Opera From Scratch

Opera From Scratch is a weeklong workshop which pairs six composers with six singers from all over North America.  Each composer was asked to write an original 10 minute opera, based on a Nova Scotian theme, for solo voice and piano. Their compositions were sent to the singers six weeks prior to the workshop. Now, for one week in August, these talented individuals will come together for an intensive week of lectures, master classes, private lessons, and rehearsals, culminating in a public performance of six world premiere mini-operas. Celebrated Canadian composer James Rolfe will serve as head of a team of six mentors for the week. Rolfe recently won the Louis Applebaum Composers Award for his outstanding work in the field of opera, and he is well known for his first opera, Beatrice Chancy, with libretto by George Elliott Clarke. Recently AE spoke with the workshop’s founder, soprano Janice Jackson.

What inspired you to put this workshop together?
I am the Artistic Producer of Vocalypse Productions whose mandate is outreach, education, and the performance of contemporary classical vocal music. This one week workshop, Opera From Scratch, is a perfect fit: education, public outreach, and performance of new opera all in one. Personally, I want to inspire a new generation of composers who are interested in writing for the voice … and especially for opera! I’ve been working with classical composers and contemporary classical music with a theatre component for 25 years, and I’m excited to have discovered a way to motivate both young singers and composers to work on new material inspired by Nova Scotia characters, stories, and themes.

What can audiences expect to experience?
Audiences can expect lectures and master classes given by world class experts in the field of opera, singing, and contemporary music. There will also be a performance at the end of the week which will present the six ten-minute operas, world premieres of works in progress that are the focus of the workshop. This will be a very special event because of the diverse Nova Scotian themes that are the basis of each opera.

In your estimation, what are the 'must-see' performances?
Because of the high caliber of the workshop mentors, ALL of the master classes, lectures, and the final performance are “must see”. But, if you can come to just one thing, make it the final performance at 3:00PM on Sunday, August 26th, at Saint Matthew’s United Church, 1479 Barrington Street, Halifax.

Why is it an important event for the city & region?
This event is important because there is nothing similar to this east or west of Toronto.  Opera From Scratch is all about the creation of new work by young composers and sung by young performers who are coming from all over North America. No doubt they’ll be talking about Halifax and Nova Scotia when they leave, and this will help to put us on the new opera/new music map. The general public will be able to come to all the lectures and master classes and learn about the process of working on a new opera. Equally important and exciting is the fact that each work has to do with Nova Scotian history, places, people, poetry, etc. Six new operas about Nova Scotia is very exciting and a great way to share our rich history with the world. After all, how many operas are written about Nova Scotia?

What are the plans for the workshop for the years to come?
This year’s Opera From Scratch is a pilot program which we hope to expand in years to come while continuing to use Nova Scotian themes as a basis for the workshop. This year we have six composers and six singers. Our plan for next year is to have ten of each, and eventually to have a full length opera written in sections by all the composers involved.