Inside the Lisl Wirth Unboxed Festival — Part 1

Find out what makes the Unboxed Festival something to sing about!

In a school year marked with distance, challenges, and a list of things we weren’t able to do, it brings extra joy to see the culmination of work brought to life with brio and tenacity.  
It is remarkable to witness the creativity, perseverance, and can-do spirit of our professors, coaches, directors, and conductors. And it should come as no surprise that the folks at Opera McGill found ways to deliver on the promise of high-level education and unique performance opportunities. To our faculty, it has always been a question of how. How to thrive. How to share. How to connect. 

This year marks the very first Lisl Wirth Unboxed Festival: two weekends of performances by Opera McGill. Works by Handel, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Verdi, and Bologne are sure to captivate and delight.  

We caught up with some of the artistic staff to learn a bit about the productions and what they’ve uncovered, discovered, and can't wait to share! 


Handel's Partenope with Opera McGill and the McGill Baroque Orchestra will be webcast from Pollack Hall on
Thursday, March 25 at 7:00 pm
Friday, March 26 at 7:00 pm

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella with Opera McGill and Chris Barillaro on piano will be webcast on
Saturday, March 27 at 4:00 pm

Dorian Komanoff Bandy conducts students from the McGill Baroque Orchestra and Opera McGill in Partenope. 

Do you have a favorite moment in the opera? 
Dorian Bandy: Partenope is one of Handel’s liveliest and quirkiest operas. Throughout, Handel seems to delight in showing off his powers of musical invention—no two numbers are alike. At times, characters sing intimate arias accompanied only by harpsichord and cello; elsewhere, the colours are more extravagant, from the glittering filigree of Partenope’s Act I aria “Io ti levo” to the hard-driving intensity of Emilio’s “Barbaro fato, sì” in Act II or the joyful energy of “Io seguo sol fiero”, which Rosmira sings accompanied by two horns.

It’s difficult to pick out a favourite moment in such a spectacular and richly varied opera! From a purely musical point of view, one contender is Emilio’s Act I aria, a number that combines learned counterpoint with flashy vocal writing, and shows us Handel at his most exuberant and virtuosic. From a vocal perspective, anything our title heroine sings is dazzling. But deep down, my inner music-theory nerd has his own favorite moment: a deceptive cadence in the orchestral introduction to Rosmira’s “Se non ti sai spiegar” in Act I. Handel’s deceptive cadences are always lovely—but this one is particularly so. Just when the melody should resolve to an E, the two violin parts join together on an unexpected A—and at that very moment, the bassline (the element of the musical texture that affects the cadence) drops out, leaving us with a moment of harmonic suspense. When the bass rejoins one note later, we hear the pitch that defines the deceptive cadence. But, rather than lingering, Handel immediately pushes forward to the proper cadence, and we are left wondering whether what we heard was “really” a deceptive cadence at all, or just a brief melodic detour. The moment is at once heartfelt and elegant. 
What’s it like working on the production? 
DB: This is my first time working with Opera McGill. I’m still relatively new to Schulich, having joined the faculty in 2019, and I’m delighted to be involved in such a vibrant and energetic department. (It’s been amazing to witness the ingenuity with which Patrick and the opera students have put this production together despite all of the obstacles such efforts face at the moment.) Although much of what I do here at McGill involves instrumental music, my professional life has always revolved around opera. 
I’ve found this production especially gratifying because it’s given me the chance to work with students from outside the Early Music department—something I so rarely have the opportunity to do. I find few things as exciting as helping students discover the joys, freedom, and expressive intensity of historical performance. It’s also fun to give some of them the chance to sing for the first time with a baroque orchestra! Of course, it’s also a joy to work with the more experienced early music singers who are participating in the production, many of whom I know from other activities at McGill.


Jonathan Patterson directs and choreographs Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

What’s the most out-of-the-box thing you had to do for this production? 

Jonathan Patterson: The most out-of-the-box thing about the Cinderella process was that although we rehearsed it like a play, we performed it like a film. We did not get up on stage and run from top to bottom with the cameras rolling. We filmed it out of sequence and in several different locations. That being said, I knew I had to keep in mind where the cameras were and what they would be capturing at all times while I was directing the show. Entrances, exits, and angles, are completely different on camera than on stage. The audience will only see what you want them to see — and they will all see the same thing at the same time, from the same point of view. In rehearsing it like a play, the actors were able to drop in and out of scenes on filming day, knowing exactly where they were in terms of the storytelling, the emotional stakes, and timeline of events.  

Is there anything you’ve learned in the putting together of this production that you'll box up and take with you? 

JP: It’s not a new thing — but was a great reminder! — when working in a school environment, it’s not about the product, it’s about the process. As arts educators we work hard to help students prepare for the real world. But we have to remember that they aren’t there yet, and they get so much more from learning how the process works and being given permission to play and experiment in a safe environment than just focusing on the final outcome. 

What’s one thing everyone should know about this performance? 

JP: This was everyone’s reintroduction into the world of in-person collaboration, after almost a year of being in isolation: the first time singing in an ensemble again; the first time worrying about staging again; the first time being part of a full production again. But with all those “firsts”, it still felt like coming home. And we were so glad to share this moment together. 

Watch them all on the Schulich YouTube channel

Handel's Partenope with Opera McGill and the McGill Baroque Orchestra will be webcast from Pollack Hall on
Thursday, March 25 at 7:00 pm
Friday, March 26 at 7:00 pm

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella with Opera McGill and Chris Barillaro on piano will be webcast on
Saturday, March 27 at 4:00 pm

Mark your calendars for the Week 2 operas as the Lisl Wirth Unboxed Festival continues
Un Giorno di Regno | Saturday, April 10, 7:00 pm
L’amant anonyme | Sunday, April 11, 7:00 pm

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