1. What does the Pencil Salesman mean to you?
That is a great question! The opera itself is a remarkable idea that has come to life. It has been amazing to see it come to fruition over the past couple of years. I feel very grateful to be part of any creative process where I've been involved from the beginning and can bear witness to the evolution of the project. For example, I remember a previous workshop where I sang a different role to my current roles, which Brian tailored to my vocal range. It's wonderful to work so closely with a composer.
The character of the Pencil Salesman himself is another question. Brian has created an archetypal, mystical figure disguised as an ordinary man. He has existed since the beginning of time and carries a wisdom that is ageless. He is every man but no one wishes to give him the time of day. It is not the selling of pencils that is important to him, but what people can discover in themselves. This is what gives him purpose. I look forward to exploring this many-layered character anew in every rehearsal and performance.
2. What is favourite medium for communication (beyond talking/singing in person) and why?
Mediums for communication have really changed in my lifetime and I am sure they will continue to. I enjoy my phone as a communication device. It is convenient and immediate. On the other hand, there is something lost in a quick text that will just fade into the ether. Having recently moved to Toronto, unpacking boxes has really opened my eyes to what I hold dear from my past. I cherish finding letters from my true love and pictures from childhood. Nowadays to find recent pictures, I have to scroll through my computer which I find less than satisfying. The opera The Pencil Salesman is all about back to the basics. I am thrilled to be part of a project that reminds us that, with the conveniences of technology comes a greater loss, "the personal touch".
3. What has influenced you during your work on this opera?
With a project like this, where we work on the opera over a span of years, I have the opportunity to explore my character more deeply. Each time we workshop this piece, I come away with a new perspective. I know that the creative process will continue to shed new light on the work itself, and deepen my understanding, as we approach opening night.
4. When did you start working on the project and what is your process like for a new work?
Exploring a new creation is always exciting, but it is no different to the work of interpreting existing music. To me, music is timeless. That being said, the enjoyment of discovering new work and co-creating it with the team is tremendously satisfying.
5. What other projects do you have coming up?
As I write this, I've just finished a great run of Against Nature, another opera world premiere by composer James Rolfe, choregraphed by James Kudelka. Next season I sing the title role in Don Giovanni with Florentine Opera, Mozart Requiem with the Milwaukee Symphony, and Messiah with conductor Nic McGegan and the Calgary Philharmonic. I'm also looking forward to reprising a programme of Noel Coward songs with some dear friends and colleagues this fall.
Connecting is as simple as letting go.
John Fanning – Boris
Donna Bennett – Rose
Alexander Dobson – The Pencil Salesman
Olivia Rapos – Violet
Virginia Hatfield – Daisy
Keith Klassen – Edward
Gabrielle Prata – Flo
Robert Longo – Aaron
Daniel Warren – Conductor
Michael Mori – stage direction
Caroline Langill & Gord Langill – stage & costume design
Andy Thomspon – sound design
Gord Reid – lighting design
The Story: All is rosy with Boris Ball. Or so it seems. The patriarch of a family of inventors, Boris lives blissfully in the past, in the beloved company of his wife Rose and his prize invention, the Personal Touch Typewriter. But ever cynical of the frenzied world of technological advancement swirling dizzily around him, Boris becomes increasingly oblivious to the challenges ripping his family apart. It is up to a wayward pencil salesman who draws him into the present by introducing him to someone he never knew: his own granddaughter. Is connecting really as simple as letting go?
Get the details on our Connecting Through Song Week including a Vocal Intensive with Michael Warren and workshops & seminars in conjunction with performances of The Pencil Salesman.