Opera season includes Browning and a Bechstein
By Sue Tiffin
Published Aug. 2, 2018
Valerie Kuinka is so excited about the numerous highlights of the Highlands Opera Studio’s 12th season, the general director of the studio practically sings as she passionately shares the details of the 2018 schedule.
Highlands Opera Studio runs from July 26 to Aug. 27 this year, filling five weeks with almost 20 events, including karaoke and movie nights, concerts, community evenings and fully-staged operas.
Kuinka, together with her husband Richard Margison, artistic director of HOS, created the company in the area to bring opera to the Highlands.
The professional training program received applications from about 150 hopeful emerging professional singers from throughout North America as well as Europe this year with about 21 singers and two collaborative pianists being invited after competitive auditions to improve their skills, increase their chances of networking and potentially have more opportunity to find work, post-program.
After more than a decade, it’s clear HOS has attracted a following of diverse fans, and – what is most essential to Kuinka – has given back to the industry and also to Haliburton County.
“Opera is just theatre to music,” she said. “People often think they don’t like opera, especially if they’ve heard a recording. They say, ‘I don’t like that shrieking.’ But don’t say you don’t like a food until you’ve experienced it the way it’s meant to be experienced.”
Besides the variety of performances and offerings from the studio, some of which are accessible through an admission by donation option, Kuinka said it might be appealing to some guests that they can come to the events without dressing up.
“You can be on your dock all day, and then come out to a performance – don’t feel you have to change,” she said.
Masterclasses, which Kuinka lovingly compares to audition shows like The Voice or Canadian Idol, began last week.
The singers, aged 19 to 31, who arrived to the Highlands on July 22 for the HOS professional training program are “hitting the ground running,” according to Kuinka, and many performed in the Masterclasses last week, while internationally acclaimed tenor Margison offered guidance as the judging panel.
“You can hear the improvement,” said Kuinka, of the impact of the 20-minute one-on-one sessions.
The first of three Community Monday events, “What’s Opera, Doc?” happened yesterday. Kuinka said the casual discussions about opera that are punctuated by some live performances of opera and non-opera are “just a chance to break down some barriers and hang out.”
“This is a ‘by donation’ event intended for everyone; those who might think our kind of singing is not for them, along with longtime opera fans.”
Upcoming Community Monday events include a karaoke at McKecks night held Monday, Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m., in which the community is welcome to join HOS participants in singing pop favourites, and a movie night on Monday, Aug. 13 – location to be announced – showing Puccini’s Tosca, from the Netherlands, which stars Margison, Catherine Malfitano and Bryn Terfel.
HOS invites guests to five concerts this season.
From Opera to Broadway takes place on Wednesday, Aug.1 at 8 p.m. at St. George’s Anglican Church in Haliburton. It features solos, duets and ensemble selections from famous productions of opera and the musical stage around the world.
More Opera to Broadway on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. at the Minden United Church in Minden also presents some best-loved works, but will be a different program than was offered in Haliburton. It’s suggested that fans will appreciate both concerts.
Celebrations!, presenting the works of Leonard Bernstein, Gioachino Rossini and others will be held at St. George’s Anglican Church in Haliburton on Thursday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m.
Art of Song on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m. at St George’s Anglican Church offers “a different style of music,” according to Kuinka. “It’s a different offering – very beautiful, deep and poetic music.” Sopranos Lauren Margison, Elizabeth Polese and mezzo-soprano Rose Naggar-Tremblay and collaborative pianists Geoffrey Conquer and Alexander Soloway will be sure to satisfy the audience.
An alumni concert on Monday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. at St. George’s Anglican Church in Haliburton invites singers back from previous years, including Nathan Keoughan, Andrea Nunez, and Mikayla Sage for opera and musical theatre favourites.
Concert tickets cost $32.50 and are available via the box office phone line or online.
Margison and Kuinka always try to offer a Canadian opera that is not necessarily as well-known as some of the other stories of the season, and this year The Glove & The Troublemaker will offer a double-bill from the archives. It features the HOS emerging professional singers and also Beth Kipping and Curtis Eastmure, two veteran actors from the community.
Puccini’s La Bohème, the final opera of the season, marks Margison’s role debut as Benoit and Alcindoro and also the main stage opera debut of Kurt Browning, World and Canadian national figure skating champion, choreographer and commentator, who lives on the same lake as Margison and Kuinka in Minden.
“We asked him, have you ever been involved in an opera?” said Kuinka. “He said, ‘no!’ So we said, ‘how about your operatic debut?”
Performances are Aug. 24 to 27 at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion in Haliburton.
“I guarantee it will be hilarious,” she said, and though she won’t divulge much of Browning’s role, she will say, “he will be wearing roller skates; that I can give away.”
Kuinka is also excited to introduce the public to a Bechstein piano, considered a handmade masterpiece, which was offered to the company from an anonymous, generous Redstone Lake donor. This particular piano was made in 1888.
“If you were ever to go to Buckingham Palace, there would be a Bechstein there,” said Kuinka, of the piano that Queen Victoria so appreciated in 1881 that it became a Royal Family favourite.
“We’re very lucky to have it and very grateful to the members of the community who came forward to accept this piano,” said Kuinka, acknowledging that the piano required much care in moving and storing it properly.
Despite the success of the HOS, Kuinka did say it is an ongoing struggle to acquire funds to help operate the not-for-profit organization. Young artists attending the program do so free of charge.
“Every year we start from scratch with fundraising,” she said. “It’s tough.”
Regardless, the venture is always worth it for what it brings to the community.
“The arts feed a part of the soul,” said Kuinka. “It’s not something you can put on a ledger.”
For more information or to buy tickets, visit highlandsoperastudio.com or call 705-457-5646 or 1-855-455-5533.