Magazine article Opera Canada

A Matter of Relevance: Composer Dean Burry on What Happens When Opera Meets Municipal Politics

Magazine article Opera Canada

A Matter of Relevance: Composer Dean Burry on What Happens When Opera Meets Municipal Politics

Article excerpt

Days before I sat down to write this column, Toronto mayor Rob Ford dubbed a legitimate decision by Toronto City Council on future transit development as completely "irrelevant"

For over a year now, Torontonians have been living in bizarre political ether courtesy of the aforementioned gentleman. From summarily cancelling major transit plans through publicly "flipping the bird" to a mother with young children to calling the police on This Hour Has 22 Minutes' poor Marg Delahunty, we've enjoyed 18 month of pure operatic drama, both buffa and, alas, seria.

So it really wasn't: too surprising when Michael Albano, resident stage director of the Opera Division at the University of Toronto, announced last fall that the school would mount Rob Ford: The Opera. The Student Composer Collective is a course designed to provide U of T masters and doctoral students with the opportunity to compose for the opera stage. Every summer, Albano creates an appropriate libretto to be divided amongst the selected composers once the school year begins, and then away they go, producing an hour of fully orchestrated opera in less than four months. Rossini might have found that slow going, but in this day and age, it's a lightspeed pace to bring a new opera to the stage. Except that in this case. it wasn't even supposed to be a complete opera Just a little workshop, simply presented for a small-but-curious audience.


In the event, however, the single performance on Jan. 22 turned into something of a sensation on the Canadian opera scene, fuelled, it must be admitted, by what brewed up as a perfect PR storm. Any commentary on Mr. Ford attracts attention, and an operatic adaptation of his life proved irresistible. Even before Christmas, the media began pushing the story, and by January it was a full-blown frenzy. The Toronto Star even ran a political cartoon on the event. Now that's mainstream.

Anticipating an enthusiastic crowd, I showed up at the theatre 90 minutes early and was gobsmacked by the sight. Not only was there a line up, but some people had camped out with lawn chairs, paperbacks and snacks. And they'd done it for a student workshop performance of an unknown piece. …

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