Erin Stone, from the cast of Whose Opera is it Anyway?!. Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography.Opera is no stranger to onstage ridiculousness—but it isn’t always as slyly self-aware as this.

Following its inaugural show of the same name in July 2015, Loose TEA Music Theatre is back with a new installment of opera improv series Whose Opera is it Anyway?!. Inspired by the popular improv comedy TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?, Loose TEA’s production strings together improv comedy games into an opera of sorts, where professionals from the local opera community are forced to put their vocal and theatrical talents to comedic, and unexpected, use.

The show, which is organized by Loose TEA’s artistic director Alaina Viau and coached by Carly Heffernen of Second City, takes place on Friday, June 16, at Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto. The cast itself is a promising cross-section of local opera singers, including Jeff Boyd, Amanda Cogan, Adanya Dunn, Gillian Grossman, Rachel Krehm, Jonathan MacArthur, Erin Stone and Lindsay Sutherland-Boal. Schmopera’s Greg Finney will host and Natasha Fransblow will accompany at the piano.

Loose TEA isn’t the only group experimenting with musical manifestations of improv comedy, either. Also in town this month from London’s West End is Showstopper!, an improvised musical comedy running at the Panasonic Theatre until June 25. The show features a troupe of musical comedians billed as ‘The Showstoppers’, who, similar to Whose Line, use audience suggestions to create an on-the-spot performance of musical theatre. While the show has toured extensively in the UK, this Mirvish-hosted run is the group’s North American debut.

Whether these shows represent a growing trend or simply coincidental offshoots into music theatre’s less serious side remains to be seen. And though it’s of course impossible to say exactly what these shows will offer, the mix of operatic and musical tropes with improv comedy is an interesting one, which pokes fun at the melodrama of music theatre while offering something more casual, spontaneous and light-spirited than your average Verdi or Wagner. A bit of a collision of worlds, perhaps, but one that makes sense—and one worth watching.

Loose TEA Music Theatre’s Whose Opera is it Anyway?! takes place at Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto on Friday, June 16 at 9:30pm, and is a 19+ show. Tickets are $12; for details visit Showstopper! runs until June 25 at the Panasonic Theatre; more info at

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at

2208 HT BannerAndrei Feher, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s Music Director Designate. Photo credit: Matthieu Gauchet.The end of a season is always a time for shifts of musical leadership—and this year in particular has seen more changes of conductors, concertmasters, and artistic directors than most. And while, between Toronto’s closing venues and school boards’ slimming down of performing arts programs, most news on local music has waxed apocalyptic, these changes offer something more familiar, and more hopeful: local stars leaving the spotlight, and fresh, promising faces taking their place.

One of those places is at the helm of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. After ten years with the orchestra, artistic director Edwin Outwater is stepping down, finishing his tenure at the end of the 2016/17 season. Known for his charisma on the podium and for his knack for inventive programming, Outwater’s absence is sure to be felt by the orchestra and its audience alike.

“Edwin came to us just in the nick of time,” writes K-W Symphony principal oboist Jim Mason, on the tribute page the orchestra has put up in Outwater’s honour. “We were floundering and going nowhere, still in a world of strife as an orchestra. He came and led us, both on the podium and off, showing us what we were capable of and making us believe in ourselves. He added life to the organization and the city. I wish him all the best and I will sorely miss him.”

The K-W Symphony’s upcoming concerts on May 26 and 27 will be Outwater’s final concert with the orchestra. Titled “Grand Finale: Edwin’s Farewell,” Outwater will lead the orchestra, the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto in John Adams’ Harmonium, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, and Richard Reed Parry’s Outwater Fanfare, composed in Outwater’s honour. Following the show, Outwater will assume the title of Music Director Laureate, and will hand over his role to 26-year-old Romanian-Canadian conductor Andrei Feher, who will serve as Music Director Designate in 2017/18 before officially taking over leadership of the orchestra in August of next year. For more information on the concerts, or on the orchestra, visit

Here’s a recap of other arrivals and departures in local classical music leadership.

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church

Departing: John Tuttle

Arriving: Matthew Larkin

John Tuttle, organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church since 1989, retired from his position there last July, and has just been replaced by incoming organist and music director Matthew Larkin (effective August 2017). Larkin, perhaps best known to WholeNote readers as conductor of the Larkin Singers, comes to Toronto from Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral, and is a former organ student of the University of Toronto—where he studied with none other than John Tuttle himself.

More info:


Pax Christi Chorale

Departing: Stephanie Martin

Arriving: David Bowser

Stephanie Martin, artistic director of Pax Christi Chorale since 1996, will be departing at the end of this season. Taking her place will be David Bowser, who is already active as a local conductor with the Hart House Chorus and the Mozart Project and who will lead Pax Christi in a 3-concert season beginning in the fall. Details:



Arrived: Elisa Citterio

This new arrival is already well-known to many local Tafel fans, having just co-directed her first concert as the baroque orchestra’s Music Director Designate earlier this month. She’ll be officially joining the orchestra, taking over from longtime director Jeanne Lamon, in the 2017/18 season. More info:



Arrived: Josephine Ridge

Josephine Ridge joined the Luminato Festival team in summer 2016, moving to Canada from Australia, where she was artistic director of the Melbourne Festival, and taking over from outgoing Luminato artistic director Jörn Weisbrodt. This summer’s festival, taking place in various locations throughout the city June 14 to 25, will be the first edition under Ridge’s leadership. More about Ridge in the upcoming summer issue of The WholeNote; and more on this year’s festival at

Young Voices Toronto

Departing: Zimfira Poloz

Arriving: TBA

Zimfira Poloz, who has been a conductor of the children’s choir Young Voices Toronto since 2002 and artistic director since 2004, will be leaving her position at the end of the season. Young Voices Toronto still hasn’t divulged who her replacement will be, but will do so in the coming weeks—look for an announcement in the June issue of Halftones! More info:

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at

2208 HT Banner2Flutist Leslie Newman.Once a year, Hamilton’s street-level music scene gets a welcome classical infusion as the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra hosts its annual What Next Festival—a celebration of up-and-coming music from Canadian-born composers. This year, the festival’s seventh, the theme is based on the specifics of Canadian regions such as its land, wildlife and folk music—and has composers writing about what Canada is to them.

Directed by Abigail Richardson-Schulte, the festival—for which all tickets are PWYC—takes place between May 23 and May 28, in various venues around Hamilton. Of particular note is a concert on May 27, where the HPO’s principal flutist Leslie Newman will be a featured performer in a chamber ensemble playing pieces by Hamilton composer William Peltier. Peltier's work (which appears alongside pieces by John Beckwith, Brian Current, Barbara Monk Feldman, Derek Charke and Liam Ritz) has Newman imitating loons, stomping on plywood and playing with throat singers on a recording, as well as playing a jig. Straying away from the traditional classical style of Mozart and Beethoven to introduce a more contemporary sound adds a level of intrigue that makes this music worth experiencing in person.

The What Next Festival will feature both prominent and emerging composers: Hamilton locals William Peltier and Liam Ritz, as well as renowned composers Marjan Mozetich, Sir Ernest MacMillan and Allan Gordon Bell. The music that will be played ranges from works for full string orchestra to solo and small chamber ensemble performances.

On May 28, HPO principal clarinetist Stephen Pierre will be playing a program of music that reflects nature in Canada through the eyes and compositions of its composers. When asked what piece Stephen is most excited to share, he pointed to La Nuit s’ouvre (The Night Opens), a solo work by Elma Miller. “The piece is for unaccompanied clarinet and represents the shimmers of light and life as day becomes night,” explained Pierre. “The freedom Miller has granted me in creating this atmosphere in sound is something that is seldom afforded a performer. Animal sounds, weather effects and changes of luminosity produced by the clarinet timbre are challenges that inspire creativity in a performer. The work is brilliant and Miller will be on hand to introduce it to the audience.” The magic of pieces like this is in how it encourages one to use their imagination, and create picturesque imagery inspired by the music that is being performed.

As a musician who doesn’t have a lot of money and loves classical music, it is exciting to be able to attend an affordable festival featuring renowned musicians and composers. The chamber music in smaller and more intimate settings is what first caught my eye and makes me excited to attend. I'm sure that this, plus the allure of a string orchestra with solo performances, will entice classical and new music lovers from across the greater Toronto and Hamilton areas to attend and enjoy this wonderful event.

For more information on the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s What Next Festival, visit

Cole Gibson is a freelance woodwind player based in Hamilton.

Bechdel Tested's last panel talk, on women in comedy. Photo credit: Akemi Liyanage.When it comes to how we treat women in the music industry, we can do better.

The classical music scene is no exception—in fact, in many cases it lags further behind than most. In a world where the Met programming an opera by a female-identifying composer makes international headlines, and where audiences still start scandals around the kinds of dresses Yuja Wang wears to her concerts, there is a long way to go before women in music have the platform, and the community, they need to succeed.

Erica Shiner certainly thinks so. She comes from a communications background but has long been an advocate for women in the music scene—and at the upcoming event in her film series Bechdel Tested, she’s using cinema as a springboard for starting feminist discussion within our music community. The concept for the series is simple: based on the Bechdel Test—a test named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel that requires a work of fiction to feature at least two female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man—each edition of Bechdel Tested screens a women-centric film, alongside a panel discussion about the larger structural issues referenced in that film.

Hosted on Sunday, April 23 at the Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles (where Shiner is a member of the board) and co-presented with Toronto Women in Music, “Bechdel Tested: Women in Music” is the series’ sixth installment. This month’s event will feature panelists Robyn Phillips of Vallens, rapper Michie Mee, and Tao-Ming Lao of Billions Corporation, moderated by Aliya Pabani of arts and culture podcast The Imposter, and will screen 1954 film Carmen Jones.

“I wanted to use cinema as a vehicle to foster and support feminist community and networking for women in different industries,” says Shiner, who started the series one year ago. “I love the concept of the Bechdel Test, and I thought the brilliance of that concept would translate well into a series that does more than just screen movies that pass the test.”

“A lot of film programming is catered toward cinephiles, and that's fine, but I wanted to create an experience where cinema is a platform for women in all sorts of different fields,” she adds. “Each event brings together a different type of audience, whether it's those who work in the particular industry, people interested in the film we're screening, or just those interested in building feminist community.”

Shiner points out that in the music industry, where many women work in the public eye, toxic gendered frameworks can be especially ubiquitous, and especially insidious. “Music is an industry that's much less insular than others, in the sense that nearly everyone actively consumes music of some sort,” she says. “So the ways that women are both represented and repressed within the industry are very visible to everyone. You look at Kesha's legal issues after being assaulted by her manager, the Ike and Tina Turner story, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Nannerl Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn—these women were either ignored or devoured by the music world. You have a lot of really prominent women in the spotlight, but an absolute dearth of women behind the scenes. It's inevitable that this dynamic will create a culture of gendered exploitation. At every Bechdel Tested panel we want to look at these structural issues and brainstorm solutions.”

Still from the film Carmen Jones.The film, Carmen Jones, is a 1954 movie version of Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway musical of the same name, and is an adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen set in the 1940s American south. Dorothy Dandridge, who plays the role of Carmen, was nominated for an Oscar—the first African-American woman to receive a nomination—for her performance in the film.

“Representation, not just of women but of POC and the LGBTQ community, is paramount to what we are doing with this series,” says Shiner. “I always prioritize WOC when we are selecting panelists but we weren't paying enough attention to this in terms of our film selections. Our last four films all had white women leads, and so it was a necessity that we found a film that featured a WOC, and when I discovered Carmen Jones I was shocked that I'd never heard of it before. [...] There's really no reason other than so many decades of racism that this film isn't a well-known classic. I'm so glad that I found it and we have the opportunity to screen it.”

The screening this month is one in a string of Bechdel Tested events, each of which highlights the work of women in a different profession. And for Shiner, it’s proven a powerful way of using her connection with the Revue to reach out to women from an array of communities across Toronto.

“As with all of our events, more than anything I want to provide our audience with a sense of belonging and empowerment,” she says. “Women are frustrated and alienated by the sexism that pervades nearly every profession out there. We want to bring women together to inspire them to carry on and to strengthen their resolve to push for the changes we all need to grow and thrive in our respective fields.”

It’s a worthy goal—and a film worth watching in the process.

“Bechdel Tested: Women in Music” takes place at the Revue Cinema on April 23 at 7pm. For details and ticket information, visit the event’s Facebook page at

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at


Update, April 17, 11am EST: This article previously contained errors regarding the nature of Shiner's connection to film and to the Revue, and has been updated to correct this. 

2205 Feat Hughs 1After months of difficult discussions, music venue Hugh’s Room is back in business.

Hugh’s Room was one of several Toronto music venues slotted to close so far this year, after former owner Richard Carson announced a state of insolvency this January. Now, headed by a new committee of volunteers and rebranded as “Hugh’s Room Live,” the venue has relaunched as a community-based not-for-profit, and will be opening its doors again later this month on April 22.

In some ways, this new incarnation of Hugh’s Room is the story of a successful community rallying cry. Hugh’s Room was a much-loved space for Roncesvalles residents and for the music community at large. After Carson’s January announcement, a working group quickly came together to discuss the possibility of turning the space into a not-for-profit arts organization, several members of which plan on becoming eventual board members of Hugh’s Room Live. And the GoFundMe page for Hughs Room Live already boasts over $114,000 in contributions from community members who want to see the company back on its feet.

As Lauren Pelley from the CBC notes, making that happen will be an “uphill climb.” The organizing committee has their work cut out for them if they want Hugh’s Room Live to stay open in a sustainable way; there are several looming problems ahead. For one, while the announcement of upcoming concerts at the space is a refreshing change, the venue is still far from fully booked. There are also issues to sort out involving the shift of ownership from Carson, who will serve only in an advisory role with Hugh’s Room Live, to a new council. And the building that Hugh’s Room Live belongs to is also now under new ownership—something that the working group wasn’t aware of until after the site changed hands. It means that, at the end of Hugh’s Room Live’s current three-year lease, it’s highly possible that the organization might have to find a new home.

In the meantime, though—for the first time since January—there are concerts. The new Hugh’s Room Live reopens on April 22 with a show by folk singer-songwriter Connie Kaldor, a show by the Paul Deslauriers Band on April 26, and a gala concert and fundraiser on April 29, plus seven different shows slotted so far for the month of May. It’ll be a long and difficult road ahead before Hugh’s Room Live can lay claim to a financially stable future—but it’s a start.

Hugh’s Room Live reopens to the public on April 22, 2017. For details on their upcoming shows or on how to support the organization, visit their website at

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and musicologist, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at

Hello, Hugh’s:

One Toronto music venue makes a comeback 

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