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INTERVIEW | Jonathan Kravtchenko On Creating Opera For A New Generation

By Anya Wassenberg on August 14, 2023

Jonathan Kravtchenko (Photos courtesy of the artist)
Jonathan Kravtchenko (Photos courtesy of the artist)

Jonathan Kravtchenko is premiering a new opera in Toronto this fall, and he’s aiming to reach out to an audience that may not have ever been interested in opera before. The popular local pianist and composer will premiere his opera Tango for Two on October 21.

Jonathan Kravtchenko

“I started music a long time ago, obviously a big inspiration and a big part of it is the connection with UofT,” he says. Jonathan grew up in a family with a great appreciation for music. By the age of 8 or 9, he was attending masterclasses and recitals at the University of Toronto with his family on a regular basis. “We went as much as we could.”

He went on to study privately with Canadian composers Robert Jennings and Gerry Shatford (of the Shatford Jazz Trio), and is currently mentored by composer John S Gray.

“Doing this one on one style, instead of general course… I find it’s just more effective,” he says of his training. He’s maintained a busy concertgoing schedule along with his studies and composition work. “Just to be in that world,” he says. It’s about immersing himself in opera and classical music culture.

In his bio, Jonathan cites his mother as an inspiration. He lost her when he was just 18, and he vowed to keep his promise to her to never stop writing music. He credits music, in turn, for helping him to cope with her loss.

It also led to his motto:

“There is enough tragedy in the world, we need happy music and I want to give that to people,” he says.

He began to take composition seriously, and wrote his first pieces at the age of 19. He also began to perform regularly at that time, and developed a following in his Beaches hood.

Tango for Two

According to his blog, he came upon the inspiration to compose a tango during Christmas celebrations a couple of years ago. Someone grabbed a rose between their teeth, he came up with passages of Bizet’s Carmen, and the seed of the opera was born.

The idea gained momentum when friends and collaborators began to ask him about the piece. “Let’s work something around with it. What if we did an opera?”

He went on to compose Tango for Two, and performed the piece as an encore at his concerts. Based on its popularity, he knew it has potential to become a whole show. Given the nature of the music, incorporating dance was a given. In Tango for Two, dance takes the leading role when it comes to telling the story.

“My job is to write the best music possible,” he says of the opera. “We have a really talented team working on this.”

One of the collaborators is award-winning dancer David Giller, known for his work with the Toronto Raptors dancers, among other things. “He’s a super talented dancer,” Jonathan says. Sibling Anna Kravtchenko is also working on the choreography. Rounding out the cast are coloratura soprano Antonina Laskarzhevska and Ukrainian vocalist Bohdan Kirieiev.

Lyrically, he was inspired by the work of East Coast poets. “The ocean is a big element in the story,” he says. The story is a romance, but he’s leaving the details for audiences. “I can tell you right now it has a happy ending,” he promises.

“We don’t want this to be just your average performance,” he says of their goals. He points to declining numbers for opera overall. “We have to face the fact. I wanted to do something new.”

The gamble on adding dance to the music paid off. “When we were running the first rehearsals, I was just blown away.” Dance added a new dimension to his music. “It’s raw human emotion,” he says.

Jonathan wrote the opera around the original composition in sections, bringing it to his mentors for feedback along the way. “It was a long process,” he says. It also led him to crystallize his ideas about what he calls Opera Nova. “We wanted to do away with powdered wigs.”

Opera Nova

Jonathan strongly believes that it’s his generation’s responsibility to carry opera and classical music, as art forms, into the 21st century. But, his “Opera Nova” concept of opera for a new generation, while it reveres the traditions, is thoroughly grounded in modern sensibilities.

Still, he wouldn’t call his approach to music in any way experimental or edgy. In terms of style, it falls within the current trend of neoclassical music. With a background in both classical and jazz music, he feels it gives his compositions a different feel than the strict traditions of either.

“We want to keep […] the cleanliness of style. It’s not pop or hip-hop,” he says. The lyrics will be sung in English to make it accessible. The production team has also worked to keep ticket prices affordable too, something that he feels is important.

It’s about finding new audiences for an old art form. “If we don’t do this, where is opera going to end up?” he asks of his generation. “It deserves it.”

Tango for Two will premiere on October 21 at Jeanne Lamon Hall—Trinity St Pauls Centre. Tickets are available [HERE].


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