The young talents of today’s opera industry aren’t looking to “break into the scene.” Rather, they are breaking down the barriers between theatre and music. They start their own companies, create roles in new works and those who eke out a place for themselves in opera’s more traditional circles do so by proudly adding their own voice to opera’s pedigree of singers.
The operatic voice has never been more in-demand across the varied combinations of music and theatre that create an ever-broadening definition of opera. In what has become almost a prerequisite of their early professional years, today’s singers flex their creative muscles in the experimental. Site-specific productions, electroacoustic mash-ups, multidisciplinary work and adaptations of classic operas are all ways these artists happily question tradition.
As a result, opera is becoming a genre of individualism and, more important, options. These six women are some of the individuals who are turning opera on its head and making the future bright for the art form.
ADANYA DUNN – Toronto
If there ever was a driven hustler among opera’s up-and-comers, it’s Adanya Dunn. The 27-year-old singer cares little for opera’s habit of categorizing voices and styles, instead preferring to simply smack you right in the sternum with her powerful instrument. Dunn is a resident performer with FAWN Chamber Creative (L’homme et le ciel), and she’s one of the reasons to catch the monthly opera improv show at Toronto’s Comedy Bar, Whose Opera Is It Anyway? (She’s been known to “borrow” audience members’ phones and sing their text conversations for all to hear.)
Dunn is a perpetual innovator, willing to give 110 per cent to everything from deconstructed Mozart in Banff to electro-techno-popera in Berlin.
“The majority of the projects I am involved with work to redefine conventional labels, such as ‘soprano,’ ‘opera’ and ‘classical,’” Dunn says. Her training is rooted in opera and classical music, yet she uses her skills to stretch, broaden and break the industry’s traditional boundaries. “This allows for constant growth and development in an artistic world formally defined by exacting parameters and expectations.”
Quickly becoming a favourite among Toronto’s composer community, Dunn sang in Soundstreams’s Emerging Composers Concert on June 6, before heading to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s “Ensemble Evolution” workshop to get inventive with the International Contemporary Ensemble (which wrapped July 7). And just to prove she can do it all, Dunn is set to start with the Dutch National Opera Academy in Amsterdam this fall.
STEPHANIE TRITCHEW – St. Catharines, Ont.
If you’re looking for art with a side of social issues, Stephanie Tritchew is the artist to follow. She consistently searches for a message in the opera she sings, wanting it to have tangible social impact. Within the past season, Tritchew has sung about the frightful working conditions in the garment industry’s sweatshops (Sweat, The Bicycle Opera Project, 2017), the realities of homelessness, addiction and mental illness (Requiem for a Lost Girl, Vancouver Opera Festival, 2018) and she brought her best eye-rolling sass to Tapestry Opera’s Bandits in the Valley (2017), based on the hidden history of Toronto’s Don Valley bandits.
“This flare of social activism in art is awesome,” Tritchew says. “We have an entire country of artists working together to spread awareness and create dialogue about current social issues – current being the operative word.”
Traditional opera is also in her bag of tricks; in mid-June, she sang the feisty Rosina in Opera 5’s production of The Barber of Seville in Toronto and will make her mainstage debut with Calgary Opera in November as Stephano in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Yet Tritchew carves out her true voice in the non-traditional. “I think current and relatable content is what makes opera relevant to its community right now.”
If you’re ever wondering if opera is relevant in the 21st century, there are answers in Tritchew’s calendar.
DANIKA LORÈN – Saskatoon
Once you’ve heard her sing, Danika Lorèn’s calm air offstage is almost unnerving. The Saskatchewan native is a graduating member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio (Gotterdammerung, The Nightingale and Other Short Fables), and she will return to the Toronto company next season to make her mainstage debut as Musetta in La bohème (April to May, 2019).
Last summer, she fearlessly took on the challenging music of Claude Vivier in Joel Ivany’s production of Kopernikus at the Banff Centre, and she is a co-founder of Collectìf, the imaginative and theatrical Toronto-based presenters of art song.
Art song, and the intimacy that comes with it, is an organic fit for Lorèn, as are Canada’s largest stages. “I think art song naturally lives outside of the box. It doesn’t adhere to as strict a voice type or gendered system like opera does,” she says. “There is so much freedom without having to change what the composer or poet intended, and that freedom is a huge gift to the performer.”
It’s worth following Lorèn’s calendar, and particularly her smaller-scale work. She writes songs, too – a rarity among today’s opera singers – and her art-song performances are your best bet to hear her sing some of her own music. Tip: Collectìf starts its new season on Sept. 22.
ANNE-MARIE MacINTOSH – Langley, B.C.
Coloratura sopranos have the unique pressure of a loudly ticking professional clock, urging them to be ready for the big stage while their agile voices are still in their youthful prime. So it’s a thrill to see Anne-Marie MacIntosh, graduate of Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Development Program, right on schedule. “We are expected to be ‘ready-to-go’ professionally as early as our mid-20s,” MacIntosh says, “while many other voice types don’t mature until they are well into their 30s.”
The ring in her sound signals a perfect entry into the tool kit of every coloratura soprano, including crystalline Mozart, bubbling Strauss (someone give her a Zerbinetta, please!) and warm bel canto roles to come. Following Pamina in Brott Opera’s The Magic Flute on July 19 in Hamilton, MacIntosh will make an exciting, not-for-the-faint-of-heart role debut with Calgary Opera’s mainstage season in November, singing the title role of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.
“I need to believe that I have something special to say,” MacIntosh says of balancing her vocal development with her own artistic plans. “I will always continue to grow and develop my craft, and to trust in the advice and support of my mentors, family and friends.”
KIMBERLEY-ANN BARTCZAK – Montreal
A rising young female conductor in Canada’s opera scene is certainly something to watch. Montreal-born Kimberley-Ann Bartczak has already stood on Canadian podiums coast to coast, from Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program, to her gig this spring as music director for Laura Kaminsky’s provocative As One with Opera on the Avalon in St. John’s.
“It’s a difficult and lonely job to be a conductor,” Bartczak says. “Male or female, young or old, at the end of the day, what matters most is having strong musical, communication and leadership skills.”
Bartczak was in Toronto in June to conduct The Bicycle Opera Project’s workshop of Llandovery Castle, before returning to her post as resident conductor at Calgary Opera. Bartczak knows well that conducting can be “a difficult and lonely job,” yet she’s a tireless worker who has the necessary fortitude to wield a baton.
SIMONA GENGA – Vaughan, Ont.
Simona Genga first caught my ear during a noon-hour concert in Toronto’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, when she sang the delicious Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix from Samson et Dalila. The University of Toronto Opera School graduate offers rich colours in her voice and an onstage poise that belies her age, and she’s got the winning smile of a born stage-monster.
“I think our job as artists when stepping out on stage is to be present, authentic and honest with the music,” Genga says of her blooming career. “That is my goal whenever I sing.”
She’s an incoming member of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, a post she doubly won after earning First Prize and Audience Choice at the COC’s 2017 Centre Stage Competition.
She’ll start her 2017-18 season in Toronto after finishing a summer in Missouri at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where her to-do list has included helping soprano Patricia Racette make her directorial debut with La Traviata. Keep an eye on Genga’s calendar starting now, and treat your ears to a thrilling young voice.