“Opera has the best chance out of all the performing arts to engage those new audiences, because it’s at the extreme end of the live performance spectrum.” ~ Michael Mori, Artistic Director of Tapestry New Opera
Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the “indie opera potluck”, a get-together of independent opera companies that have recently emerged in Toronto. Michael Mori, artistic director of Tapestry New Opera initiated the first one back in January, and this second event was hosted by Rachel Krehm, general manager of Opera Five.
“Do the companies here mind sharing when they actually got started?” Maureen Batt of Essential Opera asked on a hunch during a discussion between courses.
It turns out that almost all the companies represented — FAWN opera, Bicycle Opera Project, Against the Grain, Metro Youth Opera, and montreal-based Opera da Camera — were founded in 2010 or shortly after, a social phenomenon that had caught the attention of Christina Loewen, executive director of Opera.ca, who was also in attendance.
“I wanted to reach out to indie opera companies in order to better understanding this new community.”, said Loewen. “Opera.ca exists to facilitate connections and serve this art form in Canada, and I was very happy to learn that it was already happening through these potlucks!”
The number of member companies at Opera.ca had dropped from 18 to 13 in the last few years, and Loewen has been actively looking outside of opera for insights on how to address the challenges confronting this art form.
She reached out to MaRS centre for innovation on models and best practices from the startup world, and organized a “lean opera” session for her members at their annual meeting which was well received.
Despite disturbing news of larger companies closing their doors, there are more indie opera companies than ever before, while the pool of arts-inclined audiences is also larger than ever thanks to the mediated relationship they have with the art form via availability of online media content.
The opportunity for a sustainable opera ecosystem exists, and Mori believes that the work that requires a collective effort is engaging and reeling in those new audiences. “Opera has the best chance out of all the performing arts to engage those new audiences, because it’s at the extreme end of the live performance spectrum.”
It’s easy for observers to assume opera performers are just fussy divas, but those who know the genre recognize the great artistic, intellectual, and physical demands it places on the artists.
This grassroot movement to reinvent the operatic experience will be met with supporters and nay-sayers. What is promising is that working collaboratively seems second nature to these companies; rather than regarding each other as unwelcomed competition, they are laying the groundwork for a healthy and diverse ecosystem.
Tapestry New Opera an Opera.ca are taking the initiative to converge these emerging companies and help them build capacity by leveraging each other’s networks and resources. It’s a truly intrepid group of artists, and if any group of people are more likely to turn ideas into actions, it’s going to be those that ventured to creating their own opera company in times like ours.
Don’t miss Tapestry New Opera’s “Exploration” series this Friday and Saturday at their home base in the Distillery District, featuring Mori as stage director, Gregory Oh on piano, and great selection from classic and newly written operas. Volcano Theatre will also present an excerpt of their work-in-progress A Moveable Beast.
Readers, do you know of other indie opera communities popping up in other places? Let us know in the comments, and share with all of us your perspective.
Stay tuned for our next piece featuring Essential Opera, who will be presenting a triple-bill of new operatta by the artistic directors and composers of Toy Piano Composers, this Friday 8pm at Heliconian Hall. Tickets and event info here.