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photo by Darryl Block

The chosen media of most independent creators tend toward the instantly accessible — film and video, pop music, comics and so on. Opera isn’t typically on the list. It takes specific vocal training, knowledge in various languages plus putting on an opera usually takes a significant amount of money.

Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) is an organization aimed at taking opera out of the domain of the exclusive. They apply DIY ethics and modern textual re-interpretation to introduce the art form to contemporary audiences in unorthodox settings. “Opera is generally expensive and large-scale,” explains artistic director Joel Ivany. “I would say that we define indie opera. We do it more economically and very, very intimately.”

Against the Grain is a collective of “rogue arts makers” comprised of six core members — Ivany plus Christopher Mokrzewski, Nancy Hitzig, Caitlin Coull, Miriam Khalil, and Cecily Carver. Its extended family enlists musicians, actors, dancers, visual artists, photographers and arts professionals. What AtG provides for its members is not only an outlet for more creative challenges but also, opportunity for talented young professionals.

“Unfortunately Canada does not have enough work for all of the incredible young singers and actors that our institutions are producing,” says Ivany.  “Outside of the top tier of the Canadian Opera Company, for example, it can be extremely difficult for Canadian singers to maintain a career at all.”

Previous performances of La Bohéme and a forthcoming 2013 staging of Figaro’s Wedding provide new explorations of seminal works. Source material is manipulated; sets are updated for staging in locations such as bars, vintage furniture stores and ballet studios; tangential elements are incorporated (in their first event, for example, a performer painted a portrait throughout the concert). “There are no rules. It can be difficult, but that’s what happens when we start playing around with the greats,” says Ivany.
“Works exist to be interpreted by artists. In finding new ways to tell stories, we learn more about them, and we learn more about the way we communicate.”

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