"Endless discovery is wonderful. You never stop learning. That’s the joy for me."
Colin Ainsworth's website
The first time I heard Colin Ainsworth sing was at the opera.
He has participated in this stunning art form for twenty-plus years. Opera is one of his passions. He never stops learning as there are more roles he wants to sing and more he wants to learn.
Now, I have no formal training or education in opera. I’ve attended several productions since I started reviewing. I have exited the theatre and sometimes have learned something about this dramatic art form. Sometimes I understand completely what’s going on. Other times, I think I might. There have been those rare moments where I didn’t understand a thing.
However, from my brief experience, I’ve learned there is something for everyone at the opera.
Co-Artistic Directors of Toronto’s Opera Atelier (OA) certainly espouse this thinking. Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg reached out over two years and encouraged me to attend. OA continues to look for audience members who want to learn more. It doesn’t matter if someone has no background or education in this field. Come, see, and hear unique stories told and sung with passion and intrigue.
Colin concurs wholeheartedly with this goal Marshall and Jeannette have set for OA:
“If we don’t encourage the next generation to come and see opera, there won’t be an audience in five, ten, or fifteen years. The art of opera must continue to cultivate emerging audience members.”
If he could look into a crystal ball and see where the art of opera is headed over the next five years, Colin adamantly states there has been a big shift in inclusiveness for everybody, not only for singers and performers and artists but also for the audience. For example, he was working in Pacific Opera and there is an initiative there to include the blind and the deaf, people whom one would think might not like opera. Opera Atelier has also begun initiatives to include audience members who are deaf and blind.
Colin’s parents are both deaf, so this initiative is very close to his heart. His parents love the opera because it’s very visual, everything from the theatrics right down to the lighting, the costumes, and the dancing. Some operas incorporate American Sign Language interpreters and they are placed at the side of the stage. The deaf students who attended that Pacific Opera performance were enthralled because the production was in their language.
Ainsworth works with various school groups across Canada as well. Every single time students come to the workshops and programmes offered either through OA or other companies, and then see the opera, the young people are enthralled with what they are watching.
“They love it!”
Most of the time, students say they want to come back to the opera.
How is Colin feeling about this return to the theatre even though we are still in Covid’s embrace?
He says it has been a long time coming but it is nice to be back in the theatre. Ainsworth recognizes audiences have been a bit apprehensive about returning. From his artistic perspective, he’s fine with that but he wants people to come back. What’s important is the fact confidence is re-building about sitting indoors again in crowds. Just take a look at Blue Jays’ games where people are sitting shoulder to shoulder, screaming and wearing no masks.
During the pandemic, Colin completed several digital projects with various groups, but he is quick to add:
“It’s not the same. You don’t get feedback from the audience. You don’t get the energy from the audience. You can’t play off that give and take there is in live theatre.”
‘The Resurrection' will be staged just before Easter Sunday. I did see the digital production during the pandemic, and it was fine; however, I know it will be a completely different experience live. Colin even pointed out something of which I was unaware. He found the digital production challenging:
“You’re lip-syncing to a recorded production of your voice. You have to make sure your voice and your lips are moving at the exact same time. That takes a bit of practice in remembering where you sped up or slowed down, or perhaps sung differently.”
With a laugh, Colin added he has learned and enhanced a new skill.
What is it about opera that keeps Ainsworth focused and makes him still enjoy what he has chosen as his career?
Opera has so many layers that you never seem to stop discovering. There are operas he has performed four or five times, and Colin continues to discover layers and pieces of things whether it be in the orchestra, the story, or the character. With a return to a role he may have played or sung before, Colin always discovers something new he may not have understood or hadn’t heard the first time. He’s also interested in diving into new roles now that he is of a certain age:
“Endless discovery is wonderful. You never stop learning. That’s the joy for me. That’s so cool.”
Colin has participated in new operas of the day. He never seems to tire of the older ones. If he can’t sing Handel’s Messiah each year, he humorously states it’s just not the same for him.
(Note: I must make a concerted effort to hear him sing Messiah next year).
What is it about the biblical story of ‘The Resurrection’ that lends itself so well to opera?
He further adds:
“You go through the Bible from Noah to prophets and through Jesus Christ, these are very dramatic stories. Religious themes, the pathos from Jesus’s death and his mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. These are all dramatic stories that come together as a cohesive unit to make a beautiful story.”
When I asked what Biblical story he’d like to sing if there was an opera written, Ainsworth paused momentarily and then with an: “Ooooo, Samson.” There’s also a piece by Benjamin Britten called ‘Abraham and Isaac’ that calls for alto and tenor and that’s it.
And what’s next for Colin Ainsworth once ‘The Resurrection’ concludes its run just before Easter?:
“That is always the hard question (and he has a good laugh). I travel to Parry Sound for a summer festival up there. In the fall, I’m coming back to Opera Atelier. There are a few items that I cannot share at this time, but they’re wonderful upcoming things.”
‘The Resurrection' runs April 6 and 8 at 7:30 pm and April 9 at 2:30 pm. The three performances will take place in person at Koerner Hall at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, 273 Bloor Street West. To purchase tickets online and to learn more about Opera Atelier, visit www.operaatelier.com.
To learn more about Colin Ainsworth, visit his website: www.colinainsworth.ca.