Two shorter operas will open the 2019 opera season. Photo: Courtesy of Sandra Graham.
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U of O music productions ready to take centre stage

The beginning of the winter semester means a lot of things for students—for many, it is a return to their university friends and the beginning of a fresh batch of courses. Yet, for music students who signed up for the opera last summer, it also marks the culmination of a semester’s worth of work.

On Jan. 12 and 13, University of Ottawa music students from various degree levels will bring Freiman Hall to life with the sound of vocal solos and piano accompaniment as they perform “The Old Maid and the Thief” by Gian Carlo Menotti and “Dido et Aeneas” by Henry Purcell.

“(‘The Old Maid and the Thief’) is about small town gossip and scandal,” explained Sandra Graham, the artistic director of the two operas. “It’s quite funny, and the music is very accessible even though it’s contemporary.”

“Then, we’re presenting our second opera by Henry Purcell,” Graham continued. “It’s a baroque opera, (so) it’s on the other end of the timeline in the music history—we’re almost going backwards.”

“Dido et Aeneas” is an opera about the mythical hero Aeneas who tries to court Dido, the Queen of Carthage. Unlike “The Old Maid and the Thief,” which has a humorous storyline and tone, “Dido et Aeneas” professes moments of deep sadness.

Nonetheless, the two short operas, which will each run for 50 minutes with a 15 minute intermission, tend to work together, Graham explained. “These two … are performed often because they’re popular and accessible.”

Graham told the Fulcrum that “The Old Maid and the Thief” was the more complex of the weekend’s performances, despite only having five cast members.

“I wanted to get as many singers an opportunity to sing a solo as possible,” Graham explained. So, she believed “Dido et Aeneas” would work well as it is also performed in English and features a larger cast.

In fact, while fulfilling her duties as stage director for the two chamber operas this semester, Graham was simultaneously working to get other performers ready for “Don Giovanni”— an orchestral opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart which will open on Feb. 14.

“There’s more depth to something when you have an orchestra accompanying it,” Graham explained. “All productions will have lighting, and costumes, stage movements, and everything (but) ‘Don Giovanni’ will take longer because there’s a greater challenge for students to sing and move with an orchestra.”

Due to the added complexities of the Italian opera that will open on Valentines’ Day, the opera will run for under two hours, and will have intermittent English dialogue, so that first-time audiences can get a grasp of the storyline.

“Because of the staging, the audience usually understands what is going on even though it’s in a foreign language,” Graham explained.

Nevertheless, attendees of this weekend’s performances will not have to worry about a language barrier. “This weekend, both operas are in English, (so) it’s going to be more accessible for students who (may) have only attended musicals, (or are new to operas).”

For Graham, this year’s opera season at the U of O will give student performers a chance to learn more about being in an operatic production, and get experience.

“To me, that’s very important,” she said. “(I want) students to feel like they can shine in something solo, and feel like they accomplished something as a part of a chorus.”

Menotti and Purcell will be performed at 2 p.m. on Jan. 12 and 13 in the Pérez building. Tickets will be sold at the door for $5.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper