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Magnetic North: Opera carnival comes to the Canal

By Alejandro Bustos on June 4, 2015


Every once in a while, a really special show comes to Ottawa that just makes you go “wow”.  One such event is Fiamma!, an outdoor opera that is taking place on Sunday, June 7 at 9 pm on the shores of the Rideau Canal near the National War Memorial.

Performed by Edmonton’s Mercury Opera, this 30-minute extravagance will feature arias, a fire act, circus performers from the Ottawa region and flamboyant costumes.  Even better, the show — which is part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival — is pay-what-you can.

While pre-registration for this concert is full, standing room space will be available.  Moreover, it’s free to join the pre-show festivities that will consist of a travelling outdoor carnival.

Beginning in the Byward Market at 7:30 pm, a roaming group of artists and pop-up performances will entertain both young and old alike for 90 minutes.  Accompanying the travelling procession will be dancers, musicians, street performers, lantern bearers from Ottawa’s Lumière Festival and stilt-walkers.

It promises to be a brilliant evening of fun.

“We have a mixed audience,” says Darcia Parada, the founder and artistic director of Mercury Opera, as she describes her company’s innovative outdoor shows.  “There are people who know about us and come out.  There are passerby’s [who stop to observe].”

Then there is a third category, adds Parada, which includes people who see the performances in unusual locations, such as one woman who observed a concert from her room high up in a Hyatt Hotel.  (The women was so thrilled with the performance that she rushed down to see it close-up. Sadly, she did not arrive in time, but she did rave about her experience to Parada during a chance meeting afterwards).

Darcia Parada

Darcia Parada

Now, truth be told, I don’t like seeing opera in a theatre. Too often I find the performances stuffy and the crowd a bit stiff.  But put me in a kitchen as I cook, or staring at a beautiful sunset with a glass of wine, or even playing with my children on a Saturday morning, and opera suddenly becomes a delight.

For me, context is significant.  When I raised this thought with Parada she surprised me by saying that she related.

“[At times] I feel like I am the Pied Piper trying to grab the other side,” she says about her efforts to grown the audience for opera.  “But sometimes I feel like I am on the other side . . . .  I love opera —  it’s my art form — but sometimes I am flat out bored [in a theatre].”

But by re-imagining operas in innovative outdoor settings, in conjunction with a carnival experience, and suddenly stuffy old opera becomes a fantastic realm.