SesayArts in conversation with Orchestra Toronto’s Music Director Kevin Mallon

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Maestro Kevin Mallon (photo courtesy of Orchestra Toronto)

When it comes to top-quality concerts, nothing is truer than the old adage that tells us to look no further than our own backyard to find what the heart desires. For some, it may an adventure to navigate to the theatre district downtown for a live performance. But those living in the northern part of Toronto need not undertake such a trek — not when Orchestra Toronto is right around the corner, performing within easy reach at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

The North-York based volunteer orchestra, led by Music Director Kevin Mallon, takes seriously its mission to “offer the enjoyment of music, foster education and music appreciation and support emerging Canadian talent” –along with its commitment to make “symphonic music accessible to a broad and diverse public beyond the concert hall.” The orchestra’s growing popularity is due in significant part to its leader. Mr Mallon is a versatile, far-seeing and renowned conductor-composer. Originally from Belfast, he has conducted orchestras in Europe, the US and Canada. His awards and honours include a JUNO-Award nomination for a Haydn Symphonies CD and three nominations for the Irish Times Theatre Award for operas produced during his term as Artistic Director of Opera 2005, an Irish opera company formed to celebrate Cork’s tenure as European Capital of Culture.

So it seems natural that Orchestra Toronto will present a full-length opera, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, under his baton. Orchestra Toronto is producing Gianni Schicchi in collaboration with Essential Opera, a company that was founded by sopranos Maureen Batt and Erin Bardua with the ideal to produce opera at its “most essential.” Since forming in 2010, Essential Opera has moved from presenting traditional opera to premiering new Canadian works, and even introducing opera fans to opera’s Spanish cousin, the zarzuela. This partnership is very much in keeping with Orchestra Toronto’s passion for collaboration and for delivering music that exceeds audience expectations. And most significant, their joint production is a major part of this Sunday’s A Night at the Opera, which also features Rossini’s beloved “William Tell Overture.” Clearly, this will be an exceptional afternoon of music for all ages.

Despite Mr Mallon’s packed schedule in the days leading up to Sunday’s show, he made time for a quick Q & A. Here is our conversation about  this landmark partnership between two independent Toronto musical organizations and their collaborative presentation of Puccini’s hilarious comic opera Gianni Schicchi.

SesayArts: Can you tell us about the collaboration between Orchestra Toronto and Essential Opera…How did it come about?

KM: I have known Essential Opera for some time. The company is run by two impressive young women: Maureen Batt and Erin Bardua. Having attended several of their performances, (mainly of Canadian repertoire), I knew they were passionate about their work and that they would deliver a fine performance. They have performed Gianni Schicchi before, and I knew they would make a good partner with the orchestra.

SesayArts: Why Gianni Schicchi? And what makes it a good opera to present in concert form?

KM: For the last number of years, the orchestra has been presenting music from specific countries: England, Germany, USA, France etc. When we did the concert of Italian music, which included some famous opera arias, we got a large and enthusiastic audience. So, I felt the next step was for us to present an opera. Gianni Schicchi is a short, one-act comic opera. It lasts about 50-60 minutes. So, it seemed like a good choice for our audience.

SesayArts: SesayArts is an all-ages e-magazine, so we are especially keen for young audiences to have experiences like Gianni Schicchi. How will this interpretation be relevant and appeal to young contemporary audiences, in your view? (Many are daunted by classical opera, which they perceive as remote and inaccessible to modern ears.)

Gianni Schicchi rehearsal photo courtesy of Orchestra Toronto

Although this is a concert performance, the singers do not just stand and sing. Rather, there is movement of the singers on stage as they interact with one another. They come on and off stage as they would in a staged production. The story is funny, and there are English surtitles. The orchestra and I also have an informal way of communicating with the audience, so nobody need feel the experience is too exclusive. Classical music can feel and seem daunting– even heavy and old fashioned, but we attempt to make the music come alive in a modern context.

SesayArts: What aspects of the production are you most excited about? And is there a part that especially resonates with you?

KM: I am most excited about the orchestra working on an opera for the first time. This experience is different than working on the symphonic repertoire. Although there can always be surprises in performance, (that is part of the fun), this is particularly the case with opera. You never know what is going to happen! What this means is that the orchestra needs to have a very well-honed sense of rubato and be ultra flexible. I can’t tell you any part in particular that excites me- that would be the entire piece! But your readers will invariably know the famous soprano aria, “O mio babbino caro.”

SesayArts: The final word is yours. What would you like to add that I haven’t asked?

KM: Thanks for the opportunity. My last word would be to stress that we are attempting to have a good orchestra up in North York, and we encourage your readers to support the orchestra and, in particular, this performance of Gianni Schicchi.

News You Can Use

What: A Night at the Opera: Overture to William Tell by Rossini and Gianni Schicchi by Puccini; presented by Orchestra Toronto, in partnership with Essential Opera, conducted by Maestro Kevin Mallon

Featuring: Jon-Paul Décosse, bass-baritone (Gianni Schicchi), Maureen Batt, soprano (Lauretta), Catharin Carew, mezzo (Zita), Jean-Philippe Lazure, tenor (Rinuccio), Fabián Arciniegas, tenor (Gherardo), Erin Bardua, soprano (Nella), Emma Waller, soprano (Gherardina), Jesse Clark, baritone (Betto), Joel Allison, bass-baritone (Simone), Bradley Christensen, baritone (Marco), Beth Hagerman, soprano (Ciesca), Laura McAlpine, mezzo (Maestra Spinelloccio & Ser Amantio di Nicolao)  

Photo courtesy of Orchestra Toronto

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: Sunday, April 22, 2018, 3 PM

*Pre-concert chat with Kevin Mallon at 2:15 PM

Where: George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: OrchestraToronto.ca and 1-855-985-ARTS (2787) 

© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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