This is the continuation of a new series of Q&As with the artists of Canada’s opera scene. After our “Quarantine Questions” from the spring/summer of 2020, we’re checking in once again with these artists as they share new perspectives on mid-pandemic opera. Next up: tenor Colin Ainsworth:
After nearly a year away from a “normal” performance calendar, what perspective have you gained about the worlds of opera and classical music? What is its importance to you, and how does this compare to this time last year?
“Of course, when something is taken away from you, you realize how much you miss it. I
think I took for granted how much I needed music in my life and how much I enjoyed
performing. But, the benefit of having plenty of time on one’s hands is being able to dig
not only into new pieces, but also pieces that I have already done. The thing that I have
always loved about opera is its ability to tell a story with multiple layers. Sometimes
when you’re working, there’s not a lot of time to really delve into all those layers (the
subtext of your lines, of the orchestra, of things you say but also don’t say, or that the
orchestra seems to comment on, or why a composer wrote certain markings, for
example). Having this time has really made me appreciate the brilliance of the repertoire
that has been given us. For me, it’s endlessly fascinating and I love having the time to
explore those layers.”
What do you miss the most about giving and hearing live performances?
“After such a long hiatus from live performances and music, I think the thing I miss most about opera is community; the community of singers and players, the community and relationships one forms with the audience members in various cities, and with the staff of the companies you work for – that interconnected web of relationships. But I also realized, when I first sang with Tafelmusik last fall, how much I had actually missed hearing live music. It was as if my ears had dried up and, after hearing those first notes from the musicians, I had been satiated by those first drops of musical water. Of course there have been various performances online (I’ve been involved in them, have created them myself, and am grateful to be singing) but, it really doesn’t compare to performing for an audience or hearing something live.
“I also miss so many other things: I miss opening a new score and highlighting my lines, singing in different languages, hearing the orchestra for a first sing-through of a piece, the seemingly never-ending time it takes to learn recitative, traveling, the interaction between the performers on stage and the audience, opening night parties and the food spreads, the collaboration of bringing your piece of the musical puzzle to the first rehearsal and putting it together with a colleague’s and making something that is uniquely yours…”
What activities or pursuits have you taken up since last March? Do you have any new interests or passions you can tell us about?
“In an effort to keep connected to music and colleagues, Laura Loewen and I started doing some online collaborations called Iso-recitals and posted them on YouTube. We had various singers join us and to put our individual videos together, I had to learn a new software program to edit the videos which I loved doing! It certainly filled the time.
“Other than learning new operas and music, I’ve been finishing my basement and working very hard on refining my skills at making the best lattes with my espresso machine.”
What advice do you have for your fellow artists, for staying motivated and engaged during such a difficult time?
“My last gig just as the virus hit was singing Lensky in Eugene Onegin with Seattle
Opera, which was such a great success and inspired me to look into new repertoire that
I hadn’t previously considered. But, as the pandemic grew and work halted, there was a
short period of time when I didn’t sing anything – not a note. I didn’t look at music, I
didn’t listen to music, I didn’t explore the new operas I was interested in. It was an
uncertain time and the last thing I felt like doing was looking at music. But, shortly after
the shutdown, a colleague formed an online Zoom group of opera singers and we sang
for each other, gave constructive criticism, and motivated each other to try new things.
We still are meeting every week and it has been such a great way to keep motivated to
learn new operas and support each other in this unprecedented time. We musicians are
a resilient bunch, but we need each other! So, I’d say, find some friends, create a reason
to meet, support each other and keep each other positive. There is a light at the end of
When performances can resume, what do you think opera can or should say with its output? What sort of platform will it have, post-COVID?
“I’m hoping opera will come back stronger and ready to meet new challenges. I’m
encouraged that companies have looked for new ways to engage with their community
both online and in-person and that they have looked for ways to include marginalized
and unrepresented communities. In this day of isolation, the loss of community has
been hard but I have been so impressed with many organizations going beyond their
walls and trying out new ways to engage and utilize new forms of reaching people.
Having seen how new platforms and mediums have opened doors to new ways of
presenting opera, I’m really hoping that it finds its way into presentations of opera and
gives a voice to those who have been overlooked.”
Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera. She also writes for The Globe and Mail and Opera Canada. She’s a pianist and vocal coach, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera.