The Frankfurt Connection: Jenna Simeonov Looks at the Remarkable Number of Canadian Singers Currently Enjoying Thriving Careers at 'Opera House of the Year,' Oper Frankfurt

By Simeonov, Jenna | Opera Canada, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

The Frankfurt Connection: Jenna Simeonov Looks at the Remarkable Number of Canadian Singers Currently Enjoying Thriving Careers at 'Opera House of the Year,' Oper Frankfurt


Simeonov, Jenna, Opera Canada


Aspiring opera singers in Canada are quick to learn the grim truth: it's nearly impossible to eke out a living at home.

We have fall-sized, 'year-round' opera companies in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec--yet the seasons are short. Canadian Opera Company in Toronto is by far the country's most industrious house, producing six operas per season, each receiving about eight performances. But even if you include small, 'indie' companies like Calgary's Cowtown Opera Company and Toronto's Against the Grain Theatre, which put up one or two productions annually at most--that's still not a lot of work to go around.

Canada is home to incrementally more places for singers to earn a music degree than there are opera companies to hire them once they've graduated. So, savvy young singers who hope to make a fall-time career on the opera stage start to look for professional opportunities abroad.

In the 2017/18 season, Canada was home to 199 opera performances, country-wide; that's 5.6 performances per million Canadians, a lower rate than in New Zealand, Israel, and Croatia--yet satisfyingly, slightly higher than in the United States. Canada places #36 in an Operabase ranking of 52 countries and their rates of opera production--it should come as no surprise that European countries take the top 10 spots.

In recent decades, Germany in particular has proven to be a Mecca of sorts for North Americans seeking regular operatic work. In 2017/18, that country saw 7062 operatic performances, a rate of over 86 shows per million Germans. There are over 40 opera houses in Germany, healthily supported by government funding and well patronized by the public. "The demand for opera in Canada just isn't that high right now, unfortunately," says Canadian soprano Kirsten MacKinnon, whose performances in Toronto are few, but growing more frequent. MacKinnon has spent the last handful of seasons on stages in China, the UK, the United States, and of course, Germany. "It's a smart idea to go where you're wanted."

MacKinnon is among the considerable proportion of Canadian singers working regularly at Oper Frankfurt which for the fourth time since 1996, was just named'House of the Year 'by Opernwelt magazine. Frankfurt's season runs long--from September to July--and this year, they'll present 206 performances of 31 productions. The lion's share of the onstage work is a joint effort between Oper Frankfurt's core groups of artists: the 40-strong Ensemble (of which MacKinnon is a part), and the 8 young singers of the Opera Studio.

The singers of Frankfurt's Ensemble and Opera Studio are curated to fulfill the majority of the season's needs, and guest singers are only brought in for special cases: Isoldes, spin to tenors, and other niche roles and voice types. "The rest, we have in the house," says Bernd Loebe, Intendant and General Manager of Oper Frankfurt. Proudly, he adds of his Ensemble, "We can cast Lc nozze di Figaro with three or four casts."

And in exchange for their near-continuous work onstage, the Ensemble and Studio singers find something particularly precious in the opera industry: stable employment. Within Canada, it's nearly unheard of for an opera singer to be working full-time for the majority of the year. But in Frankfurt, the house singers spend the season actively coaching, rehearsing, and performing one production after another. A typical day starts with a morning rehearsal and ends with either another rehearsal or a performance, and the singers' afternoons are kept for coachings, costume fittings, or even a few valuable hours of downtime. The schedule is predictable, even if the day's agenda changes on a dime; it's the kind of busy pace most young singers crave, and that's impossible to recreate in Canada.

"Oper Frankfurt has a very cool atmosphere," says MacKinnon. "With so many shows going at once it's like a buzzy hive of opera activity. …

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