Going Out

Q&A: Rory McGlynn on Hollywood, helping young singers, and Capital City Opera

This article first appeared in our May issue, which is on newsstand until June 6, 2014

Rory McGlynn has survived the world of opera singing in Canada with his passion for both the music and the country intact. In an industry where performers tour internationally in a leading role one month and sing in Toronto hotel lounges the next, McGlynn has persisted. In 2012, McGlynn and Ottawa entrepreneur/opera buff Bart Tecter started Capital City Opera to focus on growing young talent. Nicholas Savage talks with McGlynn about bringing Hollywood hymns this month — as well as the ups and downs of running a modern-day opera company, and how the CCO plans to arm their altos (and sopranos and tenors) with the tools they need to succeed on the stage.

Capital City Opera founder Rory McGlynn. Photo by Graham Law.
Capital City Opera founder Rory McGlynn. Photo by Graham Law.

Nicholas Savage: Opera in Hollywood sounds like a different kind of show. What’s it about?
Rory McGlynn: Rather than staging a traditional opera, which we also do, our Opera in Hollywood series focuses on performances of opera arias, duets, and ensembles that have had actual influence on Hollywood movies — movies where the musical director understood the importance of this kind of music. The marriage of movies and opera is very gratifying for a couple of reasons: while the music obviously adds to the scene, the movie scene itself is a new dramatic life for the music. Take the scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne plays “Duettino Sull’aria” from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro through the prison speakers. Many moviegoers may not be familiar with the opera or even Mozart, but through that scene, that music lives on. Everything opera music wants to be — moving, dramatic, emotional — movies can facilitate.

NS: So why start an opera company in Ottawa?
RM: I grew up here. I found myself in Europe at the end of 2008 without much opportunity professionally, tired of suffering for my art, and knowing I wanted to start a family. So I returned to Ottawa. I began Taste of Opera, which specializes in pairing food and wine with opera music. Bart [Tecter] came to four of these events in a row before offering me some funding to start an opera company. Our first show was a production of La Bohème in 2012, and we’ve been going ever since.

NS: Why is the development of young local singers so important to you?
RM: Young talent will leave. They will go to Toronto and Montreal to find a youth program and stay there. Loyalties lie where you found your feet. Ottawa is sending our young performers to other big cities, and they stay there because they feel valued. We need to encourage opportunities here.

NS: Besides giving them roles, how do you aid the development of young talent?
RM: I think the most important lesson we teach is self-promotion. It’s essential — especially in Canada, where artists are taught to be humble about their gifts to the point where they’re almost apologizing for believing in their greatness. We post the top three audition recordings on our website; the singer is then responsible for getting support on social media. One girl went to the subway stations in Toronto playing her audition and getting riders to show their support online if they liked it. The singer best at self-promotion will get the role, the second best a smaller role, etc.

NS: Do you have any advice for young singers?
RM: Sing with as many teachers as you possibly can. One person does not have all the answers. Your teacher does not know everything, despite what they say.

NS: What do you see as the big challenge for your company in the future?
RM: Money, money, money, and money. Getting private sponsorship has been a struggle — I don’t get paid, Bart doesn’t get paid. We lose money every show. Short term, we are hoping to someday break even and pay our staff. In 20 years, I’d like to see us in all major Canadian cities so that young talent is encouraged across the country.