The Grand River Opera (GRO) is a woman- and singer-led opera company founded earlier this year by artistic director and performer Jennifer Carter.
The company kicked off with a production of Puccini’s Suor Angelica in March and mounted a production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of The Screw in late October. The opera was performed at Button Factory Arts in Waterloo and at Improv Lab in Guelph with a double cast, with singers alternating which shows they performed.
GRO was created to make opera more accessible in the area and create roles for local performers. Carter, who portrays Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw, said opera singers take a longer time to develop their voices and then to find roles that fit that voice.
“Opera is really specific about your voice types and things fitting into boxes.
So, it’s hard to build your way up the ladder. If I wanted to sing the title role of Suor Angelica, nobody was going to hire me for it until I’d already done it,” Carter said.
GRO is currently working on a limited budget but has found creative ways to cover expenses, such as an opera pub in partnership with TWB Brewery called Hops and High Notes. Donations can also be made to the company’s GoFundMe campaign to aid the productions’ budgets.
The Turn of the Screw premiered in 1954 and is based on the classic horror novel of the same name by Henry James. The opera tells the story of a woman who becomes a governess to two children and is disturbed when their strange behaviour suggests a supernatural presence.
“A lot of these operas, they’re great, they’re amazing to watch, they’re just from a different time period.The Turn of the Screw is considered relatively recent. So, there are a lot of themes that are still pretty relevant to today,” Darielle Chomyn, the actress portraying Miles in the production, said.
The company hopes that, since The Turn of the Screw is performed in English, it will help audiences understand how enjoyable opera can be, even if they have the perception that the art form is inaccessible. Carter said audiences are often worried about not understanding a performance if it is not in English.
“The music helps tell the story. The acting helps tell the story…but people are always so scared of [not understanding]. So to have something that is in English takes away that barrier,” Carter said.
“If you put on a good show, people will like it regardless of what language you’re singing in, what you’re singing about. People can relate to it. People love the arts,” Chomyn said.