Behind the scenes

February 16, 2014

A message from Rachel-Anne Germinario, costume designer

For the costume designer the development of the design concept always starts with the director and the script. When Andy and I first talked about the costumes for Cendrillon we discussed the time period he wanted for the look: sort of historical but not specific to a time period. From our discussions also came the idea to dress the fairies somewhat militarily, and not in the stereotypical fairy gossamer, frothy look. We both liked the idea and felt it could be incorporated well, so it stuck. There are always lots of considerations as to how things get designed and built. For example, since Cendrillon is a fairy tale and therefore has magic incorporated into its plot, we faced the challenges of designing the costumes in a way that would accommodate this. Also, to achieve a quick change of costume, i.e. to make each costume both easy to put on and easy to remove, we replaced buttons and hooks and eyes with snaps, and laces with zippers. The result is that we are now able to change someone’s costume or character completely in under two minutes. I have now shared a little bit of theatre magic with you… So shhhh!

Click on the image to see more costume photos.

Costumes, le 13 février

February 13, 2014

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Cendrillon 2014

February 9, 2014

A message from Benjamin Kwong, music director and arranger

If you want to put on an opera but don’t have a full orchestra, what do you do? A company the size of Opera da Camera is in a tricky spot because we want to put on full productions, but in a space far smaller than Place des Arts. An alternative is to use piano alone, since music scores do exist with just piano and voice; although that’s fine for rehearsals, it wouldn’t be so satisfying. We have a group of six musicians total, instead of 80. Here are some of the challenges in such a task:

  • I know what the original sounds like (with full orchestra); how do I convey the same idea with much-limited resources?
  • The original orchestration usually does not include piano; how can I use it to “fill in the blanks”?
  • Given the limited rehearsal time, how can I make other musicians’ lives easier by giving more challenging material to the piano?
  • How do I keep myself from going crazy by arranging an entire opera with 2.5 hours of music?

To answer the second question, I’ll give a small example. Here is the scene music where all the princesses are introduced to Prince Charming:

Instrumentation 1In the top three lines, we have violins and violas playing in pizzicato, where the strings are plucked, while the cello (second from the bottom) plays the melody. Unfortunately, we only have one violin and one viola, which is not enough to carry the same effect; so I’ve just given the top three parts to the piano instead. While not as dainty as the sound of a string section in pizzicato, it comes close to carrying the same idea.


Arranging is a constant battle between trying to convey the same intentions as the original, while making compromises to accommodate limited, and in the case of the piano, different instruments. On the other hand, when it’s complete, hearing everything come together is truly satisfying, as it did with last year’s production of Nozze di Figaro.

Now, I just have to figure out how to keep myself from going crazy.

February 9, 2014

February 4, 2014

February 2, 2014

January 29, 2014

January 23, 2014

Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet

Massenet and his fairy tale

Contributed by Brian McMillan, music liaison librarian at the Marvin Duchow Music Library, McGill University

When Cendrillon (Cinderella) debuted at Paris’ Opéra Comique in May 1899, the opera proved to be yet another in a string of successes for composer Jules Massenet. By the turn of the 20th century Massenet, born in 1842, was the leading composer of French lyric theatre. But his was not an instant, nor even a desired, fame: Massenet was a self-deprecating, congenial fellow who preferred his daily routines to the glamour of the stage. Each morning was spent with pen and paper at his composition desk. It was a habit he developed early and strongly urged on others: ‘Save your mornings for composing or orchestration without waiting for inspiration,’ he advised one student, ‘which otherwise never comes.’ In 1867 Massenet’s first opera, a one-act comedy called La grand’tante, received passing notice from the French press, but it was only 10 years later that his first grand opera, Le roi de Lahore, captured the imagination of critics and audiences alike.

The music of Cendrillon is some of the most magical Massenet ever wrote. While today he is best known for the exoticism of Thaïs or the tragedy of Werther, Massenet also produced affecting comedies. In this opera he evokes the pastoral simplicity of Cendrillon and her doting father; he mocks the pomposity of Prince Charming’s court with wry parodies of antiquated dances; and the lovers’ Act III duet he wraps in a heady chromaticism that could melt the hardest heart. Fantasy, comedy, sentimentality, and the lightest soupcon of deeper longing, combine to make Cendrillon a perfect operatic fairy tale.

To learn more:

Opera da Camera invites the public to a short pre-opera talk (free admission) given by Brian McMillan on February 23 at 1:45pm. A presentation of Cendrillon follows at 2:30pm (click here for ticket information).

January 21, 2014

January 19, 2014

January 18, 2014

January 16, 2014

Peter VatsisA message from Peter Vatsis, set designer

From the initial design meeting I had with Andy (our director), we spoke about creating a single set-piece that would be multifunctional. The action takes place in several different locations, but we didn’t want to complicate things or slow down the action with elaborate scene changes. This is where the idea of this wagon-unit was born! It is a four-post bed, a throne, a doorway, and it becomes the carriage.

Both Andy and I like to create new ideas during the process, so more possibilities may arise in the weeks to come!

I hope that the scenery accomplishes a few things beyond merely suggesting the different spaces which we go to in this opera. Hopefully the multipurpose aspect of the wagon-unit captures some of the magic of the fairy tale in which we are immersing our audience. Also, the dynamic nature of this wagon should lend itself to the fluid movement from one scene to another.

Click on the image to see more photos of the set building process.

Décors, 16 janvier, 2014

January 13, 2014

January 11, 2014

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Repetitions le 11 janvier 2014

We’re having a lot of fun during rehearsals!

A message from the director, Andrew Cuk

Andy Cuk One of the things I always find challenging in fairy tales that have been adapted into other performance mediums is how to reconcile the old-fashioned morality with twenty-first century sensibilities. In the case of Cendrillon, the chauvinistic lesson that a woman finds happiness and fulfillment once she has discovered her “Prince” is the kind of moral that should have young women rolling their eyes (young men too).

Cendrillon is the archetypical persecuted heroine who, through her own goodness and with the help of magical elements, finds true love in the upper echelons of society, thus overcoming her persecutors who must now kowtow to her. The original Perrault story upon which Massenet’s opera is based offers a very clear moral for young women: “graciousness is more important than a beautiful hairdo”. Massenet and his librettist Henri Cain leave out this little tidbit and end their opera with the characters addressing the audience directly: “La pièce est terminée!” Although the moral is not clearly stated in the opera, it is ever present.

So, how to tackle this? OdC’s mandate is to try to make opera accessible, and from this I add my own variation to make it accessible to younger audiences, not children but young adults. I see two possible keys of entry here, one probably intended by Massenet and Cain, the other most likely not.

The first is the comedy. There is inherent comedy around Madame de La Haltière and her two parroting daughters. (Haltière is very close in sounding to haltère, which means barbell or dumbbell, and the Madame is a bit of a heavy weight in that respect.) I shall, of course, play up the obvious comedic elements with Madame, her daughters, her husband and the chorus of servants, hair dressers and dress makers. However, there are other untapped possibilities: a bit of comedy with the fairies, the herald in Act IV, and even the ballet in Act II. My goal is to bring out the funny moments, both obvious and not, throughout the opera.

The second key to accessibility is using the original casting of a mezzo as the Prince. I find britches roles very subversive. Although I’m quite sure Massenet didn’t intend this (or maybe he did), there is something that changes our experience in the traditional repertoire when a woman professes love to another woman in the guise of a man. The love between Cendrillon and the Prince becomes at once both Love with a capital L and the titillating lust of forbidden fruits. In some ways it becomes very contemporary and softens the chauvinistic tone. I have no intention of playing directly to this. In our production, the character of the Prince is male, but it gives the opera an unavoidable modern twist which I find fascinating and illuminating.

January 10, 2014

January 6, 2014

January 5, 2014

A little outtake from our rehearsals this afternoon.

January 4, 2014

The first rehearsal of the New Year. Click on the image for more pictures.

Repetitions le 4 janvier, 2014

January 3, 2014

December 17, 2013

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