Edmonton Opera has developed a more aggressive mandate of taking its talent into surrounding communities.
This coming Sunday, in celebration of Alberta Culture Days, two singers cast in Verdi’s upcoming Aida will present a leisurely performance of light music at The Enjoy Centre.
Lyric soprano Cara Brown, cast as the high priestess in Aida, and tenor Ron Long, a messenger delivering dramatic news, will perform a 30-minute review of songs that include Puccini’s Quando men vo’ from La BohÄ‚Â¨me; Gilbert and Sullivan’s Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast from Pirates of Penzance and Leonard Bernstein’s infamous duet Tonight from West Side Story. The performance starts at 2 p.m.
In an email to the Gazette, Michael Spassov, Edmonton Opera’s artistic administrator offered high praise for each singer.
“Ron will be playing the messenger in Aida, who brings news of the recent Ethiopian invasion. It is an incredibly dramatic solo that he gets to sing, one that requires a very dramatic stage presence.”
And as for Brown, Spassov adds, “She sings an incredible solo in the Consecration Scene, a hymn to the ancient Egyptian god Phthah. Cara has a high purity of sound and a statuesque bearing that make her perfect for that role.”
In some ways it comes as no surprise that the Enjoy Centre is debuting opera among its special events. It is widely known that the former Lieutenant-Governor Lois Hole was a strong supporter of opera and the symphony.
What is less acknowledged is that Bill and Jim Hole, in their salad days at the University of Alberta, performed in about eight operas, and to this day continue as sponsors and partners.
As the brothers tell it, their major stage stint occurred quite by accident in the 1970s. At the time they were part of the muscular Golden Bears football team.
In executing Salome artistic director Irving Guttman approached the coach to see if four beefy players were interested in non-speaking roles as intimidating soldiers.
“He (Guttman) knew we didn’t know much about opera, but he didn’t treat us with disdain. He was so engaging and he made the experience so dynamic,” Bill says.
Despite the young company’s enthusiasm and training a few incidents happened.
As a young soldier, Jim was given a spear and shield and had to run down the stage to kill Salome. He fumbled his spear, “And I missed her head by inches. As the curtain came down, she whispered at me, ‘Jesus Christ. You almost killed me.”
Cast in Il Trovatore, Jim was once again a soldier drinking in a pub. His role required him to snatch the hand of barmaid.
“She was a dancer. As I made a grab for her, I stepped on her dress. As she spun away, I could hear it tear, and she gave me this evil eye,” he chuckles.
On another night during this production, Bill, who was singing in the famous Anvil Chorus, was required to beat his anvil in time with the orchestra. In leaving he stage he had to pick up the 50-pound prop and carry it off stage.
As Bill puts it, “One piece of the stage I stepped on was not properly secured and a board flipped up in my face. The anvil nearly landed on me so I had to throw it and when it landed, it poked a two or three inch hole on stage.”
For all their hard work, the brothers were paid the grand sum of $15 per performance. But it’s an experience they would never trade.
As Jim explains, “There are a lot of talented people in opera and you gain a lot of respect for their hard work. It takes a real talent to pull it off. It was an eye-opening experience for us and you would be hard-pressed to find people who don’t have an appreciation for it.”