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WHO’S WHO | A Date With The Divas From Opera Sustenida

By Ludwig Van on August 26, 2021

Opera Sustenida (image courtesy of the artist)
Nicole Whitney Dubinsky, Opera Sustenida. (Image courtesy of the artists)


Picture the scene: It’s April 15, 2020. Four musician friends are chatting online, bemoaning all of their cancelled gigs (performance opportunities, competitions, music lessons, and more), and wondering when they will be able to return to live performances to see their audiences and students in-person. Fast forward one month, and that possibility seems even further away; which is why their conversation has now begun to revolve around the idea of creating a virtual concert series, which would allow them to bring the excitement of opera to an audience in the comfort of their own homes.

Fast forward to September 2020, and these four musicians have evolved into Opera Sustenida, and have successfully livestreamed their first concert, Divas for Hire!! In this inaugural concert, audience members could vote to select the concert repertoire ahead of time and submit questions to be answered live during the event.

The Divas produced this concert entirely by themselves; recording and filming their performances individually in their homes, creating dynamic virtual staging for each piece, and editing the finished audio and videos. Divas for Hire!! proved to be a great success, pulling in a sizable audience both local and international, and it became clear that Opera Sustenida was here to stay.

Opera Sustenida's Stephanie DeCiantis (image courtesy of the artist)
Opera Sustenida’s Stephanie DeCiantis (image courtesy of the artist)

Opera Sustenida features the talents of Canadian musicians Stephanie DeCiantis (soprano), Nicole Whitney Dubinsky (soprano), and Daniella Theresia (mezzo-soprano), all supported by the richly sensitive playing of Suzanne Yeo (pianist).

Stephanie DeCiantis does double duty as the ensemble’s staging director and film editor; her contemporary, relatable and witty re-imaginings of opera classics are one of Opera Sustenida’s signature features. This could be experienced in their February 2021 concert, Date with the Divas (Vol. 1), which included:

  • a turbulent “Da tempeste” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare sung by Ms. Dubinsky in the guise of a harried TV weather reporter faced with blizzards, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions;
  • to Ms. DeCiantis’ witty take on the internal psychological conflicts of Mozart’s Fiordiligi in “Come scoglio” from Così fan tutte, with three very different Fiordiligis interacting with each other on-screen;
  • to Ms. Theresia’s Disney-princess twist on “Vedrai carino” from Don Giovanni.

The Divas’ visual ingenuity continues to stand out in their upcoming concert Date with the Divas (Vol. 2). This concert will be livestreamed on September 4, 2021 and will feature music from the Romantic period. Included on the programme are:

  • “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville sung by a trio of Rosinas at a coffee shop (sidenote: if you’ve ever wanted to compare three very different voice types singing this aria, now’s your chance to see it done side-by-side!);
  • a surreal take on Prince Orlovsky’s chronic boredom in Strauss, Jr’s Die Fledermaus (spoiler: a shark is involved);
  • and a cameo from Marilyn Monroe performing Musetta’s seductive “Quando m’en vo’” from Puccini’s La bohème.
Opera Sustenida's Suzanne Yeo (image courtesy of the artist)
Opera Sustenida’s Suzanne Yeo (image courtesy of the artist)

There’s also a bonus non-operatic number: Rossini’s “Cat Duet” with a creative musical twist that involves both harpsichord and synthesized beats.

Date with the Divas (Vol. 2) also features a sizable virtual chorus with members from across North America who participated in an online summer workshop held by the Divas, then individually recorded themselves (fully staged and costumed) performing four famous opera choruses.

The choristers feature in:

  • a very French staging of “Chacun le sait” from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment;
  • Senta’s Ballade (Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner) as a collection of haunted singing portraits;
  • a Zoom work meeting version of the Anvil Chorus (Il trovatore, Verdi);
  • and a gorgeous “singing in isolation” performance of “Casta Diva” (Norma, Bellini), complete with the iconic flute solo!

Throughout the livestream, The Divas will keep up their tradition of audience interaction by means of live chat segments and YouTube live comments.

The grand finale will be a Gotham-inspired Ride of the Valkyries, where the Divas will be joined by an all-star cast of Canadian opera singers.

Date with the Divas (Vol. 2)” will livestream at 7:30pm (EST) on Saturday, September 4, 2021. Tickets are available on Opera Sustenida’s website.


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Ludwig Van
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