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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 3

Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 - 25 years of promoting

by Wah Keung Chan / November 1, 2001

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Every fall, young singers from across Canada prepare for auditions and competitions. The rewards are usually cash prizes and recognition. The set of auditions organized by Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20, however, is different--the jury includes many European opera directors and the prizes consist of contracts or tours in Europe. “I believe in giving singers the experience of auditioning and performing in Europe,” said tenor Alain Nonat, founding director of Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Originally from Paris, Nonat trained as a heldentenor and continued his studies in Montreal before returning to Europe in 1970 to begin his career.

Returning to Montreal in 1975, he married Canadian soprano Sylvia Burla and settled in Montreal. Performing opportunities locally being limited at that time, Nonat became a full-time elementary school music teacher. His European experiences prompted him to look for ways to promote opera and dance to the public, and to help singers. Thus Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 (TL20) was born. The name is a fusion of lyric, choreography and 20 for 20th century music. Its first activities were aimed at the general public through its Festival of Opera and several thematic exhibitions devoted to composers, opera and dance. In 1980, the exhibition Pavillon de l’Opera opened at Man and his World in Montreal, attracting over 100,000 visitors in the summers 1980-1983. The collection now lies in storage, ready for showing. In 1986, Nonat created Si L’Opéra m’était conté, a mini show to introduce opera to youth at schools.

Giving Canadians an opportunity to obtain valuable performing and auditioning experience has always been one of Nonat’s wishes. “While performing opportunities in Canada have increased, it is still important for Canadian musicians, especially singers, to find work in Europe if they want to have a career,” said Nonat. “There is a larger variety of experience there.” In 1987, TL20 created Les Journées de la musique française, a bi-annual week of competition, masterclasses and concerts devoted to French music. Nonat began to develop partnerships and exchanges in Europe, and in 1991, this led to Les rencontres musicales Tchèques et Slovaques, a bi-annual competition with cash prizes and concert tours in the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Finally, in 1994, the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques (JAL) was born. This annual audition allows singers to audition in Canada in front of a jury of opera directors from Canada and mid-size European companies (the people who hire), with prizes that include engagements with those companies. Furthermore, the auditions serve as the Canadian and North American semi-finals for international competitions such as the Verviers, Belvedere, Bilbao and Paris Voix Nouvelles, thereby saving singers the cost of travelling to Europe for the eliminations. The first round of JAL is held in the spring and culminates with the finals in December at a Gala Concert in Montreal where young European singers perform as part of the cultural exchange, and where an average of ten singers receive prizes. Some of Canada’s leading young singers have benefited, including Dominique Blier, Louise Marcotte, Monique Pagé and Eric Laporte. Last year, the JAL’s discovery was mezzo Michèle Losier, who will be making her European debut at the Opéra d’Avignon in December. JAL has also helped educate singers. A lecture given two years ago by two members of the jury revealed the differences between the German and French house systems.

Since 1991, Nonat has spent summers in Europe adjudicating competitions and giving masterclasses on French repertoire. The volunteer activities of TL20 keep him and Burla busy, but he seems ready to take on another project. This past June, Nonat attended the first congress of Arts Universels, the proposed Arts Olympics, an initiative of Marc Verriere, founder of the World Philharmonic Orchestra. The Arts Olympics are slated to make their debut in 2003 with categories in music for composition and performance. Dance, theatre, visual arts and multimedia will also be presented.

Auditions for upcoming TL20 activities in Montreal (October 30, 31 and November 3) are free to the public . The Galas for the Rencontres Tchèques et Slovaques and the JAL are Dec 4 and 9, respectively. See listings. (514-684-7287).

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