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Bringing high culture to the underground

by Archives January 22, 2008

A baritone voice fills the air with a classical operatto. A female voice follows, adding to the atmosphere, her own rendition of a classical Italian opera piece. The subway trains are running on the tracks. People are running in and out of the trains, coming and going.
The metro performances have been bringing opera to the general public for the past two years. They were born out of the Opéra de Montréal’s desire to democratize its productions and the Société de Transport de Montréal’s (STM) commitment to make its users’ trips more enjoyable. Initiated by former director of the Opéra de Montréal, David Moss, the performances are a joint collaboration between the two organizations. The operas feature singers from the Atelier Lyrique, the young artist’s program at the Opéra de Montréal.
Chantal Lambert, director of the Atelier Lyrique, elaborates on the concept. “Whenever we can, we do some outreach into the community. We thought that it would be a good idea for the young opera singers to reach out to the community and demonstrate that there are some young people who devote themselves to opera and want to make it as a career.” She continued, “We also wanted to establish the fact that the opera is for everybody, not just for the elite and you don’t have to have sophisticated tastes to like and be touched by opera.” To this end the opera singers dress in everyday clothes for their subway performances.
According to Lambert, the aim of the metro performances is to have a French opera, with some Italian operas added as the seasoning to the general flavour. The Opéra de Montréal also intends to have performances that the public likes and to introduce them to others as well. Operas that are popular have encore performances. Works that are in the same style are performed each year. For 2008, the operas are from the Bel Canto period which uses singers from Italy and incorporates different vocal ranges. The Italian operas such as the Boccini and the Verdi and Romeo and Juliet are the most popular among commuters.
Silvie Buffieres, Corporate Counseiller for Communications at the STM reveals that the performances were an experiment, to see whether they were possible in the subway station. “We had a very positive response. Some 300 people came to see the opera. Many of them came to the subway just to watch the opera. We try to provide a nice environment and a high quality show,” she said. She added that the STM is considering approaching other cultural organizations, such as the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM), to bring other types of performances to commuters.
Pierre Étienne, who is one of the cast members of the stage performance of the play, The Barber of Seville, has performed in a metro opera. “It is fun because people are enthusiastic about the performance, hearing us very close. They seem to be very excited. In the concert hall there is etiquette, such as sitting and not applauding. The public in the metro is not shy,” he said.
The selected station so far have been Place de Arts, Atwater and Berri-UQAM because they provide comfortable space for people to really enjoy the show. Performances last about 30 minutes and are free of charge. The Barber of Seville will be performed on Jan. 29 and 30 at 4:00 p.m. at the Berri-UQAM and Atwater stations, respectively. A performance not to be missed will be Madama Butterfly in May.

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