Laurier’s Faculty of Music collaborated with KWS for a well-received production of “Carmen”

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Photo by Jennifer Webb

Last weekend, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Music, in collaboration with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, brought together over 150 music students, delivering a series of polished and brilliant performances of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, an “opéra comique” — and one of the best known in the world.
     There were two concert version performances — meaning it presented with little to no staging, sets or costumes — the first of which was Friday, Jan. 11 and the final was Saturday, Jan. 12.

Amongst the singers were three recent graduates and one current student of the Music program, one of the voice instructors and the choir — which was comprised of four different Laurier choirs: the Laurier Concert Choir, the Maureen Forrester Singers, the Laurier Singers and the Laurier Opera Chorus.
    Because I am the farthest thing from a performance, music or opera critique, I will not endeavour to evaluate the value or quality of the opera that this collective put forward.
     I will, however, speak to the effort required to conceive of such a production.

Orchestrating — no pun intended — such a large collection of individuals is no meagre feat. Bringing together two very distinct ideologies of singing groups — the professional versus the educational — brought about its own set of unique and daunting challenges.

“It’s interesting — what the public sees is a very polished and finished product … [But] the behind-the-scenes complexities are enormous,” said Glen Carruthers, dean of Laurier’s Faculty of Music.

The role and function of a professional arts organization, like the Symphony and the role and function of an arts education institution, like the Facility of Music, are very different. On one hand, the Faculty of Music puts a much heavier emphasis on the learning process and its importance.

“It’s about helping young people to understand the various components necessary for a successful a career in music … What’s essential, in our case, is that the learning process [is] front and centre for the students throughout the preparation,” Carruthers said.

In contrast, professional musicians such as the Symphony tend to be less concerned about the process, focussing instead on creating a finalized, efficient, smooth result.

“So you somehow have to find a middle-ground between process and product … That being said: we [still] need[ed] a superb product as well in the end, which we did have,” Carruthers said.

There is a colossal effort that goes into organizing all the various choirs, students and professionals necessary for a performance like this. Carruthers explained that the logistics behind it are quite similar to putting together lego: “you’ve got all the component parts and you hope it will fit together and make a complete whole,” he said.

The performance sold out on both nights, which is not unusual for the Faculty. However, given the conversations that Carruthers had with a number of others, the “artistic standard” of the performance was still quite “high” — which sounds good enough for me.

But what about the value that music holds in our lives, especially as it becomes more fundamental to our experiences and personalities with each passing year?

“I think that music has, clearly, an aesthetic value, period. We don’t need to justify the existence of the art form [that way] … That being said, we live in exceedingly complicated times,” Carruthers said.

“I’m certain that arts and culture are going to play an increasingly important role in our society as the complexities unfold … These art-forms and others like them are crucial to the health and wellbeing of our society.”

However, music — and performances like these — also play a pivotal role in the lives of a number of students in Laurier’s Faculty of Music.

“I think it was nice to come together in a big group [and] professional setting and work with an experienced conductor, an experienced orchestra, collaborate and make really beautiful music,” said Sabrina Di Battista, a student in Laurier’s Music program.

“I want to be an opera singer myself and I’m currently in the opera at school. It’s the biggest part of my life, it’s what I want to do for a living.”

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