Dylan Langan faced an obstacle typical for young opera singers: nowhere to perform.
WHATSON 02:20 PM by Valerie Hill - Waterloo Region Record
Melina Garcia Zambrano as Aurelia, Domenico Sanfilippo as Solaris and members of the VCO Chorus and VCO Orchestra in “Padajuća Zvijezda.” - Courtesy Vera Causa Opera
As a newly minted baritone, Dylan Langan faced an obstacle typical for young opera singers: nowhere to perform.
Rather than complaining, the Cambridge native decided to take action and in 2015 he formed Vera Causa Opera, a company that would focus on providing opportunities for emerging performers as well as directors, musicians and backstage crew. They even developed a co-op program for high school students who want to learn about opera production.
The formula was carefully planned: start small, performing in venues such as the Cambridge Centre for the Arts, then only expand as the audience grows. And grew it did because Langan said they are pretty much at capacity for every show and this weekend the company will debut its first Canadian Opera Fest, featuring two short operas written by young Canadians and performed in Cambridge and Waterloo.
"Padajuća Zvijezda" by Julijana Hajdinjak and "The Covenant" by Dylann Miller are both fully staged operas of just over half an hour each, presented as a double bill.
Both operas were written by music students who were required to create an opera as their capstone project before graduating. Hajdinjak, who is also Vera Causa's social media director, and Miller approached Langan to pitch their operas.
"Two people came to me and said 'I've written this opera and there's nowhere to put it on,' " he said. "That fulfilment is fundamentally what we do.
"What if it never gets put on, it's been quite the process (of composing)."
The young composers were paid for their work and they will have the joy of seeing their operas performed by other young, emerging artists.
For his work bringing opera and opportunities to Waterloo Region in such a novel way, Langan was presented with the Lieutenant Governor 2018 Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers award.
Low ticket prices, a casual atmosphere — it's OK to show up in jeans, sandals and barely combed hair — Vera Causa's operas are about as grassroots as you can get while still respecting the genre. Besides, where else are you going to have the opportunity to sit just a few feet away from a trained opera singer and hear those vocal chords in full vibrato?
The first opera, "Padajuća Zvijezda" is a Croatian tale about two lovers living in a world where love is against the law. They are sent to Earth as punishment. The opera is sung in Croatian and English, with music by Julijana Hajdinjak and a libretto by Julijana and her sister Danijela.
Langan said he had coaches on hand during rehearsal to ensure the accents and pronunciations were correct. He also noted, there are less than half a dozen Croatian operas in the repertoire which makes this production even more compelling, a voice not often heard in the genre.
After intermission, the mood turns darker with "The Covenant" a story about witches, lesbians, priests and mailmen. This is not a show for young children, admits Langan.
"It follows the journey of a teenage girl," he said. "It takes you her through her growth and development in a small, conservative town."
The girl is faced with many challenges in this town after discovering she is both a lesbian and a witch.
"It's a wonderful story, gets to the teenage struggle in a way we don't often see," he said.
Already planning next year's opera fest, Vera Causa sent out a general call for submissions and received 35. The winning entries will be chosen based not just on story and music but the number of soloists and ensemble needed.
"Can we logistically make it work?" said Langan, who noted they also asked an unusual question of the composers in their application: Why is it important to you, to your development as a composer?
He wanted to know the story and the motivation behind the music, how it will help move the composer's career forward. That is, after all, the point of the organization, to promote the careers of young opera stars while at the same time turning otherwise unexperienced audiences onto this art form.
And what are the plans for 2019?
"We are going to have a third show, in Guelph," Langan said.
Canadian Opera Fest
Friday, June 22, 7 p.m.
Waterloo — Knox Presbyterian Church, 50 Erb St. W., Waterloo
Saturday, June 23, 7 p.m.
Cambridge Centre for the Arts, 60 Dickson St., Cambridge
Tickets: general $15, members $10, students and children free
At the door or online: vcopera.ca/tickets