Opéra dans les médias
Sometimes you've got to take matters into your own hands. Just ask Nadia Neiazy.
An N.D.G. resident with a passion for classical music, the German-born musician trained as a baroque harpsichordist, but found herself drawn more strongly to opera. Training in a private school after immigrating to Canada, the lyrical soprano started auditioning for parts in her mid-30s &mdash too late, it turned out, to be given a fair shot in a field where, in her words, "there is a definite timeline."
"I found myself with this predicament," Neiazy said. "&lsquoI really love what I'm doing, and I think I'm pretty good at it, but there's no outlet for it. Eventually I got around to thinking, &lsquoWell, maybe I can the outlet for myself.' "
Thus was born Opera in the Park, Neiazy's annual alfresco project to take her favourite music to the people. It took a couple of years to get all the official borough permits lined up, but finally, with a boost from NDG Arts Week, the series was launched in 2014. It returns for its third edition on Aug. 24 with Ainsi font toutes, a French-language production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park, between Girouard and Marcil Aves. on Sherbrooke St.
The series's vitality is a testament to Neiazy's organizational skills, but also to her sheer love of opera, and the demands and rewards of singing it.
"There are so many components to (opera)," she said. "That's what makes it so interesting. You really have to have your vocal training ready, obviously. Then comes your technique, then your expression: deciding what the composer intended for the music, and sharing it with other people. Finally, there is the whole theatrical component. You're on a stage. You're not only singing, you're moving and playing a dramatic role."
For Neiazy, all this self-directed effort is not just about giving herself a creative outlet &mdash it's about crusading for the future of the form itself.
Mozart had nothing superfluous.
"I'd had a couple of contracts to sing with smaller companies, and the experience made me realize that the opera crowd is dying out," she recalled. "It's mostly only the &lsquomature' audience left. And it's not cheap. Opera is expensive to produce, and part of that has to be reflected in the price of tickets. So if you pay $50 for an evening you're not sure you're going to enjoy, and you know you're going to be stuck there for three hours, lots of people don't have the courage or the curiosity to go and do that. I thought if we want to get the younger crowd, and to interest different people, the only way to do it is to make it free, so that people can come by and have a sniff, see whether it's for them."
As it happens, more people have come out, and stayed, than Neiazy ever expected. Publicity the first year was limited to posters on lampposts and a notice in the festival program, yet a crowd of 250 people showed up. The number was even bigger last year.
"I was thrilled," Neiazy said of that initial turnout. "I'd thought we might get 50 people at the most. That was an indicator that I was on the right track."
Performing outdoors, without amplification, comes with challenges, not least for the singers.
"There's a reason opera is normally sung in opera houses with good acoustics," Neiazy said. "You're singing with a certain amount of rebound and echo. As soon as you step outside, though, the sound just goes away. You hope people will hear you, but you're never quite sure."
Rest assured that the singers can be heard, even if, this being an outdoor event, the usual ambient urban sounds &mdash barking dogs, shouting children, honking horns &mdash enter the soundscape. It's part of the charm, and, for Neiazy, a trade-off well worth making.
"I wanted (the setting) to be quite simple and small, not in place where, say, children wouldn't feel welcome. It should be in a landscape that people already know, that they already use, and N.D.G. Park is very well-used."
Intimacy being a keynote, the scale of the production is tailored to the small stage: the total cast comprises six singers, a pianist and a stage director. Another decision, not easily made, was to reduce the running time from the standard three hours to roughly 90 minutes.
Come in shorts and a T-shirt. Bring your dog and your children. Walk away if you want to."
"Generally we opera people are traditional-minded, so cutting is a big step," Neiazy said. "My heart bled with every note I had to take out. Mozart had nothing superfluous."
Ninety minutes, while undeniably easier on both performers and audience than a full production, nonetheless might run the risk of upsetting opera purists. But for Neiazy, it's part of the same embracing strategy as taking it outside and doing it free.
"I can't ask Mozart," she said, "but I think he'd be happy that his music is still being performed, and open to the fun of doing it in an informal environment. You don't need to get dressed up for this. Come in shorts and a T-shirt. Bring your dog and your children. Walk away if you want to. He might have got a kick out of that."
Last year, audiences rose to the occasion, taking it all in with something like enchantment on their faces.
"People are so attentive," Neiazy said. "They really, really listen. And they come up to me, days or even weeks later as I'm walking down Sherbrooke, and thank me."
For Neiazy, that feedback is crucial: this whole thing is, in no small part, about standing up for her neighbourhood.
"We are under-represented," said the longtime N.D.G. resident. "We don't have that much going on here culturally, and that's surprising, because there are so many artists living here. But as this festival picks up momentum, people are getting on board, wanting to represent the creative and artistic potential of the borough. It's about community culture, integrating events into the community and not only catering to what people like, but offering something they might not know they like."
AT A GLANCE
Alma Viva Productions' Opera in the Park performance of Ainsi font toutes, an adaptation of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, is staged Wednesday, Aug. 24, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park (between Girouard and Marcil Aves. on Sherbrooke St.). Admission is free lawn chairs and/or blankets are suggested. The production is part of the seventh edition of NDG Arts Week. For more information, visit artsndg.ca or call 438-558-9669.
Opéra dans le Parc: quel meilleur moyen de décloisonner et démocratiser l'opéra que de le présenter en plein air, dans un endroit privilégié par les riverains et gratuitement? Encore fallait-il avoir l'idée!
Opéra dans le Parc est une initiative des Productions Alma Viva, un OSBL consacré à promouvoir l'art lyrique. Conçu et dirigé par Nadia Neiazy, sa directrice artistique, Opéra dans le Parc présente pour une quatrième année consécutive une adaptation d'une œuvre du répertoire lyrique dans le parc Notre-Dame-De-Grâce à NDG
Après avoir entendu pendant des années le chant de la mort imminente de l'opéra, incité par une crainte de voir son public refuser obstinément de se renouveler, l'art lyrique semble connaître un nouvel essor inespéré. Désormais, un souffle frais et audacieux semble régner un peu partout dans le monde de l'opéra. Les maisons et troupes établies, ayant apparemment réussi à se libérer des paramètres restrictifs liés au respect formel qu'on croyait si longtemps devoir à cette forme d'art profondément ancrée dans la tradition, partent à la recherche de nouvelles façons d'approcher le genre et ainsi (re-)conquérir un public. Ainsi, les actions de médiation culturelle fusent de partout et des projets interactifs et participatifs font désormais partie de la programmation de presque toutes les maisons d'opéra / excluant peut-être seulement celles qui se considèrent encore comme des temples sacrés, voués à la tradition et qui peuvent toujours se fier à leur renommée pour garantir un public fidèle.
De plus en plus, des petites troupes lyriques sont formées et se regroupent autour d'une idée : monter des opéras oubliés du grand public, déterrer des œuvres inconnues ou tout simplement s'approcher du public en montant des spectacles intimes, dans des endroits inusités.
Les Productions Alma Viva font partie du lot : fondé en 2009, nourri de la passion de ses deux fondatrices pour l'art lyrique, l'organisme se donne le mandat de rejoindre un plus grand nombre à travers des productions originales et interactives, liant chant lyrique et théâtre parlé. Maints projets et productions plus tard, une idée se profile : si on veut vraiment rejoindre un nouveau public, des gens inaccoutumés aux arts vivants, il faut sortir des murs du théâtre et les rencontrer dans leur milieu. Il ne suffit plus de vouloir faire des efforts pour attirer le public là où on fait de la musique, il faut aller faire de la musique là où le public se trouve.