CANADIAN ROCK BAND COLLABORATES WITH EMERGING OPERA STARS FOR OPERANATION
Story by Kate Davies
Music has oft been cited as the universal language of mankind. It is perhaps the only tool we possess as humans that has the ability to cross cultural, historical, religious, and other prejudice boundaries. In this way, Toronto’s Operanation blends seemingly polarized musical genres into an exciting audible feast through its mash-up of rock and operatic performances.
Established in 2005, Operanation is the Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) premier fundraising event. It raises over $100,000 annually for the COC’s Ensemble Studio, Canada’s program for young opera professionals. Taking place at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, its purpose is to make the artform more accessible to the YouTube generation, particularly as one which has been historically reserved for older crowds. The theme for this year’s gala is “Sweet Revenge”, a tribute to COC’s fall production of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus: an operetta which indulges in revenge, disguises, mistaken identity, champagne, and seduction.
When speaking with Max Kerman of Hamilton-based rock band Arkells, it becomes clear why this Juno Award-winning Group of the Year were selected to help embody Operanation‘s musically-blended philosophy. Having toured extensively since the band’s creation in 2006, they are well-known for performing spontaneous motown cover sets, which contrasts interestingly with their brand of alternative rock. The Arkells are set to perform tonight with COC Ensemble Studio soprano Ambur Braid, alongside Nelly Furtado performing with other rising young opera stars from the Ensemble. Operanation promises to be a night of extravagance and dramatics.
So, you just got back from Germany today?
Yeah, last night we got back, and I tried to stay up as late as I could – trying to get myself re-acclimatized. But I’m feeling good.
How was your tour?
It was amazing. It was our first time in Germany and we got to open for Billy Talent. They do really well over there. We were playing anywhere between 4,000 and 9,000 people a night. It’s a beautiful, beautiful country and we got to see a lot of it on our days off and really explore the cities.
So you guys got some free time in and got to see some good sights?
Yeah, we were on a bus and we’d get to the venue at like 9:00 am. We wouldn’t have to do anything until 5:00 pm so we really had the day off every day basically to explore.
That’s awesome. So you have Operanation coming up on Thursday. When you were in Germany did you see any opera or classical music at all? Because I know the origins of opera music are in Germany…
[laughs] Yeah, yeah that’s right. Naw, no we didn’t – we saw a lot of punk rock [laughs]. But the director of the Canadian Opera Company, Alexander Neef, he’s from Germany. So when we were exchanging emails he said “have fun in my home country!” [laughs]
So how did you guys come to participate in Operanation?
Well, I think we’ve sort of become known as a band that likes to collaborate with all different kinds of artists. And I think when you see the type of bands we’ve toured with, it’s been very eclectic, you know. We’ve toured with The Darcys, with Rich Aucoin, we’ve played with The Black Crowes, with Alexisonfire. So, Jeffrey from Arts & Crafts [Jeffrey Remedios, founder of Arts and Crafts and Operanation 9: Sweet Revenge Co-Chair Records] reached out asking us if we’d like to give Operanation a go and we were really excited about the opportunity because any outside music is a really good opportunity for meeting different kinds of people.
Yeah, and it might even bring a new sound to you guys. You never know how it might influence you, right?
Yeah it’s true. You know, we have so much to learn when it comes to that area of music. It’s really not something we’re that familiar with but I heard some stuff from Ambur Braid, one of the opera singers, and she was incredible. There’s real power and spirit to opera music, which I think is very relatable to a rock and roll band like ourselves because there’s a lot of gusto put into the performances. That’s something I can really appreciate.
Do any of you guys have any classical training? Piano, or anything like that?
Anthony, our keyboard player, he was at school at Humber for jazz and he’s taken piano lessons since he was probably 6 years old or something. So he would be the one guy who has the most experience in that world.
What singers are you guys performing with on Thursday?
I don’t really know…we’re rehearsing with them tomorrow, so it’s all coming together right now. Ambur Braid is one of them and I don’t know who the other one is yet. We’re gonna find out tomorrow.
Yeah, I’ve heard some great things about her – she performed at last year’s Operanation.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I saw her perform with Broken Social Scene and it was amazing. It was a crappy YouTube clip from a fan but it was amazing. She was beautiful and she has a really powerful voice…it looked great.
That’s awesome. So, do you have any clues as to what to expect from your performance tonight?
Well, we’re going to be doing a couple of Arkells songs and we’re going to be doing a couple covers. I can’t wait ‘cuz for me playing music is about being part of a community and sharing, and it’s supposed to be a very inclusive thing. In our shows we always like to try to include the other bands we’re playing with. Or when we’re recording stuff we like to collaborate with other kinds of artists. When I’m listening to music I like to find similarities between other music that I like and something new that I’m listening to as opposed to like hearing the differences. So I think it’ll just be more of the same…just different artists coming together and doing their best to compliment each other ‘cuz that’s what I think music should be about.
I have one more question for you: is there any artist in particular, dead or alive, that you would love to collaborate with?
Oh, that’s a good question. Oh man, whew! I mean…I always want to just blurt out Bruce Springsteen but that’s too obvious. I know this seems like a “hip” answer to give you but I really do love that Frank Ocean stuff. He’s a really killer R&B singer. We just covered one of his songs actually. When I hear the songs I just hear a really terrific song with a really amazing voice so that’s what inspired us to do a cover of it. So, I’ll say Frank Ocean.
The Arkells are embarking on a Canada-wide tour opening for Lights beginning October 26th to November 21st.
You can purchase last minute tickets to Operanation online or call 416-306-2309.
Operanation 9: Sweet Revenge
Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West, Toronto)
October 18, 9:00 pm