General News

The opera is coming out to the country for Georges Bizet’s ‘Carmen’

August 3, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Opera is coming to the country, specifically to the MVL Amphitheatre at 1418 Concession 4, Loretto, at the east end of Hockley Valley. Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is scheduled to be performed in this lovely rural setting as a collaboration between No Strings Theatre and Opera by Request, running over two weekends, Fridays to Sundays, from Aug. 11 to 20.

Last year at this time, they brought Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro to enthusiastic audiences, who were impressed by the artists and delighted by the ambiance.

Dr. Maurice Bygrave, owner of the Loretto property, told the Citizen that the turnout had been very good.

Said Dr. Bygrave of the occasion, “At the end of the final show, the director Gregory Finney announced that they would be performing Carmen this year, for a second opera production. I didn’t even know about it until he said it but I was happy too.”

Founding Artistic Director of No Strings Theatre, Denise Williams, began with 13 to 19-year-olds learning to sing, act and dance in 2005. By 2018, it had evolved to include emerging artists.

“The plan was to grow these skills where the school systems were being depleted,” she said. “I am a Pedagogue who understands the importance of music in a person’s life, and I am a teacher at Sheridan [College] with my own studio.

“After 15 years we had a strong alumni base,” she commented. “New people coming to direct and choreograph. Then, along came decades-long collaborator with Ms. Williams, William Shookhoff with his Opera By Request. People tell them, ‘I’d like to do this opera.’ And he produces it.”

A long friendship between Denise Williams and Maurice Bygrave led Ms. Williams and Mr. Shookhoff to discuss the idea of producing an opera on Dr. Bygrave’s farm, with his house to be the backdrop of the Marriage of Figaro.

She told us, “We put our companies together; I found a lot of professional musical theatre people who were missing opera. We thought this could be a great Young Artists Program (YAP).”

They launched an intensive over the summer with master classes and a certain aspect of the role. The plan was to stage rehearsals and produce a paid public performance. The Toronto Summer Opera Lyric Theatre, AD Bill Silva, holds YAP productions over the summer.

“YAP exist all over the world,” Ms. Williams commented. “Not as much in this part of the world. What Bill and I are proposing is a modified YAP with some of these people in the Bizet.”

There is a mix of new-generation and professional veterans in the cast. Carmen also has a children’s chorus.

To perform the six productions of Carmen over the two weekends, over 20 cast members are involved, taking on their roles variously. On stage are 10 cast members in 10 singing and two non-singing roles. With six performances booked, each cast would do all six or at least two.

Director Gregory Finney, as Ms. Williams tells us, “is a tour de force in the theatre world. We know people and we have a strong social media presence.”

From Orangeville, Hilary Krutchick is a member of the cast as Micaela.

For most of her working life, Denise Williams has been a producer, and she tells us she launched; used to produce, do all the business, hire the creative team, deal with all the correspondence,

“As things got bigger, so I have on the help of Greg [Finney] and Bill [Shookhoff],” she said.

In the show Carmen, the audience is under the tent, using an alley performance layout with the audience on either side. Ms. Williams is in the show as well, singing the role of Frasquita in her turn.

Personally, she commented, “As my engagement in my communities goes, I got my Masters in Community Music from Wilfred Laurier. I’m always very sensitive to how the community is involved in the arts, and I did a lot of work with steel pans performing classical music and integrating music from the African, Jewish and Muslim Diasporas. Currently, she is working with composer Andrew Craig (aka Rapsodius) with Melonlatté, a Euro-centric opera with an African beat.

“The diversity in Toronto, one style does not fit all – trying to meet people where they are, in their communities, coaching, mentoring; speaking the language of the spiritual,” she said. “I can answer questions about being racialized.”

Interestingly, Carmen attracted resumés and auditions from international performers.

Director Gregory Finney wrote in his notes, “The stories of strong women have always fascinated me. Being raised by a cadre of strong women on the East Coast, I have a deep appreciation for the many layers that have caused this strength to be forged…At the time of the original setting of Carmen, there’s danger all around…[but] I’ve always found the Flapper/Mod/Gangster era to be fascinating…I think the Smugglers have parallels in every era…But most of all, I think Carmen is one of these women.”

For the show, the tent is supplied by Maclean Sherwood, with chairs for audiences. The performance is two hours, 45 minutes long. Carmen is staged in the 1930s, with a slightly more modern look, but “nothing is touched in the music.”

“There will be a Caribbean food concession,” Denise Williams promised.

Costumes are by Theatrix Costume House, Hamilton and Malcom Vella. Dr. Maurice Bygrave told us he bought the property about 25 years ago. He is one of the founding fathers of Toronto’s Caribana. His connection to Orangeville began with his entering his Standardbred horse in the races at the Orangeville Raceway. He said about producing Carmen on his MVL Amphitheatre, “Denise and I have known each other for many years. When she brought the idea of bringing friends here to do an opera performance, I thought it would be a great idea to do that. My role is getting the facility ready. I am very excited to have this show here.” Bizet’s Carmen is on at the MVL Amphitheatre over two weekends from Aug. 11 to 20. For times, details and to purchase tickets, go to

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