Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Power Duo: An Interview with the Queen of the Night, Teiya Kasahara, and Sarastro, Neil Craighead in Edmonton Opera's Magic Flute

It has been almost ten years since soprano, Teiya Kasahara, and bass-baritone, Neil Craighead, performed in their first production of the Magic Flute at the University of British Columbia. Edmonton Opera's current production unites the two UBC and COC Ensemble Studio grads. 

They play the contrasting principal roles with Kasahara as the vengeful Queen of the Night and Craighead as the prophetic Sarastro. Given their familiarity with the production having performed it in multiple forms, they both bring a thorough understanding of the text and story. "He is this enlightened personality but he is human and he is flawed," Craighead describes before continuing, "He tries to set the example for the rest of his enclave. He is representative of the light sun and good in the world, as opposed to Teiya." Kasahara picks up Craighead's thought process, "Basically, I have see myself as completely wronged, by my husband, by men in general, by this enlightened group. I’m trying to get what I rightfully believe is mine. I go to the extent of disowning my daughter and using her as my pawn and going too far. And reaching that point of no return of how corrupt and desire for power has made me completely evil." However, the Queen of the Night is not a completely unsympathetic character when viewed with a modern perspective. Kasahara describes her the Queen's inner motivations, "My late husband, on his death bed, gave all his power and this sevenfold circle of the sun to [Sarastro]. Because he believed [Sarastro] and [his] group, and that men in general, are the better sex. There is a huge dialogue in the original German that is generally cut down in English version, which I get, because it’s really long and breaks the flow of the whole opera. It’s really outdated and misogynistic. My husband is saying to me, I’m quoting him to my daughter,' You need to seek men’s leadership and be away with your wildly irrational womanly thinking and your duty is to men.' I don’t think she really likes it. That’s why she sings Der Hölle Rach." This seems like an understatement when this fiery coloratura aria is one of the most iconic pieces in operatic repertoire.

Magic Flute has a special place in the history with both of these singers. Craighead states that he never went into school thinking he would be an Opera singer. Nancy Hermiston cast him as the Speaker in Magic Flute before he even arrived at UBC. “I never sang a company recit. I was hooked. It’s just a classic story.  This is my eighth Magic Flute now. I’ve sang most of the mens parts now. I’ve been Speaker, Priest, Armed Guard, Sarastro. I haven’t done Papageno, but it’s within the realm of possibility. I know every single word of this Opera,” he states with a depth of maturity. Magic Flute played a formative role in Kasahara’s life as well: “It was the first Opera I ever saw, but it was on film, Igmar Bergman’s1971 Swedish production. It was done in a baroque theatre and it was filmed that way. I was at the UBC’s summer music institute. I was 15. Just watching everything come together and unfold with the music. Seeing the Queen of the Night and seeing that crazy high aria. 'What if I could sing that one day?' and having those kind of dreams at an early age it kept me focused on Opera. I was first spirit at UBC. I started learning Pamina and covered it at UBC. For me, it’s always been a part of my repertoire. I just love this Opera musically. The overture, I hear it in the dressing room… those beautiful chords and just start rocking out!" she says with a laugh and a soft headbang, "It’s always going to have a special place with me because it’s what introduced me to Opera.”

Kasahara and Craighead both acknowledge the challenges of being an Opera singer and laud their networks for providing them with the foundation to continue in this business. At the core of it, it’s the music that draws them both back. Craighead notes that he loves those moments when he is in “the presence of greatness” having a front-row seat as he gets to hear singers at the top of their craft. For Kasahara, she describes the allure of what keeps drawing her back: “Those magic moments on stage where you can hear that music live coming out of the pit, emanating your voice, and everything is just synergistic. It just comes together. You feel the lights on your face. You can see your colleagues through the legs of the backstage and they’re about to come on. All those perfect moments when you just realize, ‘wow, this is all happening right now and hundreds of people came together to put this one moment together on stage.’ Time slows down but speeds up. When you can stop on stage and have that realization.” 


Take a listen to the whole interview to get their thoughts on their understanding of the Opera, what they would do if they were ever able to direct the production, how they see their careers progressing, and their thoughts on who would win if the Queen of the Night and Sarastro had to have a musical face-off. 

The Magic Flute opens January 31, 2015 with performances on February 3 and 5. Tickets are available online

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Chorister on the Block

Greeting readers and a Happy New Year to you all!

I am in the works of preparing for two music projects:

1. Chorus in Edmonton Opera's the Magic Flute
2. Alto in the Canadian Chamber Choir

A reflective look at 2014 made me realize I had some amazing choral opportunities. I got the chance to tour to Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax with Pro Coro. However, the reality of finding only fleeting satisfaction with immediate achievements is that I always wonder: what's next?

In this case, what's next is that I am the newest Alto in the Canadian Chamber Choir (CCC). I have very vivid recollection of the first time I saw them sing. They were touring through the Prairies around 3-4 years ago. I was in my first season with Pro Coro as a substitute member and I was also still singing with my women's choir, Belle Canto. The CCC performed a concert at McDougall United Church and I sat there in awe at their elegance, precision, and clarity while executing choral music. I had never heard of them before. When I learned more about the group, how they incorporate professional singers from across the country and join together at a specific location in Canada to rehearse and tour, they appeared as a elite and untouchable entity. All the singers live in different cities and individually prepare their music so that they can just fly somewhere and form a cohesive ensemble. This appeared an impossible feat since I was raised in groups where we rehearse weekly. It is challenging enough as it is to form a cohesive ensemble while living in the same city. I tucked the prospect of being able to sing with such a group away in my mind and added their name to my choral bucket list.

Confidence: it is a significant mental barrier to overcome. My best approach at overcoming the inner voice of self-criticism is through thorough preparation, increasing experience, and patience with self. I didn't realize it, but in my past three full seasons with Pro Coro, I had been building skills in all the aforementioned areas. Pro Coro, to this day, has introduced me to some of the most challenging pieces of choral music that I have ever sung. There is something to be said of fear desensitization through repeated exposure. Only through practice can you find ways of preparing music that is efficient to your learning style while working with the focused intensity required in professional groups that run on constraints of time and money. My last year touring with Pro Coro also allowed to to meet other professional singers, blog readers, and reconnect with old chorus friends. Some of these singers sang with the CCC. For the first time, I began to realize maybe that it wasn't such a ridiculous idea to submit an audition tape. I had unknowingly acquired skills over these past few years to be able to be considered for ensembles such as CCC. My taste of singing with some of the CCC members at a pop-up music reading session for their Cypress music series at Podium 2014 solidified my resolve to apply when I got back to Edmonton at the end of May.

The rest is history. Well, not quite. It was easy enough to mail off an audition package. At the end of June, I received notification of my acceptance into the pool of CCC singers. I was ecstatic! I knew before applying that just because a singer is invited to be a part of the roster, you may not necessarily be chosen for tours. There is a core group of singers and additional singers are called for projects for varying reasons: repertoire requirements, vocal color, budget etc., There are a lot of changing variables. Singer expectations have to be managed, this I understood. In the middle of September, two weeks after starting a new job with the school board, I received an invitation to tour with the CCC in February 2015. I sat in shock at a staffroom table holding my iPhone in one hand and eating my lunch with the other. Elation was soon greeted with stress. I began brainstorming how exactly I would pitch this absence to my new administration. Over a two-week period of discussions with the admin and creativity regarding hours adjustments, they approved my absence. At this point, I did a fist pump into the air in the privacy of my office after reading the e-mail.

As I wrote to conductor, Dr. Julia Davids, in June when I was notified of my CCC acceptance, "I think that the CCC does amazing work, and while I feel like blogging does connect to choral readers, the way that the CCC materializes within choral communities does something words alone cannot do: create music."

And with that, I'm setting a goal to connect to singers and blog readers while I am touring Kingston, Perth, Ottawa and Montreal with the CCC. I'm excited to connect with more lovers of choral music throughout this country through social media and choir.

You know how to reach me.