has opera had its day? Not at all, says the Opéra de Montréal, which has just unveiled the program for its 35th season. Increasingly, Montreal’s opera company, which makes its home in Place des Arts, is reaching new audiences with bold productions crafted to appeal to modern tastes. The large number of young people in the audience confirms that the granddaddy of musical theatre is alive and well in the present day.
We spoke with the company’s executive director, Pierre Dufour.
What makes the Opéra de Montréal different from other companies?
First, there’s language. Ours is the largest French-language opera company in the Americas. We also have a very local flavour. Montreal is a theatre town and it shows in our productions. There is also an innovative element unique to Quebec: we don’t shy away from reimagining stories. Our people are very creative, and that is one big reason why our productions do so well on tour. Quebec also has an extraordinary history with the opera. We have a wealth of talent and some tremendous voices, for instance Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Étienne Dupuis. As far as possible, we try to encourage home-grown talent in our productions.
Many people believe opera is all about classic works. And yet there are also contemporary pieces…
In fact, the 20th century was probably the most productive period for new operas. When we put together our program, we try to strike a balance between classic and modern works. We always produce a “discovery” work, like Dead Man Walking or Porgy and Bess. In 2015, that work will be Silent Night. We round out the program with repertory works. It’s important to introduce new audiences to the classics, and to give long-time opera lovers the chance to revisit them. Because we are a francophone company, we also stage one work in French every season.
Is opera for everyone?
Yes, it certainly is. Because opera combines several art forms – music, theatre, dance – a work can appeal to different sensibilities and has the potential to resonate with a broad audience. You don’t need to be grey-haired, dressed to the nines and a classical music aficionado to enjoy the opera! We have actually noted that more than 30% of our audience is under 30. Every year we also distribute 2,300 free tickets to young people aged 12 to 17. It’s fascinating to see how attentive they are, and how much they enjoy the show. Because opera is not a widely seen art form, we consider it our duty to give young people the chance to discover it. There is also a perception that an opera ticket is expensive. The average ticket price is $70. Considering how many artists and other professionals work on a single production, it isn’t as expensive as it might seem at first glance.
Your CoOpéra program is turning 10 this year. What is it all about?
Every year, from September to May, we work with a group of students to put together an entire opera production. They select a work from our program, come see it, and then create their own version. They rework the book and music, and create their own sets and wardrobe. It’s fascinating to watch them in action.
You’ve just released your 2014-15 program. Tell us about the productions in your 35th season.
We will open with Verdi’s Nabucco (September 20, 23, 25, 27), produced by the Washington National Opera. It has been a very long time since the Opéra de Montréal last presented this classic.
Next, Étienne Dupuis will reprise the title role in Verdi’s famous Barber of Seville, an Opéra de Montréal production.
After that we have Samson and Delilah (January 24, 27, 29, 31, 2015). This will be an all-new production of our own. We worked with Circo de Bakuza to create a unique video-based environment. Star singer Marie-Nicole Lemieux will play Delilah for the first time.
Closing the season is Silent Night (May 16, 19, 21, 23, 2015), a Minnesota Opera production inspired by the film Joyeux Noël. The story takes place on December 24, 1914, when a group of French, German and Scottish soldiers defied their superiors and made peace.
There is still one more production to come this season.
Yes, Puccini’s Turandot (May 17, 20, 22, 24). This is a magnificent, dynamic work in which Price Calaf must solve three riddles in order to marry Princess Turandot, or face beheading. It is one of a long series of collaborations with Opera Australia, a company with which we have much in common. Going to see this Turandot is a little like taking an amazingly inexpensive trip to Australia!
What comes to mind when you think of Quartier des Spectacles?
Quartier des Spectacles is an extraordinary place. Because there is an increasingly diverse set of cultural activities in Montreal and its suburbs, it is important that the Quartier focus on developing the aspects that make it distinctive. We need even more convergence between the shows being presented in the venues and the activities taking place outdoors. There is such a wealth of indoor activities, it would be a shame not to highlight them as much as possible.
Opéra de Montréal – 35th saison