Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
‘Afternoon tea with …. people of note’
We’re having tea (virtually!) with Rachel Krehm, a young and dynamic opera maven. She is a founder of, and General Director of Opera 5, a start-up opera company in Toronto that has already garnered a bevy of accolades. The pot of Early Grey tea has steeped; Her Ladyship (that would be me!) pours two cups. Before offering a cup to Rachel I inquire if she would like milk or lemon. A little milk. No sugar. Our conversation begins.
Congratulations on establishing Opera 5 – it’s a huge undertaking for someone as young as yourself! Describe this company and how it was founded.
In 2010, I decided I was very interested in producing opera. That fall, I was at McGill (University) taking lessons and I went to a party hosted by Aria Umezawa, now Opera 5′s Artistic Director. On a whim, I asked Aria if she might be interested in directing shows. She said sure but I figured we would never be in touch. But surprise! We had a few meetings; there were road blocks; we discussed the ‘big picture’; we both agreed creating a company that produced shows every year was the big picture. We started planning. And Opera 5 was born! The 5 in Opera 5 refers to all the 5 senses because we combine other arts and disciplines with opera to create a full sensory experience. We want opera to be fun and accessible. So we had a General Director, me, an Artistic Director, Aria, and then a music director fell right in our laps, Maika’i Nash, another McGill friend, was moving to Toronto. He is a fabulous coach and pianist, with a marketing background as well, so we asked him to join the team right away.
Wow, I am out of breath just listening to you!
A fresh cup of tea? Oh yes!
What has Opera 5 been up to since those meetings?
We produced 3 Main Stage shows, 5 fundraiser concerts; won the Critics’ Choice Award at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, produced 12 Opera Cheats videos that have over 37,000 views on YouTube; became a not-for-profit corporation and received charitable status.
What is Opera 5 working on now?
Our upcoming show is “In Pace Requiescat” on October 27, 30 and 31. It features 3 one-act operas based on Edgar Allan Poe stories; The Cask of the Amontillado by Daniel Pinkham; La Chute de la Maison Usher by Debussy and the world premier of The Masque of the Red Death by Toronto composer Cecilia Livingston. There’s a haunted house and on closing night, Halloween, there will be a costume competition and an after-show dance! In Pace Requiescat features Lucia Cesaroni, soprano, David Tinervia, baritone Adrian Kramer, baritone, Justin Ralph, tenor and Ronan MacParland, baritone.
We have great plans for a March break program with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and I will be one of the singers taking to the stage.
To close the 2013/14 season, we have a co-production with Alliance Française, for “Offenbach & Hahn” featuring the rarely performed operas Ba-ta-clan by Offenbach and L’Île du Rêve by Hahn.
Was opera part of your home scene?
My great aunt Ida Krehm was a Canadian concert pianist. She premiered works by Ernest Bloch; Glick wrote a Concertino especially for her. My father is an amateur clarinet player and performs a lot of chamber music in Toronto. My mother taught Orff in schools. So while no one had been involved in opera, it wasn’t a huge jump.
Do you remember the first opera you attended?
Absolutely! It was Opera Atelier’s “The Magic Flute” in 1991, when I was 6 years old. My mom was volunteering for Opera Atelier and so my dad and I went together. I remember my dad telling me it was likely the show would be in German, because Mozart had written the opera in German. I remember vividly saying to my dad, “But Daddy, we are in Toronto, we speak English here!” And then the opera was in English, because Opera Atelier does all its German and Italian productions in English. I was certainly mesmerized by that production and that night. So that was the first hook.
And the second hook?
Singing lessons when I was 13. And I went to Pelleas and Melisande at the Metropolitan Opera in New York when I was 15, with my dad again. I knew then opera was what I wanted to do.
What is your musical education?
Voice performance at McGill University; I have a bachelor’s and a master’s from McGill. When I was in Grade 11, I went to Montreal for March break with friends and thought I would check out the music school. I saw a song interpretation class while I was there and loved it. I had a great time at McGill. I loved being in the Song Interpretation Class with Michael McMahon during my master’s. I learned so much about partnership and music-making in that class. One of my favourite classes was the Italian bel canto class that Patrick Hansen taught in my final year at McGill. These classes helped me grow as a musician and gave me the power to make my own artistic choices.
Your wildest dream?
Making Opera 5 a popular and critical success, a significant player in the operatic field and known for its innovation.
You work hard; you’re very talented; the dream comes true. What next?
For sure I would keep working for more. Just because a dream comes true, ‘life’ doesn’t stop. Having dreams come true is what makes life, and art, exciting. There is always a further distance you can travel.
What do you do to relax in your downtime?
Watch TV. I am a big fan of HBO and Showtime – I love Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter … although I had to miss the finale. Watching TV has a lot to do with being in my home and creating an intimate space for myself to relax. My home really centres me.
This is like asking a mother to name her favourite offspring – do you have a favourite composer?
Mozart; he is the standard for combining music and drama.
Early bird or night owl?
Definitely a night owl.
Ever missed an early-morning appointment?
Thank goodness no, but I have cut it pretty close!
As General Director of a young, hip and very innovative opera company, what’s a typical day for you?
Well, this isn’t the only thing I do – I have a job with a property management company that allows me flexible hours. So I find myself in juggling mode very often. Right now at Opera 5 my push is grant writing. I oversee and manage all the financials, contracts, accounting systems and tracking everyone’s workload.
Have you any arts management courses?
No, but because of my job with the property management company, I have extensive experience managing people and money – very transferable to an opera company.
Then you trust your instincts?
More and more yes; I use to second-guess myself a lot. One of the things that helped be more confident and to trust my instincts is that my little sister Elizabeth passed away last November. It was terrible – she was in intensive care for a month but her death has also been a rare gift; a gift in a lot of different ways. For one thing, I am now seeing a grief counsellor regularly and it’s not what I expected grief counselling to be. I have learned a lot about grief and struggle and now am able to see the gifts and learnings that come from difficult situations. This different outlook on the hard things has helped me to be more honest and trust my gut more and ultimately be more authentic all the time. Ultimately this has brought me a lot of personal confidence and I feel I trust myself more now. So there is an example of a great gift that has come from a horrible situation.
Chris Hadfield took his guitar into space. Should you find yourself on the next space mission, what would you take with you?
I am a singer, so of course I would sing in space! But I would take a piano and pianist with me.
Apples or oranges ?
Apples. Cut into chunks.
Baking or singing?
Singing! I like to cook but I’m not baker.
Thank you Rachel; it’s been a pleasure to take afternoon tea with you today.