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October 17, 2017
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Austra, Ambur Braid, and Adrian Kramer perform at the Canadian Opera Company's Operanation: A Muse Ball (October 21, 2011)

On the final night of LG Fashion Week in Toronto, over 1,000 budding young philanthropists made up of opera lovers, fashion fiends, and socialites, gathered at the landmark Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for Operanation: A Muse Ball. Hosted by the Canadian Opera Company and in support of the COC's Ensemble Studio (Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals), in eight years, the annual fundraiser has grown from a small cocktail party to one of the hottest gala events in town. Operanation is for a new generation to put stereotypes of opera-goers aside and to redefine for ourselves the relevance of the art form in our lives - and to party in high style.

The evening promised to be "a celebration of artistic inspiration and the mix-and-mingle of art and life". All the best elements of Opera were glorified: costume, set, drama, and music. But as the night progressed, a mystery loomed in the back of my mind. Yes, Opera inspired this creative endeavour, this fabulous Muse Ball, but I began to think that our main attraction became merely a wallflower muse.

Honouring the spectacle of costume and coming off the buzz of Fashion Week, fashion was an obvious attraction. Perched perfectly on illuminated pedestals, four models exhibited a fashion installation curated by RAC Boutique with shoes provided by Holt Renfrew. It featured custom-made garments by definitive Canadian designers Calla Haynes, Joeffer Caoc, Arthur Mendonça, and Ashely Rowe. But like the silent models, the beautiful designs stood there without explanation of how they were inspired by the Canadian Opera Company.

Yes, Opera inspired this creative endeavour, this fabulous Muse Ball, but I began to think that our main attraction became merely a wallflower muse.

Looking up the stairs to the second level sat a visual art installation titled Between Two Pillars by Nadia Belerique and Jennifer Rose Sciarrino. They identified their inspiration in a statement that read, "An artist’s muse often takes the form of an object or an environment. Visual artists use objects as a reference to make artworks, and performers use props and the set in which they work as an inspiration for a character." An amalgamation of theatrical stage, cinematic set, art gallery, and decorated event venue, the intention of the creation was to "define a state of flux, and represent the peculiar - and paradoxical - mix of continual transformation and a suspended moment in time".  Intriguing concept, but what do we learn about Opera?

At every event, watching the drama of interactions amongst guests is a delightful highlight and Operanation never lacks interesting characters or style. Ladies were spotted resplendent in elegantly draped dresses from long to mini; sky high heels soared from satin, suede, to metallics; and hands gripped clutches of every shade and structure, punctuated by meticulous manicures. They were dressed to the nines with airy hopes that their picture might be taken and published by the fashion magazines and bloggers wandering about with keen eyes and cameras in tow. The theatrics of getting noticed or the act of being indifferent to the attention was both entertaining and enlightening. What is her story? Why is she here? Does she define herself as an opera lover, fashionista, or both?

As DJ John Kong conducted a busy and enthusiastic dance party, there was no Puccini or Verdi to be heard, naturally. But operatic musings were in store. First from Rufus Wainwright, we experienced a rare treat as he sat at a grand piano to perform a few pieces from his much acclaimed first opera, Prima Donna. Sublime. Later in the evening, COC Ensemble Studio members mezzo-soprano Ambur Braid and baritone Adrian Kramer shared the stage with Austra - a Toronto trio powered by classically trained musicians - in the band’s wonderfully dark and danceable tracks "Lose It" and "Beat And The Pulse". Stunning. I loved this collaboration even more when I learned the history of the connection. Front woman Katie Stelmanis had joined the Canadian Children’s Opera at age 10, sang for the Canadian Opera Company, and pursued a career in opera (while learning viola and piano) until she attended a punk show and decided she wanted to "make classical music with really fucked up, distorted crazy shit on there". Palpable chemistry, but would it encourage an opera novice to listen to more music by Ambur Braid or Katie Stelmanis?

Whether one's passion for the evening was driven by a love of fashion, art, striking a pose, music, mini-burgers or wine, Operanation delivers wholeheartedly. The organizing committee has undoubtedly created an effective formula for attracting a gorgeous crowd to an unforgettable night in the name of fostering a bright future for Canadian opera, but does the glitz and glamour of a fashionable party really showcase the muse?  Will these dedicated party people become authentic opera patrons and keep the art form alive; does it matter; or is it really all over after the fat lady sings?  This mystery will only be solved over time, but I do hope the odds are in our favour for growing the "opera nation" population.  

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