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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

PREVIEW | Amplified Opera Returns To Live Performance With AMPLIFY 1.0

By Anya Wassenberg on March 15, 2022

Marion Newman (L) and Jonathan Adams sing along with musicians in rehearsal for AMPLIFY 1.0 (Photo: Madison Angus)
Marion Newman (L) and Jonathan Adams sing along with musicians in rehearsal for AMPLIFY 1.0 (Photo: Madison Angus)

Amplified Opera returns to live stage performance with AMPLIFY 1.0, which will be performed within Jeffrey Gibson’s installation I AM YOUR RELATIVE at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto from March 17 to 20, 2022.

It’s a follow up on the AMPLIFY beta concert of pre-COVID 2019 from the company now designated as the official Disruptor-in-Residence at the Canadian Opera Company. AMPLIFY 1.0 presents opera and art song from a diverse range of voices and stories.

Each performance date offers a different double bill, mixing it up from three pieces.

  • MisogyME — A look at toxic masculinity and what it truly means to be a man in today’s world with actor/singer Jonathan Christopher, pianist and director Topher Mokrzewski, and theatre and opera artist Dr. Michael Mohammed
  • Spotlight: Out on a Limb — Exploring the ways that disabled persons navigate identity and the world with singer Megan Miceli, musician Jennifer Pos, and opera director Bridget Ramzy
  • Wreckonciliation — with Kwagiulth and Stó:lō mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, Two-Spirit, nêhiyaw michif (Cree-Métis) baritone Jonathan Adams, and Algonquin playwright and director Yvette Nolan

Three of the artists shared their thoughts on AMPLIFY 1.0 and their involvement in the performances.

Marion Newman (Photo courtesy of Domoney Artists)
Marion Newman (Photo courtesy of Domoney Artists)

Mezzo-Soprano Marion Newman, both a co-founder of Amplified Opera and a performer in Wreckonciliation, talked about the upcoming program.

What led to founding Amplified Opera?

Teiya and Aria started Amplified Opera in order to create a space in which they felt they and artists like them would be able to be their authentic selves and tell stories from a lens not otherwise supported in the opera sector. Asitha and I jumped at their invitation to join as Co-Founders in early 2020, right before the pandemic really hit us here. We are here to create space for diverse voices to express themselves and share the stories they feel represents them authentically. We want to create opportunities for conversations with audiences so that meaningful connections can be made.

What can you tell us about Wreckonciliation?

The title Wreckonciliation was born out of frustration at the way the word reconciliation is uttered so often, framing leaders as people who care and want to make a difference, when in actual fact they keep pushing the DOING part of reconciliation onto others and into the next election cycle. The desire to sing a break up ballad to Canada was where it all started. Out of a wish to be more hopeful, Yvette Nolan, Jonathon Adams and I have worked on a narrative that starts out with truth and hopefully leads the audience to contemplate their own responsibility as individuals in bringing about reconciliation minus the “Wreck”.

Do you think there is progress being made towards inclusivity and diversity in the world of opera?

I do. Not long ago there was no such thing as IBPOC led projects. Works that fell into the category of “diversity” were conceived of, brought about and usually led by non-IBPOC people. This meant our stories were not necessarily the ones we would want to tell about ourselves and largely trauma or romanticization-based. Now I see more understanding of the importance of diverse leadership in what stories we tell and how and who we invite to tell those stories with us.

What would that look like in real terms?

This isn’t quite answering the question but… I hope that this moment of allowing the circle to widen so that diverse creators, leaders, players can join in is much more than a moment. I would like to hold the world of opera accountable to the door they’ve opened at the moment so that we can continue to grow trust and partnerships and an audience that reflects the diversity of this country.

In your own career, how have you juggled/balanced the world of classical music and opera and your own heritage? Clearly, Amplified Opera is part of that, but I’m imagining it was part of a longer journey towards this kind of organization.

In navigating my way toward balance I have sometimes reached either end of the spectrum. Feeling off-kilter is what has brought about the learning and courage needed to push me forward and to finding ways that I can be my whole self in this world of classical music. Ultimately that journey has also led me toward considering leadership. The opportunity to co-lead with artists I respect and can learn from, rather than taking on all of that responsibility by myself, made me jump in with Amplified Opera.

I’ve also been accepting invitations to find many other ways of expressing myself and making space for a more diverse range of opera adjacent artists. Sharing the work and joy of being a diverse artist in this industry is one way to create balance not just for me, but for all artists I have met who juggle the jobs of creating/performing and teaching. The teaching part — bringing colleagues and companies up to speed on what is appropriate and why can take up a lot of time and energy and leave little for the more creative and joyful part of being an artist.

I have a very supportive family (and that extends to my close friend group) who have always held me up in rough times and celebrated with me in good times. Their enthusiasm and council has helped to maintain my confidence and feet-on-the-ground balance.

I don’t believe my culture is far removed from opera. Potlatch ceremony takes place in a sort of theatre. Masks, dances, songs, stories, costumes, truth, history and honouring all in a room full of witnesses. I think most if not all cultures of the world have a history of telling story through song, so we are all in a way connected to opera from our roots. Classical music has always been a way for me to express the emotion that I can’t put into words. A rich vehicle for reaching hearts.

Megan Miceli (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Megan Miceli (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Soprano Megan Miceli has sung with Tapestry Opera, Opera in Concert, and was a resident with the Banff Centre for Performing Arts’ Opera in the 21st Century digital program for the 2020-2021 season. She performs in Spotlight: Out on a Limb.

“The creation of this concert has felt special to me right from the beginning and I truly believe it is a small but important step in how disability is represented in art,” she said in a statement to Ludwig.

“It started as just a spark of an idea that first came about from a conversation myself and Aria had a number of years ago about why no one wants to talk about disability. Why is it seen as a “bad” word? Why is there so much negative stigma around something that is part of so many people’s identity? We so often view disabled persons in a sense of isolation and disability itself as something that should be hidden away. Disability is seen as a hindrance, a burden, an insurmountable obstacle, and a costume that we wish we could remove given the chance; something that is limiting and constricting. Disability is almost never allowed to be part of the expression of someone’s identity in a positive and empowering way, especially not in art.

“We so rarely see disabled persons on stage, let alone truly celebrated or represented as powerful, as leaders, as athletes, as creators, as having relationships, as having fulfilling and full lives, as being proud of who they are and worthy of respect. It has been incredibly meaningful to craft this concert and shape it with our own lived experiences and our own stories. We have been on a journey together to discover what art means to each of us. We have reimagined and adapted music for this concert and melded styles and genres throughout. The entire process has been filled with a spirit of collaboration and creativity. It has enabled us to highlight our own journeys through musical pieces that bring us joy, that help us tell our story, that make us feel strong and we hope that you love this music as much as we do.

“My hope is that this concert will resonate with every person who has ever felt like they have had to hide a part of themselves to try and fit into a box that was not made for them; that being their most authentic and truthful self wasn’t enough. You are more than enough. And personally, and maybe selfishly, I have never had the opportunity to perform with another disabled artist so this experience has been really special for me. To be able to perform with Jennifer and Bridget has felt like a celebration of my full self, a feeling that is rare for me, and I am truly honoured to have shared this moment with the both of them.”

Jonathan Christopher (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Jonathan Christopher (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Bermudian-Bostonian baritone Jonathan Christopher is based in NYC, and has performed at the Lincoln Center, Signature Theatre, and Brooklyn Playhouse Theatre, among others. He will be performing in AMPLIFY 1.0‘s MisogyME.

“The cultural and societal reckoning we have experienced the past few years compelled me to deeply reflect on my own faults, failures, and identity — as a queer man, as a black man, as a man,: Jonathan says in a statement to LVT. “MisogyME asks questions of the roles men play in our contemporary world — How do we claim responsibility for our actions? How does toxic masculinity seep into the government, the court of law, and the court of public opinion? When should men use their privilege to amplify the voices of women, BIPOC, and other marginalized communities?

“But, more importantly, when do men need to step back and make space for societal healing? Stepping away from explaining (or ‘mansplaining’) these questions and ideas, we turn to quotes from prominent historical feminists including Angelina Grimké and adrienne maree brown.

“Musically, we perform passages of vengeance, power abuse, and bigotry in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, and Don Giovanni, look at racial and class injustice through the musicals Ragtime and Sweeney Todd, and dig into the theory of toxicity and ‘The Manosphere’ through “Monster” from Dave Malloy’s Octet. Other composers on the program include Terence Blanchard, who asks the question “What makes a man a man?” in his opera Champion, and Michael Schachter, whose setting of the Langston Hughes’ poem The Black Clown promises “No! not forever like this will I be.”

MisogyME does not attempt to answer questions, but strives to incite conversation and connection between the performers and the audience.”

Tickets for AMPLIFY 1.0 are on sale here

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