Promotional poster for A Midsummer Night's Fairy Tale
Image: University of Ottawa Opera/Provided.
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Artistic director spoke about the University of Ottawa Opera’s upcoming performance

A Midsummer Night’s Fairy Tale, the name of an upcoming performance from the University of Ottawa opera ensemble, combines Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Both tell the same story of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

Artistic director, Christiane Riel, combined Purcell’s eight-hour Baroque realization with Britten’s 20th century opera.

She intentionally melded the two styles for this show. 

“It is an opportunity for our students to taste both periods,” Riel explained. “The text in the Baroque period is not presented in the same way that the text is in the Britten one.”

For those who don’t know, the Baroque opera style is sung with melismas, or one word drawn out across several note changes. On the other hand, Britten’s 20th century conventions typically aligned one word with one note — more mimicking normal speech patterns.

“The difference for our actors is to sustain the time and the emotion that they need to have… So it is a very good experience for all of them to experience both styles.”

Riel has been a professor at the University of Ottawa for 10 years and has served as artistic director for the past three.

In those years, the opera program has been continuously supported by the University to navigate COVID-19 regulations while singing and performing.

Since 2020, they’ve practiced and performed behind plexiglass screens, with actors five meters apart, masked, and virtually. In November, the opera had their first in-person performance in the easing of restrictions. This Friday will be their second.

Riel spoke about the difficulties of teaching opera virtually. One pain was that she couldn’t see her students’ entire body and watch their breathing technique. “It’s a little bit like teaching ballet,” she said, “on zoom, it could be very hard.”

“Breathing is so important for us. It’s like we are wind instruments. Learn[ing] how to regulate their breath constantly is actually the base of our technique. And if I could not see…how they position their tongue, their jaw,…and if their bodies align properly. There’s a problem.”

For this performance, students received their parts and their music in December. They’ve been preparing for A Midsummer Night’s Fairy Tale all semester. 

If you’re interested in watching the fruits of their labor, there will be two performances of A Midsummer Night’s Fairy Tale on Friday night and Saturday afternoon in Huguette Labelle Hall.