Sunday, January 11, 2009

Opera Kitchener a Smashing Success

Back in the bad old days (up to 15 years ago?), the Canadian Opera Company was not always a first class company. Even when they had good principals, sometimes the secondary singers caused a lot of wincing. A lot of hard work brought the quality up, and John Bradshaw sealed the deal.

The problem was that back when the COC wasn't always so hot, it still had the pretensions of a great company. The audience was dominated by society folks in their tuxes and furs, and that somehow made the whole thing a bit pathetic. I knew more than one wealthy businessman whose favorite opera was La Boheme - which (not coincidentally) was produced at the COC with three intermissions, resulting in a great upswing in liquor sales in the lobby.

Five or ten years ago opera was briefly trendy and the young trendoids started showing up at the COC. Although the quality of the operas was much better little else had changed: like Old Society the trendoids dressed up and they liked to tipple. The new twist was that they walked out in droves during the first act. From my cheap subscriber seat on the aisle of the back row I felt the wind of their flooding past, half an hour into a production. Apparently it was enough to have showed up in $200 seats; they didn't have to sit through the whole thing.

Opera Kitchener, which mounted its first production last Saturday, is not having a society problem or a trendiness problem. The best seats cost about 25 bucks and the audience seems to be there for all the right reasons. Opera Kitchener is operating on the slenderest of shoestrings (it doesn't yet have a board or charitable status, or any donors) but it is exhibiting all the best of a promising young company.

Saturday's Marriage of Figaro was delightful. The orchestra was small but fine. The singers were all very good. There was one great performance, which stole the show: Karen Bojti in the role of the Marcellina. It was a small production and the direction enhanced that: the performers directly engaged the audience, at one point even stepping out into the seats. We laughed - loudly - over and over. It was high quality, it was charming, and it was wonderfully entertaining. I'd say that Opera Kitchener founders (and currently the whote enchilada) Emilio and Jennifer Fina are doing this just right. Center-in-the-Square has 2,000 seats, and they sold nearly half, so their fledgling outing must be deemed a success. The pity is that they only sold 200 subscriptions for the season. I hope they can do as well for the rest of the season. This is a company that deserves an audience.


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