Dialogues des Carmélites at COC (photo: Michael Cooper)
Here’s a stream of consciousness from my directing life...
...let’s see if you can follow along.
by Joel Ivany
Les Dialogues des Carmélites and Figaro’s Wedding. Two very different shows. Two very different stages and scopes. One is a proven production that is performed the world over and is currently being prepared for the mainstage at the Canadian Opera Company. The other has music that is known by everyone, but we’re adding new words and staging it in a space that is used for weddings and events.
My role for Dialogues is assisting a Canadian opera director who has multiple gigs all over the world…at the same time. The other is my labour of love. A company that I started with some other vagabonds a couple of years ago and has (somewhat miraculously) seen growth and acclaim after each show that we produce. For Figaro, I’m the librettist and stage director.
Unifying these shows…faith.
Carmelite nuns. Faith in God. They willingly walk to the guillotine as martyrs believing in something bigger than themselves.
Figaro also deals with faith. Marriage…a wedding. Two people in front of friends and family commit themselves to each other. With no guarantees, they simply love each other, believing that through hard work and commitment, they will stay in love for the rest of their lives. Not always the case)
You can’t find two greater opposites than the Canadian Opera Company and Against the Grain Theatre. A simple comparison of venues, staff, resources, funds and paperclips (ok we’ve got a few at AtG) shows how different these two groups are.
But there’s a significant similarity, too: when it’s time to put on a show, we have a goal in sight. We know when opening night is and we all work together as hard as we can to make sure that the piece we’re presenting connects with the audience, and gives them pause to think and reflect. You can’t help feeling moved after experiencing this production of Les Dialogues des Carmélites. (cont'd)
The Against the Grain team: L-R Joel Ivany, Nancy Hitzig, Cecily Carver,
Christopher Mokrzewski and Caitlin Coull
Alexander Neef has continually brought exceptional singers to the Canadian Opera Company and it’s evidenced in the cast of exceptional singers in Carmelites (14 of the 16 principal cast members are Canadian).
I’ve brought many of these experiences from the COC and working with director Robert Carsen (also having worked with him in Norway, Germany and the UK) to our AtG productions and aim to keep our level of artistry as high as possible. We work with young opera and theatre professionals, and their expertise is what makes our presentations so effective. Of the five main characters in Figaro, three of our singers are graduates of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio and the other two are graduates of the Atelier Lyrique de L’Opéra de Montréal. The preparation, technique and professionalism that these artists bring set the bar pretty high.
The production of Carmelites has been done 12 previous times. 12! What an incredible testament to a work. It shows how effective it moved the audience in its presentation. Our Figaro has not even been debuted, and is designed for a specific space. The text is new, story unproven and there are no plans (yet) to have it remounted.
I also drink beer with Topher Mokrzewski at our meetings…. so many meetings. We haven’t implemented that practice at the COC yet.
At the end of the day, there is no better joy than working on these two contrasting, yet similar works with two very different companies. I’m biased, but they’re two of my favourites thus far.