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Opera has always had a close relationship with moral dilemma and ugly human behaviour. We can watch an opera about corrupt leaders, prejudicial hate, or fatal sexism - and still, when the curtain falls there always looms the question, "then what"?
We can do better. We can espouse and proclaim the value of vocal health, technique, and efficiency, while recognizing with great respect and awe the beauty in non-traditional voices, and overcoming the professional and territorial myopia that threatens to rob us of our innate desire to hear the gift of a great voice raised in song.
Singers, if you show up to a coaching or a rehearsal and you feel the urge to tell your coach or conductor that you're under the weather, ask yourself this: what do you expect will be the outcome of your volunteering this information?
That's where slowness comes in. It's the great magnifying glass, the exposer of weak spots. It's in slow practice that you find the crux of the problem, the ignored detail, the missing piece that makes the difference between a section of music that's hit-and-miss, and one that's consistent like a Swiss watch.
Spontaneity counts for a lot, especially in an environment that seems like it's all about first impressions. So singers, as you pack your bags and board your flights for your summer program(s) of choice, don't forget to add to your repertoire binder some Gerswhin or some Sondheim or even some inappropriate Puccini.
None of this is to minimize the work and merit of the 2017 Dora Award nominees. Yet it's a list that's desperately incomplete. Perhaps the juror qualifications exclude too many people with knowledgeable and unbiased connections to the Toronto industry. More importantly, maybe the TAPA membership qualifications are prohibitive to what much of Toronto's opera and theatre scenes can manage.
After all, opera isn't just music, and it isn't just theatre. If it's well-written opera, the music we hear is directly connected with the action and text. I often wonder: if people had heard famous film scores - Psycho, Star Wars, etc. - without having ever seen the films, would they find the music appealing? Would they find the Imperial March catchy, or full of wrong notes? If they thought those sawing strings from Hitchcock's shower scene sounded screechy and ugly, could they be blamed?
What I'm saying is that confirmation bias is an issue, particularly in a corner of the internet like Schmopera. The people who don't know they're being rude with their phones likely aren't reading this. The people who think arts education is a waste of money certainly aren't seeking out opera-centric blogs. That asshole at the concert today will never read this and feel shame.
Poverty - and the limited options that come with it - is a major theme in the original story of 19th-century Paris. Today, young people across Toronto still have the same limitations, particularly those who choose to pursue the arts. "There are a lot of constraints on their ability to live," says Mokrzewski. "Bringing [La bohème] into this context exaggerates, almost, the underlying class stuff that was happening."