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Thinking outside of the box – while performing in one

Thinking outside of the box – while performing in one

Published on November 19, 2020

GGS Chamber Opera puts a contemporary spin on a classic vocal genre

GGS Opera
The cast of Lucrezia during filming of GGS Chamber Opera Double Bill.

Putting student safety first – along with staying true to the art form’s integrity – has been the name of the game for the faculty, students and staff producing The Glenn Gould School’s Chamber Opera, which takes place online on January 8 at 7:30 p.m.

The double bill, featuring Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins and William Bolcom’s Lucrezia, was programmed in early spring. From the beginning of the creative process, Director Amanda Smith and Music Director Peter Tiefenbach embraced the challenge of mounting these works, in whatever format they would end up taking.

“I am so proud of everyone’s efforts,” said Adrianne Pieczonka, Chair and Head of GGS’s Vocal Department and The Price Opera Program. “Our creative team – led by Amanda and Peter – have been working week by week, adjusting to the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines. They’ve been so fluid. When we started the fall opera planning process back in April and May, no one thought that we would still be in a crisis now.”

“We actually created the show during COVID,” Smith explained. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of event this could be. There was a point in time where we decided that we had to build the production knowing that there was a chance that no one would see it live.”

As the summer turned into fall, and it became clear that pandemic safety protocols and audience restrictions would not allow for live performances, the GGS team made a pivot toward video. And even once that decision was made, further regulations around the necessary use of protective barriers for singers led the group to innovate further.

“Eventually we made the decision to keep our singers as far apart as possible, making our production more like a film than a live event – shooting smaller scenes, out of order, with as few people in the room as possible,” said Tiefenbach.

The use of L-shaped plexiglass sheets to create individual "boxes" allowed students the freedom and safety in which to perform their roles, while also giving the creative team the opportunity to establish a sense of proximity, even while the students were safely distanced.

Mezzo-soprano Chelsea Pringle-Duchemin, an Artist Diploma Program student who plays Anna I in The Seven Deadly Sins, said that she felt fortunate for the layers of safety precautions put in place by the team.

“I feel that The Royal Conservatory has taken things very seriously. GGS staff were in touch all summer about the measures they were taking to ensure proper protocols – HEPA filters and extensive cleaning – and it’s helped me to feel super safe. I have become very grateful for the challenge of performing in this show. It’s made me really refocus on my technique and make sure that I’m singing everything really well.”

ADP student and tenor Tyler Cervini, who plays Lorenzo in Lucrezia, said that he appreciates the opportunity to be so flexible in an art form that is so traditional in nature. “It’s really cool that we’ve had to learned new things every day – how to change and how to adapt and how to make the best with what we have at our disposal.”

Pieczonka noted that, as they’re watching the final performance, she would love the audience to know just how many hours of detail of time and effort and thought has gone into this type of production. “Truly it was a step by step effort.”

Tiefenbach concurred: “I’d like audience to see that art can be done in a bunch of different ways. These are very unusual circumstances, and these are very unusual productions. And I like that we’re going outside of the box, that we’re pushing boundaries. I hope that it resonates with people in a different way than a traditional stage production would.”

The Glenn Gould School’s Chamber Opera will stream here on Friday, January 8, 2021 at 7:30 p.m.