Toronto’s “Opera-In-Concert”

Iain Scott provides a profile


Opera is perhaps the most multi-layered experience – the synthesis of all the arts – but what happens if you remove the costumes, the scenery, the props, the orchestra and much of the dramatic interaction? Can any operatic experience survive such a pruning? Almost 30 years ago, a visionary leader of the Toronto operatic community triumphantly proved that it can be done – and done well. He also proved that a good idea can continue long after its founder has retired.

In 1973, Stuart Hamilton, the beloved and renowned coach, impresario and quiz-master for the C.B.C.’s “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera” took a considerable artistic and personal commercial risk. He produced a series of operas, where singers in evening dress, with scores on music stands, accompanied by a piano, sang their dramatic parts “in concert”. The risk paid off, artistically and commercially, and Toronto’s marvellous “Opera in Concert” company was born.

Maestro Hamilton recognised that the small segment of the operatic repertoire selected for staging on the large commercial stages, such as the Hummingbird Centre, was valuable, but limiting. There were hundreds of lesser-known works by great masters which deserved a broader hearing. There were many in Toronto’s operatic audiences who wanted to expand their horizons beyond the tried and true, traditional “ABC” (Aida, Bohème and Carmen) repertoire. Performing a series of more esoteric works would have the additional benefit of providing a showcase opportunity for up-and-coming Canadian singers.

Over the past 30 years, this city has become the envy of the operatic world for the diversity and range of operas performed here. Nearly 100 lesser known operas, some familiar to many, others completely unknown, have been performed by “Opera in Concert”. We have had the opportunity, for example, to experience nearly all the operas of the late 19th century French master, Jules Massenet. For two among many examples, of up-and-coming Canadian talent, we have heard a young Ben Heppner is such works as Saint Saëns’ “Henry V111” , Flotow’s “Martha” and Giordano’s “Fedora”. We have also heard the then only locally known Richard Margison in Bellini’s “Il Pirata” and Massenet’s “Le Cid”.

When Stuart retired from his company in 1994 after 20 magnificent years, many lesser organisations would have folded. Stuart, however, had another brilliant plan – he passed the artistic directorship to a friend and colleague, Guillermo Silva Marin, who had been associated, as a tenor, with the company since its inception. Bill Silva, as he is known to his friends, has now become one of this city’s busiest operatic entrepreneurs. He now also produces the “Toronto Operetta Theatre” and the “Summer Opera Lyric Theatre and Research Centre”.

In the 2002-03 season, Opera in Concert will produce Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Rameau’s “Castor et Pollux” and Bellini’s “Beatrice di Tenda”.

Call 416 366 7723.