Madame Butterfly unleashed in Edmonton

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A few weeks back, we got an email from Kathleen Ochoa asking if we could publish a review she did of Madame Butterfly, which she saw the last weekend in August. We meant to post this sooner, but then we got busy and it was pushed down our inbox list. Sorry Kathleen!

Enjoy her post, and read more about Kathleen at the end of the story.

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I’m not sure that many people attended Mercury Opera’s production of Madame Opera the weekend of August 27th, but, for those of us who made it out to this unique outdoor event, it was totally worth it.

I have to admit sometimes to being a “hater” when it comes to my hometown — mostly when it comes to the events that happen in parks. They always seem to have the look of empty festivals that leave you with the feeling of, “gee if we were just in a bigger city, this event wouldn’t feel so dead or empty.”

That being said, being a producer of events I understand how much work and money it takes to put on a well-conceived event, never mind all the work it takes to produce a successful show with high artistic talent.

This intimate, alternatively staged, “reader’s digest” version of production of Madame Butterfly was a version that even on this bit chilly of an evening, was engaging and emotionally moving. What really stuck out with this unique production of Madame Butterfly however was the alternative space in which to hold an opera and how the whole evening was packaged. It was a special night I’m sure to everyone who attended.

The gala began at 6pm and you were invited to three places along 95 St. in the Little Italy district. You got to travel between each place Spinelli’s Café, Zocali, and the new Delish Bakery just off 95St, and 107 ave. sampling small snacks, and various wines, as each place hosted casual reception fair with a neighbourly welcoming vibe.

You then made your way through the big elm trees and past the playground to the large tent in the middle of Giovanni Caboto Park. Feeling a bit like you’re walking into a circus tent, inside you were instantly struck by the mini theatre set up inside, not a bad seat in the house, little trees designing the space and an actual live orchestra awaiting you.

The audience unfortunately did not fill all the seats, probably, not even half, but somehow you didn’t get the feeling like you were at some unpopular party that no one bothered to go to. Instead you had the feeling, especially as the show progressed that you were lucky enough to have stumbled on the best kept secret in town, an intimate and relatively small performance space with romantic tenors and sopranos singing just for you and your friends.

Mercury Opera’s founder and artistic director, Darcia Parada although working back and forth from New York City and Edmonton for the past years has thankfully chosen to stay in Edmonton, and bringing with her the inspiration she had participating in performance culture in NYC back to Edmonton. Her biography tells us she “began dreaming of staging opera in unusual spaces” after performing La Boheme in a loft in Tribeca.

If you’ve ever lived, worked or traveled in NYC it’s not hard to be inspired by the seemingly endless array of alternative ways to see performances. If you have any experience producing shows, site-specific shows in alternative spaces in particular, you can’t help to notice when that alternative space works or doesn’t. You become extra sensitive to when there is no real attention to the space itself and how an event can seem just “plunked” down somewhere without any consideration for how the space is being used in relation to what’s happening. It is a challenge to create an event in inspired space — have it functional and yet designed so it doesn’t look empty, to envision how the audience is going to engage and see the performance space, and to consider the overall flow of the evening, what people in general will want to be doing in between the entertainment, how they will flow, where the bathrooms are, etc.

Mercury Opera seemed to have considered it all, from the first step into the mini magical world inside the tent, to the size and design of the performance and audience space, to intermission where you exited the tent only to find fireworks just steps away, giving a small but not chintzy display of fireworks, (even more interesting if you had read in the program that the fireworks themselves had been colored and choreographed by the theme of the characters of the opera), to the porta-potties a little distance away, if you were like me and perhaps got a little carried away by the free prossecco offered earlier.

It’s such a nice surprise when the vision fits to the size of the “fishtank” so to speak, having the right sized cast, a well-rehearsed, professional cast and orchestra, simple yet professional lighting, simple yet well designed set and stage direction, a well-thought out audience seating arrangement. The show itself can then really come alive and the strength of performance be highlighted in the space rather than having all the elements detract from it, again leaving you with a feeling, “well, that was a good idea at least…”

No, the Mercury’s opera staging of Madame Butterfly was an incredibly well done experiment, showcasing some real up and coming musical talent, all flown in from New York to perform in a beautiful welcoming event full of appreciative, well- cared for guests.

This is a shout out to Mercury Opera for having the guts, and skills in contributing an inspired vision to Edmonton’s own burgeoning performance culture.

Kathleen Ochoa is an Edmonton-based dance artist, teacher, producer, writer and researcher in the burgeoning field of embodiment studies. She has lived, studied and worked as dancer and yoga instructor in NYC, Montreal, Marseille, Paris, and Rome.

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