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THE SCOOP | Has Against The Grain Theatre's Time Finally Come?

By Michael Vincent on September 17, 2016

Against the Grain Theatre Founder and Artistic Director,  Joel Ivany
Against the Grain Theatre Founder and Artistic Director, Joel Ivany

Finally, there just might be some big resources to back their big ideas.

Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) offered a box full of opera goodies this week with the announcement of their upcoming 2016–17 season. AtG fans will see a return of a bar-bound La bohème, a monthly opera pub night, and a new gilded residency with the Canadian Opera Company.

Contrasted against the prim and proper opera productions of established opera companies, a svelte AtG has made it their mandate to present opera with grit. Skirting the unfinished hem of many of Toronto’s indie opera companies, AtG fashion themselves with innovation on par with tradition. But opera is expensive, and its costs prohibitive.

In comes the COC with surprising game changer for indie opera in Toronto. This season marks the launch of a two-year pilot incubation project giving AtG full access to COC’s administrative clout at 227 Front St. E. The idea is to give the fledgeling company the resources to see them transition into a fully established and mature opera company.

“It’s an exciting time for opera right now with so many independent opera companies establishing themselves within the arts community,” said COC General Director Alexander Neef. “Our hope with this residency program is to put a system in place that helps nurture those companies as they grow and seek to establish a sustainable future.”

The residency builds upon the cosy relationship between the COC and AtG, which culminated last year with AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany’s mainstage directing debut in COC’s production of Carmen. It remains to be seen how successful the pilot project will be, but Neef hinted that if it’s fruitful, other indie companies may also be tapped to participate.

“The COC’s leadership in mentoring young companies like ours gives us a stable platform to continue our growth, and allows us to make a meaningful contribution to the opera ecosystem,” said AtG General Manager Joanna Barrotta.

AtG’s seventh season begins on October 13th with a monthly Opera Pub at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. AtG describes it as a “relaxed, casual night out that offers up your favourite beer on tap with a side of operatic arias and ensembles, performed by both established and emerging opera talent.” These will run on the first Thursday of every month.

There will also be the Toronto premiere of Oswaldo Golijov’s Ayre for soprano and chamber ensemble on November 10–12, with Miriam Khalil as soprano soloist at the Ismaili Centre. We caught AtG’s first performance of Ayre this past summer at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, and we gushed all about it here.

Inspired by the wildly successful production of La Bohème at the Cock Tavern in London, England, AtG will remount a production of La Bohème at the Tranzac. Exact dates are pending, but if it’s anything like the first time around in 2011, this could mark a pivotal year for AtG.

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent has worked as a senior editor for La Scena Musicale and web editor for Norman Lebrecht. On January 21, 2014, he went to lunch and left as the publisher of Musical Toronto. Later that year he found himself as a freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star, the former employer of his favourite author Ernest Hemingway. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
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