If you asked most people what they did during the pandemic, very few of them would say, “I started an opera company!”
Yet that’s exactly what Canadian musicians Stephanie DeCiantis, Nicole Whitney Dubinsky, Daniella Theresia, and Suzanne Yeo did. In September 2020, these enterprising women launched Opera Sustenida’s debut virtual concert “Divas for Hire!!,” followed closely by “Date with the Divas (volumes 1 and 2).”
Endeavouring to break the “[x] performers in [x] boxes” mould for online concerts, The Divas took their virtual events to the next level by creating visually stunning performance videos (all self-filmed with smartphones), which they then interspersed with informative and interactive live chat segments during their livestreamed events. To date, their virtual concert series has garnered Opera Sustenida over 1200 ticketed views* and a growing fanbase in Toronto and beyond.
This September, Opera Sustenida will make their much-anticipated pivot from the virtual format to live performance with a multimedia-enhanced production of Verdi’s beloved opera Il trovatore. With Stephanie DeCiantis acting as Stage Director (as well as Prima Donna “Leonora”), The Divas will bring modern sensibilities to Verdi’s iconic tale of love, vengeance, and secret identities.
As might be expected with a woman-run opera company, this production of Il trovatore has a few contemporary twists – the chorus numbers have been adapted to be gender-neutral and female characters and relationships have been brought centrestage to match the men, giving a fresh perspective on the very real issues of male privilege and cultural discrimination.
Leonora courageously chooses her own path in the face of dire circumstances while Azucena, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Monica Zerbe, is elevated from a vengeful crone to a powerful oracle with true insight into the future. Hassan Anami (tenor) joins the cast as Manrico – a man torn between his sense of honour and his love for Leonora, with Andrew Tees (baritone) as the Conte di Luna, a man born of privilege navigating a world where he receives no love, but also faces no punishment for his wrong-doings.
Rounding out the ensemble of Canadian talent are Dylan Wright (bass) as Ferrando, Tonatiuh Abrego (tenor) as Ruiz, and Daniella Theresia (mezzo-soprano) as Inez. Suzanne Yeo will be conducting with Ivan Jovanovic joining as pianist. The Divas have also organised a Live Chorus of community singers with rising stars Tyana O’Connor (soprano), Karina Bray (mezzo-soprano), Michael Dodge (tenor), and Austin Larusson (baritone) performing as Chorus Mentors. Il trovatore will also incorporate digital performances recorded by community singers from across Canada.
Ms. DeCiantis’ artistic vision centres around the famed Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot cards. The cards symbolise the characters trying to escape their fate, whether dictated by kismet or social pressures. Azucena serves as narrator and will read the fortunes of the star-crossed characters throughout the performance. There will even be mini Tarot readings for VIP Ticket holders at each venue!
Needless to say, it’s been a busy and challenging two-year journey for Opera Sustenida, from producing virtual concerts during lockdown to bringing a full opera to life in just seven months!
Perhaps the most exciting and validating part of the whole experience has been receiving a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. Thanks to this, The Divas will be able to create a digital version of Il trovatore for future on-demand streaming to offer to their loyal fans outside Toronto (anticipated release in early 2023).
Torontonians can experience Opera Sustenida’s Il trovatore this month, choosing from three live performances on September 18, 24, and 25! Tickets $35 each (limited VIP tickets available at each venue).
Full details and tickets: www.Opera-Sustenida.com/trovatore
*This estimate is based on an average of 2.5 views per ticket purchased.
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