a new opera initiative
AMPLIFIED OPERA (AO) is a joint collaboration between director Aria Umezawa (she/her), and opera singer and theatre creator Teiya Kasahara (they/them). The collective began out of concern over the ways in which equity-seeking groups have been continually under-represented in opera. Both Umezawa and Kasahara were separately disheartened that opera’s sister disciplines, film/tv, and theatre, had made greater strides in creating space for representations of diversity in all forms. Umezawa and Kasahara decided to come together and take action. Since the summer of 2017, they have been exploring how a new type of performing arts company might use the operatic/vocal medium to inspire a revolutionary and new artistic mandate. They firmly believe that opera can be progressive and inclusive and that it can be used to facilitate social change. Their inspiration comes from works and practices across the performing arts that have succeeded in creating equitable and talent-driven spaces - specifically, the ways theatre companies like Berkley Repertory Theatre, The Curran, Nightwood Theatre, and choirs like Univox and The Nathaniel Dett Chorale integrate the ideas of community and social action into their performances.
Their first project is Teiya Kasahara’s THE QUEEN IN ME an opera-inspired solo theatre piece, directed by Andrea Donaldson, which is currently in development with both AO and Theatre Gargantua’s SideStream Cycle. The work is projected to have its full premiere in Toronto in 2020.
QUEEN inspired both Kasahara and Umezawa to produce more of these types of artistic works -- ones that exemplify truth, rebellion, and awe, and that empower artists of equity-seeking groups to be able to tell their stories on their own terms. By actively seeking out artists with unique voices and experiences, Amplified Opera hopes to foster a space within the opera industry that fearlessly engages with multiple points of view.
Given the past year’s societal drive to demand artistic projects that speak to the realities of the political moment in which we find ourselves — one that is working to overcome racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic ideologies — the time is right for Amplified Opera to officially debut as a collective.
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AMPLIFIED OPERA’s first production is Teiya Kasahara’s The Queen in Me . It is a timely work of theatre that resonates and reflects the core values, mission, goals and objectives of the collective itself. Last season Kasahara discovered her love of theatre while being a part of the Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Kasahara created and performed a one-person show entitled The Queen in Me , directed by Andrea Donaldson. The work set off a fire inside of her; theatre enabled her to express fully and honestly her struggles as a Japanese-Canadian, queer, butch, gender non-conforming soprano in an opera industry that is known for its overtly heteronormative, racially insensitive, and misogynist storylines. The Queen in Me was tremendously well received, especially by her trusted colleagues from opera, including Aria Umezawa. It inspired both Kasahara and Umezawa to want to produce these types of artistic works, ones that exemplify truth, rebellion, and awe, and that give artists from marginalized groups the space in which to do it.
In October 2019, the company will debut its concert series — AMPLIFY with a performances by American mezzo-soprano and author Laurie Rubin (she/her) and British-Canadian pianist Liz Upchurch (she/her), long time director of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio. The series will seek to provide a platform for individuals to tell their stories on their own terms through the operatic/vocal repertoire. Rubin, who is blind, has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, and is passionate about sharing her experience living without sight.
Other featured internationally acclaimed artists of equity-seeking groups are to include Kenneth Overton (baritone), and Teiya Kasahara (soprano); pianists Rich Coburn, and David Eliakis; and directors Michael Mohammed, Andrea Donaldson and Aria Umezawa.