Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In a Word... Kathrin Welte on Marriage of Figaro at Opera da Camera

its share of laughter and tears

German born mezzo-soprano Kathrin Welte has been singing for ten years on stages across Canada and internationally. After receiving training at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, the Mozarteum conservatory summer academy in Salzburg, Austria, and a master’s degree in voice performance from McGill University, she has been regularly involved with a number of Montreal musical organizations. In 2011 she co-founded and became artistic co-director of Opera da Camera, a company based on the concepts of accessibility for all audiences and to the creation of opportunities for local talent.

CHARPO: What do you think will set you apart from all the small opera companies which have been cropping up across the country?

WELTE: Well, first of all, I think it’s incredibly exciting that so many artists are taking the initiative to start these companies! Observing all the activity in the past few years, I’m happy to see the healthiness of opera in Canada.

we’ve decided to take a bit of a risk and go full steam ahead by putting together a full production

At Opera da Camera we’ve been very conscious of the factors that make people NOT come to the opera. It’s been our mission from the get-go to create a sense of approachability to who we are and what we do. For example, one of the first factors that can prevent people from going to see live opera is its price. But if you look at the surging popularity of the Live in HD Met Broadcasts over the past few years, you see the proof of a large public interest in an avenue that makes it financially possible for people to approach opera for the first time or on a repeat basis. Financial accessibility is one of our prime motivators and also the way we want to be able to differentiate ourselves in the market. Ticket prices for our “Le Nozze di Figaro” production start at $15 and go up to only $35. These prices are certainly unbeatable by the big houses, but even other small companies don’t offer such low and targeted pricing. 

Being associated with the Rialto Theatre for the past few years, we’ve also been incredibly lucky to be able to perform in a building which itself contributes immensely to the approachability that we want to nurture. This historic landmark has all the opulence of a classic opera theatre while at the same time giving off an unparalleled sense of intimacy and casualness. I think casualness is another important factor for today’s audience (again, think of those Live in HD broadcasts and the popcorn that you can munch on while taking in ‘high art’!). People shy away from stuffiness and formality. To be performing “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Rialto means that the audience can be in a comfortable place, up close and personal to the story unfolding on stage. 

Finally, unlike some other small companies, we’ve decided to take a bit of a risk and go full steam ahead by putting together a full production, inclusive of a fantastic cast of young professional singers, costumes, chamber ensemble, sets and lights. 

CHARPO: Have you looked at how these other companies function to learn from them?

WELTE: Of course we have! The reality of the arts in the 21st century is that being great at putting on amazing shows is just not enough anymore. We need to approach arts like any other business, and many successful companies today have developed their own models on how to thrive.

We have, of course, ended up crafting our own recipe, but one that borrows from the experiences, successes and, at times, failures, of all of those that came before us. And this is certainly not something set in stone – the most important aspect of any business is its clientele, and as tastes and opinions change, we must be able to adapt to retain our relevance and niche in the arts marketplace.

CHARPO: Tell us about your production and what the audience can expect?

WELTE: As the Marriage of Figaro is our first full production, we approached the artistic direction from a classic angle. This is a deliberate choice, made so that we could attract new audiences and seasoned opera goers alike, with an interpretation that marries music, drama and visuals in a simple way. However, we’ve not completely forgone acknowledging the piece’s relevance to our modern times. Our stage director, Andrew Cuk, has incorporated a witty invitation that will draw in the Montreal audience right from the overture. I can’t give away more, it’s a surprise!

Our audience can also expect to be blown away by the calibre of the cast: we’ve made it our mission to employ emerging artists, and this dynamic group of professional singers highlights the exceptional, local talent in the province of Québec. They will be accompanied by a chamber ensemble playing from an orchestral reduction of the score which has been specially arranged by our music director Benjamin Kwong and his assistant Christopher Hossfeld.

Visually, the audience will be treated to fantastic 18th century costuming by Rachel Germinario and some creative sets by Peter Vatsis. Finally, the Rialto Theatre will provide not only a great backdrop but also an unparalleled experience with its relaxed cabaret seating and bar service. And of course, let’s not forget that the opera itself is a masterpiece, one of the funniest and most touching stories ever told in this form. We guarantee that by the time the story reaches its emotional climax, Mozart’s work will have once again collected its share of laughter and tears.

The majority of the singers and ensemble musicians hold Master’s degrees and have a large amount of performance experience and various roles under their belts.

CHARPO: What training has your team had?

WELTE: Our cast is young, but they are all seasoned performers thanks to their excellent training at many of Canada’s prestigious university music programs and participation at international workshops. The majority of the singers and ensemble musicians hold Master’s degrees and have a large amount of performance experience and various roles under their belts. I’m so excited that Opera da Camera can be a part in developing their careers and give them a chance to add major roles to their resume, while still engaging with an audience in their own home of Montreal. 

CHARPO: Considering how tiny the audience for opera is, are you discouraged or are you tapping a new audience?

WELTE: I’m certain that we can attract some new people to opera. All our choices are geared to promote accessibility: audiences will be able to approach the genre in an intimate venue, for incredibly low prices, and sure to enjoy a beautiful and uncomplicated story. What’s there to dislike? 

CHARPO : Why opera instead of musical theatre, say?

WELTE: The two are actually not as mutually exclusive as you’d think. While our artistic team is entirely classically trained, and we certainly hold opera closest to our hearts, we have actively weaved classical musical theatre repertoire in all our past events, which are basically semi-staged concerts built around grand themes: love, good versus evil, or (why not) food!

Once again, this helps us promote the accessibility of opera: not everyone may come to our concerts as a dedicated opera fan, but our hope is that as the Mozart buff and the Cole Porter aficionado sit side-by-side, they will recognize through our performances the universality of the human experience, regardless of the style in which this may be expressed.

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