WEATHER ALERT

From shinny to Seville Baritone Elliot Madore once dreamed of a hockey career, but the opera scouts found him first

If it weren’t for lady luck, rising Canadian star Elliot Madore might well have spent his life chasing frozen pucks across ice in frigid arenas.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2019 (1397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If it weren’t for lady luck, rising Canadian star Elliot Madore might well have spent his life chasing frozen pucks across ice in frigid arenas.

Opera Preview

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Opens Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Also performed April 9, 7 p.m. and April 12, 7:30 p.m.

Centennial Concert Hall

Tickets: Adults $49.25-$144 at mbopera.ca or 204-944-8824. Youth and senior discounts available.

Instead, the lyric baritone graces some of the world’s most illustrious opera stages, including New York City’s fabled Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Zurich Opera House and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

“My family was very sports-oriented. I grew up playing hockey until I was 16, but at some point I had to decide whether to become a hockey player or an opera singer,” Madore, 31, says during a backstage interview at the Centennial Concert Hall, where he will make his Manitoba Opera debut as Figaro in The Barber of Seville, which begins tonight.

Madore still plays in a beer league (“I’m so out of breath when I play hockey, it’s crazy,” he quips), whenever he’s back home in Toronto. “But I did love the sport, and playing hockey was one of my most wonderful memories from my childhood.”

The tall, dark and handsome leading man, who oozes an easy charm, also won an audition to sing the anthems for his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs at age 13, which brought his two passions together for nearly 15 years.

The 185-minute Barber of Seville (including intermission) will be directed by Montreal’s Alain Gauthier — he also directed Manitoba Opera’s April 2018 production of Verdi’s La Traviata — with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra led by Tyrone Paterson. The local production features Art Deco-styled sets and costumes originally created for Pacific Opera Victoria, with lighting by Winnipeg’s Bill Williams.

The two-act opera is set to an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini and tells the tale of Figaro, a jack-of-all-trades who schemes to bring the feisty Rosina, held captive by her lecherous guardian, Dr. Bartolo, and his love-smitten friend, Count Almaviva together.

Elliot Madore (second from right) makes his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Lysander during its 2011 production of The Enchanted Island. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press files)

Bitten by the singing bug in his late teens, Madore — when not practising the art of stickhandling — eagerly devoured classical recordings and sang in several vocal groups, including the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, becoming even more focused on honing his singing chops and building his opera and concert repertoire.

He credits his former singing teacher, Lois McDonall, the Canadian soprano and former resident artist for the English National Opera, for encouraging him to apply to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music as his first and only planned audition. He was considering taking an additional year at high school because he was uncertain whether he could make a go of it as a professional singer.

“At the time, I didn’t know anything about Curtis, or the fact that it’s one of the most difficult schools to get into,” Madore recounts, happily oblivious at the time to the impossibly long odds of getting into one of the world’s top conservatories that boasts Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Nino Rota among its alumni. He was nearly floored after hearing he been given the nod.

“It’s fortunate that some people recognized that I had a voice, and it might be something that I should pursue,” he says. “It’s so strange how life works; you don’t know where your path is going to lead, and if I hadn’t gotten in, I don’t know what I would’ve been doing. It’s been a crazy journey.”

Student programs give youth a taste of opera

It’s often said that opera is a timeless art form. Manitoba Opera is proving it’s also ageless.

In addition to the two full productions it mounts each season, the organization has been working at cultivating new generations of opera fans by growing its student programming and inviting youth from small and remote communities who may not otherwise have the opportunity to see a live opera performance.

Two groups of young people will visit from out of province next week to see the final performance of The Barber of Seville on April 12 at the Centennial Concert Hall.

The first is a group of about a dozen youth between the ages of 15 and 18 from North Caribou Lake First Nation, Ont., also known as Round Lake.

It’s often said that opera is a timeless art form. Manitoba Opera is proving it’s also ageless.

In addition to the two full productions it mounts each season, the organization has been working at cultivating new generations of opera fans by growing its student programming and inviting youth from small and remote communities who may not otherwise have the opportunity to see a live opera performance.

Two groups of young people will visit from out of province next week to see the final performance of The Barber of Seville on April 12 at the Centennial Concert Hall.

The first is a group of about a dozen youth between the ages of 15 and 18 from North Caribou Lake First Nation, Ont., also known as Round Lake.

“One of our new board members, Dr. David Folk, is a physician who works in northern Manitoba and Ontario,” says Darlene Ronald, Manitoba Opera’s director of marketing. “He was our contact with this particular group and said, ‘Hey, I know some young people in Round Lake who would really enjoy being able to come to an opera, how can we make that happen?’” They will be in Winnipeg for a couple of days, so Ronald says Manitoba Opera is also working with other tourist attractions in town to arrange some additional activities for them.

The second is a group of 81 Grade 8 music students from White City, Sask. The White City students will attend clinics at the Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba and will be performing a concert of their own at a seniors home while in Winnipeg.

Manitoba Opera is no stranger to hosting students via its regular Student Night at the Opera program, in which eligible students can attend the final dress rehearsal with their school or youth group for a discounted rate. The program has been a huge hit with schools in and around the city.

“We’re always so appreciative and admire the teachers who take this on and bring a group of kids from far away, and opera, you know, is not 45 minutes — we’re talking a three-hour show — and some of them have to get back on a bus at 10:30 or 11 at night,” Ronald says. “The kids are always so excited to be here because often that’s something that isn’t available to them if they are from a smaller community.”

In addition to bringing schools to the opera, Manitoba Opera is also pursuing more opportunities to bring opera to the schools. Opera Class is a free, one-hour program in which a professional opera singer goes into the classroom and leads students through singing and vocal exercises. “The kids are always so thrilled when they get an opera singer and they belt out some of those high notes, they’re just gob-smacked,” Ronald says.

Opera in a Trunk, meanwhile, is another free program geared toward the elementary school set. “It’s literally a trunk classrooms can borrow, and there are scenes from different operas and it’s something that a teacher can use over the course of a few weeks or a month,” Ronald says. “There’s costumes, there’s a DVD, there’s a study guide and activities kids can do as they learn about The Magic Flute or La Bohème.

Opera singers have also been known to read Tess Weaver’s Opera Cat to classes during I Love to Read Month in February. And Manitoba Opera has also teamed up with children’s entertainer extraordinaire Al Simmons for his show Figaro’s Close Shave, a 45-minute comedic opera based on The Barber of Seville.

“We’re trying to find those different touch points all the time,” Ronald says of Manitoba Opera’s educational programming. “(The students) love opera. And what’s not to love? It’s singing, it’s dancing, it’s music, it’s costumes. And they get it. They also really appreciate the fact that, when they come to the shows, that none of the singers are miked. Our world is so full of technology now that they get that. And they get the big stories. It doesn’t take long for them to unravel the plot and get into it.”

Kids also tend to be, um, very honest.

“The dress rehearsal is the first time the ensemble and orchestra really has an audience, and kids will tell you right away through their reactions to what’s going on if the comedy is funny or the drama is dramatic enough,” Ronald says. “They’ll boo or cheer at the end depending on what kind of characters the singers portrayed. Schools are asking for more; often with us it’s just a matter of figuring out funding.”

Making sure opera is available at every level is a priority for the organization, Ronald says.

“We want the opera company in this community to be something everyone can access — certainly now, but also in the future.”

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Now with the winds of momentum behind him, that “crazy journey” quickly birthed even more success for the artist praised for his “movie star quality” (Merkur), “exceptional” artistry (New York Times), as well as “rich, burgundy voice” (New York Classical Review).

Madore won the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2010 at 22, leading to his Met debut in 2012 as Lysander in The Enchanted Island.

“Singing on the Met stage is incredible,” he says. “It’s hard to quantify, however it really feels like home, because New York is where I grew up as an artist, through the Young Artists program,” he says of the Met’s training program offered as part of his prize package in 2010.

Madore also won a Grammy Award in 2016 for his performance of Le chat and L’Horloge Comtoise in L’enfant et les sortileges under the direction of Seiji Ozawa.

Winnipeg music buffs might also recall his solo recital with the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg in April 2017.

His favourite roles include Figaro, which he made his role debut at the Met in 2015, as well as the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He describes the barber as “just this fun-loving guy, who can do everything,” adding that the character resonates for him personally due to his own happy-go-lucky nature forged as a hockey-loving kid growing up in Toronto.

But Madore remains wary of walking a razor’s edge between making his Figaro an overly cartoonish figure, not unlike the famous Bugs Bunny incarnation The Rabbit of Seville, and a wholly believable character.

“Comedy is actually most funny when it’s serious, and I just approach him as honestly as I can,” he says, noting that Figaro’s iconic showstopper Largo al Factotum that ends with a fiery burst of tongue-twisting patter as he makes his entrance in Act I as a personal highlight.

“Especially when singing a role like Figaro, there’s this fine line that you have to walk, and try not to be too silly. For me, it’s really just finding those comedic moments and doing them in such a way that’s organic and natural and as human as possible.”

Al Simmons performs his 45-minute rendition of The Barber of Seville, commissioned by Manitoba Opera, at Smith Jackson School in Dauphin. (Supplied)

Also marking her Manitoba Opera debut is Calgary-born, Paris-based mezzo-soprano Andrea Hill, who plays Rosina, reprising her role from Calgary Opera’s November 2017 production also directed by Gauthier.

Another show highlight is her opening cavatina Una voce poca fa, which begins relatively simply before rocketing into the stratosphere with dazzling coloratura.

“I love it, quite honestly,” Hill says of the florid solo. “Coloratura is one of those techniques that is terrifying when you can’t do it, but when you can do it, it’s actually quite a lot of fun.”

It’s arguably not such a far leap to draw parallels between Canada’s national sport and the finer operatic arts. Madore says both relying on team spirit, hard work and dedication — as well as a little bit of luck.

“Opera is like a team where everybody’s pulling for each other. You can’t really ask for anything more than that.” he says, adding that the Winnipeg Jets are his “favourite Western Conference team.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press From left: Rosina (Andrea Hill), Figaro (Elliot Madore) and Count Almaviva (Andrew Owens) on the set of Manitoba Opera’s The Barber of Seville at the Centennial Concert Hall.
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