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Storytelling through opera

As part of our April Break: Spring into Art, we’re going behind the scenes with singers and composers from the Canadian Opera Company.

Soprano Gwenna Fairchild Taylor

Top left: Soprano Gwenna Fairchild Taylor; Bottom: Sondra Radvanovsky performing “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka (COC, 2019). Photo: Michael Cooper.

Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company (COC) is the largest opera company in Canada and one of the largest producers of opera in North America. With an international reputation for creativity and artistry, the company works together with the world’s most renowned artists and functions as a strong incubator for emerging creators in the industry. Which is why we’re so excited to be partnering with them and the Vancouver Art Gallery for five days of programming this April Break

From April 12 to 16, every day between 2 and 5 pm EST,  we are inviting families with kids of all ages to join us in exploring different art forms, includingdrawing, singing and dance.

Ahead of this exciting cross-country arts break, we caught up with artists Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor and Saman Shahi for a behind-the-scenes look at their daily lives as teaching artists and musicians. Both also gave us a sneak peek of the musical festivities they will be performing and teaching to the live audience for April Break. 

Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor is a Canadian Soprano, teaching artist and curriculum consultant with the COC. On Thursday, April 15, she will be leading a singing lesson to Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák

Saman Shahi is a composer, pianist and conductor based in Toronto. On Friday, April 16, he will take families through a classical music piece by English composer Gustav Holst and compose original music in real-time with the audience. 

Composer Saman Shahi

Top left: Composer Saman Shahi; Bottom: A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s 2020 production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Photo: Michael Cooper.

AGOinsider: What's a typical day for you on the job?   

Fairchild-Taylor: My job is very fun because I get to do so many different things! Most days I start by practicing singing, catching up on emails and doing some yoga and/or going for a walk. My favourite days are the days where I get to both sing and teach! I love working with people of all ages to hone their musical talents, and singing together. I also love performing and being able to act and sing as all sorts of different characters. Every day I get to be creative in a different way, and that's why I love being an opera singer and teaching artist so much! 

Shahi: No two days are ever the same, thanks to the variety of my career as a composer, performer, conductor, teacher and administrator. Some days I would be rushing to the computer to work on a piece, and before I know it, it's lunchtime. Sometimes I spend my mornings just researching, listening to music, tuning into podcasts or looking at new music or composers. And of course, this is only if there are no meetings or grant deadlines! We have so many of those. The only consistent part of my days are the practicing and teaching parts, which usually happen in the afternoon and evening. This is an aspect of my career that I enjoy most; that it's always new and every day has its challenges, rewards and lessons. 

AGOinsider: What are you hoping to show people during your April Break activity? 

Fairchild-Taylor: Come with your singing voices and your bodies ready to move in ways that feel good to you! That's all you'll need for our time together. We will be doing some outer space-themed singing together, starting with some warm-ups and then working on a tune from Dvořák's Rusalka with some new words I've written especially for this collaborative activity!

Shahi: My goal is for us to explore Gustav Holst's amazing composition The Planets by delving a little bit into its history, story and listen to bits and pieces of it. I definitely don't have time to go into detail, but I would like my audiences to absorb enough that when they do go and listen to the piece on their own, they have a much more meaningful listening experience. At the end of the workshop, I am also gonna be doing a bit of a writing demonstration using the sounds of deep space recorded by NASA. I will be composing in real-time using my digital audio workstation, and create a very short "Interstellar" composition using those raw and beautiful sounds. No preparation is needed. Only show up with open ears! 

Mark your calendars for April Break: Spring into Art and be sure to check out the full line-up of art-inspired conversation and maker activities. All sessions will be live-streamed from with no registration required.

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