It’s a privilege to be a part of the new music community in Toronto. It’s working with a family of artists who are growing and working together that makes this a very special evening.

Event: Etiquette/Regina/Heather
Presenter: Essential Opera
Date: Saturday April 5, 2014
Venue: Heliconian Hall
Tickets: $20 advance at BeMused Network

For small independent producers such as Essential Opera, every production is a milestone, but this Saturday’s Etiquette/Regina/Heather—a night of three short operas newly commissioned especially for this concert—is particularly special for a number of reasons.

“It was the night of our first show back in 2011 that Elisha Denburg emailed us before we had even gone to bed about the idea of presenting Regina.” Said Maureen Batt, co-artistic director of Essential Opera during our phone interview.

“There was a terrible snow storm that prevented him from attending, but he had heard rave reviews from those who were in attendance. We were immediately on board even though we knew it would take time to come together.”


Denburg (second left) is the co-artistic director of Toy Piano Composers along with founder Monica Pearce (far left) and co-founder Chris Thornborrow (far right), both of whom have also been commissioned to write a new short opera for this concert. They share a common vision for bringing contemporary classical music into the every day, and creating opportunities for emerging composers to practice and hone their art.

It was the same spirit that drove Batt and co-artistic director Erin Bardua to presents opera in its essential form by focusing on the story, and highlighting the relationship between characters in the show.

In the last few years, Essential Opera has programmed works from a variety of time periods, while consistently boiling the experience down to great singing, storytelling, and ensuring an intimate and approachable experience for audiences.

In addition to a growing core following, non-opera goers are drawn by particular composers or works being presented, or by some thematic content in the opera that speaks to them. The affordable price of $20 a ticket and the promise of an operatic experience with an indie edge makes them a welcomed alternative for a night out.


2011 Essential Opera Production of Handel’s Alcina

Saturday’s performance will be the first time that Essential Opera has presented contemporary opera, and Batt assured me that it would not be the last. Having built a platform to present local Canadian performers, musicians and now composers, they are attracting the attention and support of the community, as demonstrated by the success of their crowd-funding campaign.

“We have done it on a shoe string and got quite good at it. It was a mind-blowing experience to see our crowd-funding campaign exceed all our expectations.”

The composers who have been commissioned are prolific, and for Monica Pearce, writing Etiquette was an opportunity to write a long piece that incorporates dramatic elements, and her love of writing for the human voice. It was also a way for her to share some of her own observations and experiences.

“One thing that I really enjoyed about working on Etiquette is that it touches on the complexity of female friendships, and there can be different layers.” reflected Pearce. “There is a lot of affection, but also competition, commonality, sincerity. That’s something that happens a lot in the piece in terms of Emily (Post) and Nancy, but also the unseen Dorothy with Emily. I enjoyed the theme of women being reserved versus letting go and being themselves with abandonment.”


Thornborrow’s Heather (CINDY + MINDY = BFs 4EVER) will be a sardonic work that takes an honest look at the online bullying that happens between girls with audio visual elements incorporated in the staging. The language will be true to the characters, so be forewarned about the use of expletives, but listen hard for subtle musical references drawn from our digital lives.

Denburg’s Regina is the most “historic” piece, based on the story of Regina Jonas who was the first woman to have been ordained Rabbi in 1935. The story takes place in Berlin, where a young student discovers her true identity. The full instrumental force of piano, clarinet, accordion and violin will be heard, which will surely fill the intimate Heliconian Hall to great effect.

Both Batt and Bardua have roles in all three productions, but the full cast includes Julia Morgan (mezzo), Keith O’Brien (baritone) and Jesse Clark (baritone). David Passmore will be conducting with music director Cheryl Duvall at the piano, clarinetist Anthony Thompson, violinist Ilana Waniuk, and Branko Džinović on accordion in the ensemble. Markus Howard also serves as dramaturge for this production.

Some final words to the readers from Batt:

“It’s a privilege to be a part of the new music community in Toronto. It’s working with a family of artists who are growing and working together that makes this a very special evening. We’re looking forward to greeting new audiences and mingling!”

A special note: Latecomers who are observing the Sabbath should consider buying advance tickets or emailing Essential Opera to reserve their spot; they will be admitted at the first intermission.

For more event information and insight into the performers, check out BeMused Network where you can also get your advanced tickets for $20.