UofT Opera | UofT Opera Visits NYC
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UofT Opera Visits NYC

We recently returned from a four-day visit to New York City. Through the incredible generosity of Richard and Donna Holbrook, 18 UofT Opera students saw three productions at the Metropolitan Opera, participated in two Masterclasses and enjoyed some pretty amazing meals. Here are the impressions of four of our singers.

Day 1 by Andrew Adridge

The first day started with an early wake-up and a scramble to get to the airport. Surprisingly, security and check in were very quick and painless which made the airport breakfast we shared together all the more satisfying! The flight was nice and we landed in New York safe and sound and with enough time to check into our hotel and share a family dinner at one of the best Mexican restaurants I have ever been to. Tonight we were blessed with the opportunity to see Verdi’s La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera. I feel like I need a minute just to realize what I just said!! I would never have thought that I would have the opportunity to see an opera at one of the world’s greatest halls but thanks to the wonderful gift from Richard and Donna Holbrook, I was able to tonight. My friends covered my eyes until I was in the perfect spot to view the Lincoln Centre for the first time, and I was on the verge of tears. The inside was even more breathtaking, reminiscent of something found only in dreams. Beautiful velvet and glasswork fill the space, making every corner a new adventure. The production was wonderful. It is a special gift to be able to see a world class production in the flesh and truly have the opportunity to experience the staging and direction for what it is. The singing was spectacular and the ambiance was enrapturing but what really took the cake for me personally was seeing Leontyne Price on the cover of the Met’s Season Book this year. Being a young black singer is difficult at times, but seeing that inspired me to an extent that I cannot relay in words. This trip has barely begun and I already feel even more inspired as a singer, and I look forward even more to a career in this amazing field. I can’t wait for day 2!

Day 2 by Rebecca Apps

WHAT A DAY!!! Where to start… I woke this morning to the sounds of singers warming up in their hotel rooms (including myself). We then prepared for the long day ahead of us by filling up at The Flame Dinner, a UofT Opera fave. By 10am, we had made our way over to Nola Studios where the wonderful Ben Malensek hosted our first Masterclass.

The morning was filled with a variety of operatic repertoire, ranging from Gluck to Britten. I was fortunate enough to sing for Ben and was grateful for his attentiveness to text. As young singers, we tend to stray away from the drama and focus more on technique. But Ben showed us how dramatic work can, in fact, improve expressive and technical aspects of our voices.

As if working with Ben wasn’t enough of a treat, we then made our way over to the Metropolitan Opera for an amazing backstage tour! Fun fact: we learned that there are no right angles in the entire opera house for the purpose of optimal acoustics. The cherry on top, hands down, was spotting Placido Domingo in rehearsal for La Traviata, as well as a casual crossing of Renée Fleming and Elina Garanča as they headed to rehearsal for Der Rosenkavalier.

By the time we recovered from being starstruck, it was time for dinner at another favourite, The Greek Kitchen. After filling up on spanakopita and lamb shanks, we made our way over to the Met to see University of Toronto Opera grad Adrianne Pieczonka as Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio!

Adrianne delivered an extremely affecting performance of this technically extremely demanding role. What a night! What a day! I can’t wait for tomorrow! To Richard and Donna Holbrook, you are both angels for giving us this incredible opportunity.

Day 3 by Leanne Kaufman

Our third day in New York started out with a grey, windy trek down to the Opera America studio on 29th street. We stopped for signature New York bagels and coffee before making our way up to the seventh floor for a masterclass with the one and only Marlena Malas. Ms. Malas is a highly reputable voice teacher who has taught at Curtis, Juilliard, and the Manhattan School, as well as many young artist programs, including the Canadian Opera Company. She is a wealth of knowledge and taught as much to those of us watching as those of us singing. There was beautiful singing from Georgia, Adam, Alyssa, Daevyd, Andrew and Brittany, and Ms. Malas found a way to tailor her technique to produce wonderful results from everyone. After a delicious lunch at a nearby burger joint, we had some free time to explore Manhattan, and we all branched off to visit museums, do a little shopping or wander through Times Square. We met up again at dinner, where we were joined by the one and only Adrianne Pieczonka! I was fortunate to sit at the same table as Adrianne, and she graciously shared anecdotes from her career so far, and a few tips for us emerging young singers. It was so exciting to talk to a University of Toronto Opera grad who is living the dream, having performed Fidelio the night before, and who is looking forward to returning to Toronto for COC’s Tosca this month. Chatting with Adrianne, time slipped away from us and we had to hurry across the street to Lincoln Center for the evening performance of Verdi’s Aida. I was blown away by the exquisite singing from soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, tenor Jorge de Leon and mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana, not to mention the 80-odd chorus members, dozens of supernumeraries and ballet dancers! At one point I counted more than 150 people on stage, making up the Ethiopians and Egyptians, as well as four giant horses! An opera of such scope, such grandeur, could only be experienced at The Metropolitan Opera, and I am so grateful to have seen such an amazing piece of art, both musically and visually. It was the perfect show to wrap up this year’s trip to New York, and while we are sad to leave this culture centre, it’s comforting, exciting and inspiring to know that opera on this scale is very much alive and well so close to home.

Day 4 by Adam Harris

Well, it was our last day in New York, our last day as a class and for me, my last day as a University of Toronto Faculty of Music student. After a great night of camaraderie, following dinner with University of Toronto Opera grad Adrianne Pieczonka and a spectacular performance of Aida at The Metropolitan Opera, most all of us started our day with a healthy bowl of fruit from our favourite 58th street diner “The Flame”. We were accompanied by our fellow UofT Opera alumnus and Met chorus member Sean Clark, who spoke to us about chorus life in the Big Apple. Then shortly after we headed back to our little abode and packed up our things.

Thanks to Catherine Tait (and with unsurprising efficiency) we were able to hail five yellow taxis during rush hour. We all hugged goodbye our mentor and good friend Michael Patrick Albano, who is staying for a couple days longer.

We landed in Toronto around 4:30 with only a few crying babies aboard the plane (aside from a couple of us).

Thank you so much to Richard and Donna Holbrook for this experience. I’m certain that all my colleagues agree with me in saying it was truly a trip to remember.

To all my fellow graduating and returning colleagues, it has been an utmost pleasure getting to know all of you and I wish you all nothing but the best in your future endeavours (insert “Graduation” by Vitamin C).

To Sandra, Michael, Andrea and Catherine. We love you all and will truly miss seeing you every day. We appreciate the confidence and drive that you instilled into us every single day, but most of all for seeing our true potential to one day be something great. May nothing but happiness come through your door.