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PREVIEW | No Strings Theatre & Opera By Request Present Bizet’s Carmen In The Country

By Anya Wassenberg on August 8, 2023

Carmen preview

No Strings Theatre and Opera By Request have teamed up to produce Bizet’s Carmen in a farm setting with a flapper-era twist. Performances begin August 11 and run to August 20 near Orangeville, north of Toronto.

The collaborative production comes about through No Strings’ Emerging Artists’ program, now in its second year.

The program offers operatic training and performance opportunities, and has grown from one masterclass and two performances in the first year to include six performances along with four masterclasses, a cabaret night, and a youth orchestra program in 2023. This year’s intensive has been running since July 22 and culminates on August 20.

Young artists work with established professionals, both on stage and off-stage as mentors, to train as they mount a fully staged production. Canadian baritone, choral conductor, and musicologist John Holland, mezzo-soprano and radio host Julie Nesrallah, Mexican tenor Ernesto Ramírez, and mezzo-soprano and vocal coach Marcia Whitehead act as professional mentors.

The participants are diverse, and seem to be growing and cultivating an audience for opera in a rural setting.

Carmen In The Art-Deco Era

Gregory Finney directs the production that will be sung in French, with the original spoken dialogue rendered in English. The Toronto-based baritone is known as a singer, actor, and dancer, and he’s performed regularly with Against the Grain Theatre, VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert, Toronto Operetta Theatre, FAWN Chamber Creative and Loose TEA Music Theatre, among other companies.

It’s set in the era of flappers and gangsters, with the rise of feminism on the horizon. In his notes, Gregory says, “The stories of strong women have always fascinated me. Being raised by a cadre of strong women on the East Coast, I have a deep appreciation for the many layers that have caused this strength to be forged.

“One layer that overwhelmingly dominates in my brain is that of women living in particularly dangerous times. At the time of the original setting of Carmen, there’s danger all around. Not only among the soldiers on the opposing side, but even within their own ranks. I find that there’s a really strong parallel between this time period and that of the late 1920s and early 1930s.”

The Creatives & Cast

No Strings Theatre is led by soprano and Founding Artistic Director/producer/voice instructor Denise Williams. Denise, who acts as Artistic Director (as well as singing a role) earned an ARCT in Singing Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music, and a Masters in Community Music from Wilfrid Laurier University. She’s also studied Arts and Entertainment Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University. In a career that spans more than three decades, she’s performed with the TSO, TMC, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, and many other prominent ensembles. No Strings aims to empower the next generation of music and theatre professionals in an equitable and barrier-free environment.

Opera By Request or OBR is a unique company, in that its repertoire is decided by the participants, and not in a top-down model. The singers approach a director, and then a production is assembled. With singers choosing their roles, it creates a uniquely passionate performance for audiences, and an opportunity to explore repertoire in a supportive environment.

Conductor, pianist and vocal coach William Shookhoff has conducted orchestras across Canada, as well as in the Netherlands and China. He has taught at the University of Toronto, at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and other noted institutions. He is known for his work in opera as well as musical theatre, and was the associate conductor for the legendary Phantom of the Opera production in Toronto and on tour.

The Cast

  • Carmen: Erica Timmerman
  • Don Jose: Ernesto Ramírez
  • Escamillo: John Holland
  • Micaela: Maryam Nostrati, Grace Quinsey, Hillary Krutchick (understudy)
  • Frasquita: Gabriella Bell-Divencenzo, Brooke Mitchell, Denise Williams

William Shookhoff is co-producer and Music Director, with Cecilia Nguyen Tran as Associate Music Director.

Show Details

Performances begin August 11 and run till the end of the program on August 20.

Performances take place August 11, 12, 18, 19 at 5 p.m., and August 13 and 20 at 3 p.m. at the amphitheatre at MVL Stable in Adjala Ontario, close to Orangeville and about an hour north of Toronto.

Tickets, and more information (including a location map) available [HERE].

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