104 Underground produced by Delsur Productions for OMNI TV features Mercury Opera performing in the Bay LRT Stations in Edmonton in November 2011. I had a chance to catch the premiere of the 50 minute film on March 8 at the Library Theatre and to meet Darcia Parada, the founder and artistic director of Mercury Opera. Darcia is a classically-trained opera singer. When she’s not dreaming of creating fantastical operatic productions in unusual public places, she works as a production assistant on the Blackstone series for APTN.
Underground 104 is scheduled to broadcast on OMNI TV this summer.
Darcia has performed from Canada to Kazakhstan in leading operatic roles and on stages as diverse as Kyrgyz State Opera, Tashkent Bolshoi in Uzbekistan, Almaty Opera, The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Dartington Festival, Brooklyn Lyric Opera and Usedomer Germany. Recording credits include numerous film soundtracks on the Decca and London labels.
Her entry into the realm of producer and director was inspired in 1994 by an invitation to perform Act 1 of La Boheme inside a loft in Tribeca, New York. After successful reviews, she then began dreaming of reinventing opera by mounting productions in unexpected public places and making it accessible to a wider audience.
Mercury Opera was first established in Manhattan, New York in 1999 and launched with the debut of Cavalleria Rusticana inside of Studio Ze in May 2000. The production’s three performances were documented on ABC NEWS Lifetime LIVE. Since then Mercury Opera has been featured on CBC Television, ABC NEWS, OMNI Television, Brooklyn Television’s “Caught in the Act”, City TV’s Breakfast Television, CTV, CBC Radio and has been favourably reviewed by Globe and Mail, L Magazine, The Brooklyn Paper, Crain’s, The New York Post, The Calgary Herald, The Edmonton Journal, VUE Weekly, AVENUE Magazine and others.
In 2011 she made a pitch on CBC’s Dragon’s Den in 2011 and received a standing ovation from five of “Canada’s savviest investors.” Even the crusty, hard-to-please Kevin O’Leary reported he “loved it,” found it “mesmerizing” and “absolutely fantastic.”
Later that year, Mercury Opera staged a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly complete with an 18 piece orchestra. In her review Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons wrote that:
Mercury is a bold young company, headed by the ambitious impresario Darcia Parada. Two years ago, Mercury staged a fresh and inventive production of Puccini’s Il Tabarro, – first, the guests cruised the North Saskatchewan on the Edmonton Queen, then the company sang to us from the deck of the boat, while we watched from the river bank. It was clever and fun – but because of the logistics, the singers had to be miked, and the imperfect sound system sadly spoiled the effect.
Friday evening, I took my own daughter and husband to Giovanni Caboto Park, to see and hear Mercury Opera’s new production of Puccini’s beloved tear-jerker, Madama Butterfly. Mercury is a bold young company, headed by the ambitious impresario Daria Parada. Two years ago, Mercury staged a fresh and inventive production of Puccini’s Il Tabarro, – first, the guests cruised the North Saskatchewan on the Edmonton Queen, then the company sang to us from the deck of the boat, while we watched from the river bank.
It was clever and fun – but because of the logistics, the singers had to be miked, and the imperfect sound system sadly spoiled the effect.Madama Butterfly, performed under a grand white tent in Caboto Park, suffers no such technical woes. Far from it.
The gifted young cast – some local singers and actors, other rising stars from across North America – perform on a small thrust stage, while the audience sits on benches and folding chairs, practically at their feet – the minature, but mighty, orchestra, under the direction of Hiroya Miura, off to the side. It’s the most intimate, up-close production of an opera I’ve even seen, a perfect way to watch Puccini’s intimate domestic tragedy unfold.
Seen this close up, Cho-cho san, the young girl who falls in love with an American naval officer, seems especially human and vulnerable, and Pinkerton, her cowardly cad of a seducer, seems especially despicable. It helps, at this (non) distance, that Manami Hattori-Fallen, the Japanese-born soprano who plays Butterfly, and Jeffrey Michael Hartman, the American tenor who plays Pinkerton, can act as well as they can sing. Hartman plays Pinkerton as a venal voluptuary – you can feel the waves of drunken lust radiating from him as he strips off his 15-year-old bride’s delicate pink kimono.
But it’s Hattori-Fallen’s luminous aria, Un Bel Di that electrifies the audience – with nothing to divide you from the stage, it’s as if she’s singing it just to and for you.Mercury has staged a magical version of Madama Butterfly that works, not in spite of, but because of, its setting. That’s wonder enough. But the company’s ambitions are even larger – to make Edmontonians fall in love, not just with Butterfly and Puccini, but with the Via Italia on 95th Street.
If you pay the full ticket price, you’re not just entitled to a night of great musical theatre – you get to stroll the city’s Italian district, sampling wine and beer, pastries and Italian sausage, from Spinelli’s Bar Italia, the Zocalo Gallery and Delish Custom Cakes. It’s a pre-show walking and eating tour of Little Italy – and there’s no doubt that Puccini sounds even sweeter if you’re full of champagne and red velvet cupcakes. If you’d rather eat on your own at one of the great Italian (or Chinese or Vietnamese) restaurants in the area, you can also get half-price rush tickets at the door, or tent flap, starting at 7:45.
As if that weren’t enough, every performance includes intermission fireworks, in the middle of Caboto Park. It’s not only a fun and fantastic counterpoint to the elegant solemnity of the opera – it’s a great way to share the joy and colour of the event with all the neighbours, who gather on the hill every night for the free fireworks show.Of Music, Memory and MagicIf you love opera, do yourself a favour and scoot down to Giovanni Caboto tonight for the last performance.
If you’ve never seen an opera, this is your chance to fall in love with Puccini and Butterfly, up close and personal. And if you’ve never or rarely ventured into this historic part of Edmonton’s city core, come down to 95th Street tonight to Little Italy. Even if you don’t see the show, even if you just walk up and down 95th Street, shop at the Italian Centre, have dinner at Sorrentino’s, and take in the free fireworks, you’ll see the Via Italia and Edmonton’s so-called “inner city” through fresh and enchanted eyes.
That’s the power of music. The power of love.What makes a city feel “real”? What makes it feel cosmopolitan, full of life and soul? It’s due in no small part of courage and visionary artistic pioneers and innovators like Darcia Parada – who share with us the gift of seeing and inhabiting the place we live in a whole new way. Who give us the gift of music, and of love itself – who give our city its spirit, its identity, and its true life.
Darcia is currently reimagining La Fiamma — a production they first mounted and staged in a downtown Edmonton back alley — in order to present it at the Calgary’s Olympic Plaza on September 28, 2013 during Alberta Culture Days.
Mercury Opera is based in Edmonton where they have been presenting regularly for the past four seasons while maintaining a presence in NY developing their international touring company. See more about Mercury Opera.