WELCOME TO CONAN'S PRESS KIT
13 and up, violence, strobe effects
An adventure of swords, sorcery, seduction, and spectacle, Conan and the Stone of Kelior sees Conan the barbarian battling brigands, winning the favour of a Queen, and grappling with a Serpent of Shadow! Conan navigates Hyboria – a tumultuous and beautiful land – in quest of a Kingdom to call his own. Through the machinations of a mysterious Oracle he becomes embroiled in the search for a lost and arcane artifact, the Stone of Kelior, whose source of power is little understood. All of this culminates in a great and terrible revelation that forces Conan to choose between his dream – having his own kingdom – and his honour.
14 performers flood the stage with voice and vigor, deftly populating Robert E. Howard’s harsh Hyboria to a fully orchestrated soundtrack which provides the earth-shaking sound of the movies. Breathtaking original animated backgrounds, illustrated by award-winning artist Mark Rehkopf, and a fearsome Serpent made by Puppetmaster Kristi Ann Holt of Fraggle Rock, assist the cast in bringing to pulsing, brutal life one of the most original and unforgiving fantasy landscapes.
The story - an original tale composed in galloping poetry by award-winning poet Kyle McDonald – is set to some of the world’s finest music, as masterpieces from the likes of Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Rimsky-Korsakov, Verdi, and Rachmaninoff thunder from the heavens like the rage of Crom!
No. 2 Aria - I, Conan!
Vocalist: Kyle McDonald
No. 10 Duet - My Honoured Guest!
Vocalists: Lynn Isnar, Kyle McDonald
No. 23 Aria - At Last I've Found You!
Vocalist: Corey Arnold
CONAN the Cimmerian............................Kyle McDonald
HARAPSHILI, Queen of Koth..................Lynn Isnar
QIDAN, a thief..........................................Corey Arnold
KELIOR, a wizard.....................................Robert De Vrij
THOTH-AMON, a wizard.........................Patrick Burton
SHEM, a Kothian Captain........................Austin Larusson
ARINNA, a Kothian Lieutenant...............Rianna Robinson
SHALZA, a Kothian Ensign......................Brittany Stewart
MENTUHOTEP, the boy King of Stygia...Roanna Kitchen
PATHO, an assassin..................................Austin Larusson
GENA, his twin sister................................Brittany Stewart
THURA, chief of the Warthogs.................Brittany Stewart
AHMOSÉ, a villager..................................Rianna Robinson
SETI, her fisherman friend.......................Patrick Burton
SCOUT, for Harapshili..............................Roanna Kitchen
GENERAL, for Stygia................................Handaya Rusli
Sherily De Silva
Jordan M. Burns
Kristi Ann Holt
KYLE MCDONALD (Bass) Conan, Director, Creator.
Kyle McDonald is a Toronto based actor, writer, singer, director, and producer; he studied Theatre and Drama Studies at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College joint program, and has an HBA in Theatre and Drama and a minor in Classical History. Vocally, he trained with the late Donna Sherman, with Helga Tucker at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and with Operatic legend Maria Pellegrini.
Kyle just recently sang the roles of Richard the Lion-Heart in his original opera The Lion Heart which premiered to critical success, Timur in Turandot, Basilio in The Barber of Seville, Friar Lawrence and the Prince in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, Angelotti, in Tosca, James Bond in James Bond: A Convenient Lie, the Marquis of St. Evermonde in the world premiere of an opera based on A Tale of Two Cities with Summer Opera Lyric Theatre, and Sparafucile in Pellegrini Opera’s production of Rigoletto. Some of his other operatic roles include Colline in Puccini's La Boheme, and Plunkett in Flotow’s Martha.
In the Theatre, some of his favourite roles include The Head in Macbeth's Head, Hamlet in Hamlet Live, Clint in The Market, Cassio in Othello, and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.
In the world of film and television, Kyle has most recently appeared on season four of The Handmaid’s Tale as a Commander, on season fourteen of Murdoch Mysteries as the dandy Courtney Van Doren, his short film Street Smarts, the feature film The Market (which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime), the short films Insight (developed and produced by the RTA School of Media) and Phoenix, and co-starred in the short films The Car, and Made in Paris, (both of which were selected for the short-corner at Cannes); on television, he’s appeared as Lord Dunbar on Reign, and as the Dog Mocker on a new musical series for the web called Haunted. He's also appeared as Nyuk Nyuk on the pilot for a three camera sit-com called Space Bacon, the super badie Azul in Connor Undercover 2 on Family Channel on demand, and Lieutenant Tannis on the award winning web series, Space Janitors, as well as Tom on the webseries Ryan Gosling Must Be Stopped.
As a producer Kyle has apprenticed under Canadian legend Dale Barnes, and has produced several stage productions – Macbeth’s Head (NNNN- Now Magazine), James Bond: A Convenient Lie, The Market (co-producer), and Hamlet Live (co-producer), which was live-streamed to Sick Kids’ hospitals across the country (a Canadian first) – several short films – How to Be More Inclusive, Revenge for the Duchess of Malfi (co-produced), Movies Matter, The Car (co-produced), and Street Smarts – two webseries – This is Bill, and Actorapists – and line produced on the feature film The Market. He was recently a finalist in the Innoversity Summit Pitch Competition for one of his digital series, Gamers Anonymous. His two new operas – The Lion Heart, and Conan and the Stone of Kelior will be premiering in 2022.
In the world of voice over, in addition to numerous commercial appearances, he has most recently played Laurence Fishbowl in the animated feature Gracie & Pedro, the Scotiabank popcorn astronaut in Cineplex Theatres, the villainous Cornacabra in Finish Line Games’ puzzle video game Maize, George Washington and Vice President on the Emmy Award winning animated series Peg + Cat, Yoshio on Beyblades, Taylean on Bakugan Brawlers IV, and Metazor on Skatoony, as well as Dyson on the Lost Girl motion comic (nominated for a Gemini), was the voice for the Evergreen charitable organization on the radio public service announcement called Trees, which won the Crystal award from the Radio Marketing Bureau for best PSA, and was also the voice for Condom T.O. which picked up a bronze award at the Epica award show in Amsterdam.
As a writer, he’s been produced as a playwright (Macbeth’s Head, Don Juan: An Episode), and screenwriter (Street Smarts, This is Bill, Revenge for the Duchess of Malfi, Movies Matter, Actorapists, The Car, Gamers Anonymous), and written librettos for three operas, The Lion Heart, The Bat & the Bells, Possession (music composed by Corey Arnold), and created the book and score for two new operas in pasticcio: James Bond: A Convenient Lie, and, his newest creation, Conan and the Stone of Kelior, which will be staged May 5-15 2022 in Toronto. He was awarded the Winning Writer’s War Poetry award for The Rose Of Ilium, a poem composed in heroic couplets that tells of the doomed love between Achilles and Penthesilea, and he’s recently completed his novel length epic poem, The Blessèd, which can be found here as a fully scored and foleyed audiobook.
He's also recently completed his first Synthwave album called Machine City, a not so optimistic musical journey into a future with autonomous AI. Link on the Mightier Productions landing page.
DIANA DI MAURO - Maestra (Music Director)
LYNN ISNAR (Coloratura Soprano) - Harapshili
Lynn Isnar is an Armenian-Canadian soprano known for her “firecracker coloratura,” (Opera Canada, John Gilks) and “terrific stratospheric high notes,” (Opera Canada, Joseph So).
Ms. Isnar started off the 2021-2022 season by recording with Sinfonia Toronto for Canadian composer, Colin Eatock’s, upcoming CD works. She continued by performing for a live audience for the first time since the pandemic in the OperaFest concert series and in recital at the Canadian Music Center. During the 2020-2021 pandemic season, Ms. Isnar was fortunate enough to join the Glenn Gould School as a guest artist in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia showcased as a virtual concert. She later joined the Amici Chamber Ensemble in their virtual concert Armenian Treasures where she sang works by Amirkhanyan and Aznavour.
Ms. Isnar also performed in the A.G.B.U. “Solidarity in Song” Online Concert Series. Past roles performed by Ms. Isnar include Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), Susanna (Marriage of Figaro), La Marchesa (La Cecchina), Katya (Katya Kabanova), Emma (Khovanshchina), Nanine (The Widow), Daphne (The Beautiful Helen), Lydia/Veronica (Perchance to Dream), Katya (Katya Kabanova), Valencienne (The Merry Widow) and Adele (Die Fledermaus).
Instagram & Twitter: @lynnisnar
COREY ARNOLD (Tenor) - Qidan
Corey Arnold is a young operatic tenor and composer with a vision for the future of opera. A recent laureate of the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques, a semi-finalist at the International Singing Competition of Marmande (France), the Vincero World Italian Opera Competition, and a finalist in the Clifford Poole Vocal Competition, and the composer of two new operas in the past two years… Corey has kept busy!
A regular on the operatic stage, Corey has been seen recently as Roméo in ROMÉO ET JULIETTE and Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY with Pellegrini Opera, Il Duca in RIGOLETTO in concert with the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, and Calaf in TURANDOT with La Belle Voix in Ottawa. Corey has also worked extensively with Opera by Request: Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Mario Cavaradossi in TOSCA, and the Italian Singer in CAPRICCIO. Spring 2022 will have Corey singing Qidan in the brilliant new opera pastiche “Conan and the Stone of Kelior.”
Also active in concert work, Corey has sung frequently with Operottawa, most recently for their Opera Gala evening as well as their Handel’s Messiah. He has sung as tenor soloist for Musica Viva, Caelis Academy, and Coro Vivo Ottawa, singing various Haydn and Mozart Masses including the Lord Nelson Mass and the Theresienmesse. While a student of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Corey was immediately humbled at the raw talent of some of the best young singers of a generation. While he was comfortable in a variety of musical disciplines, including composition, conducting, arranging, and accompanying (at the piano) he was inspired by his peers to focus his time on the pursuit of extraordinary singing. This brought him to the
pedagogical worlds of Linklater Voice Technique, Lessac Kinesensics, and the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education, the latter in which he became a practitioner. He continued his exploration during his time at the University of Ottawa and beyond working with various regional opera companies. Most recently, Corey has begun auditioning in various venues in Europe and hopes to expand his singing horizons there.
As a composer, Corey finished his first musical at 18 years old as part of the Oberlin Playwright Festival. In the ensuing years, arranging for jazz bands, choirs, and musical theatre productions were his primary output. Now, he dedicates his time to new operatic and classical vocal works. Most recently, his piece “Si ce n’est pas l’amour…” was premiered by Théâtre Belvédère in Ottawa. He is currently preparing a workshop performance of his first opera “The Lion Heart,” as well as an opera for families “The Bat and the Bells,” both with libretti by Kyle McDonald. In the works are a song cycle with Californian poet, Tyler Knott Gregson, a piano concerto, and his next operatic work, a horror opera involving demonic possession, with a libretto by Kyle McDonald. Corey has also worked as a pianist, music directing/accompanying musicals and operas in Ottawa, Toronto, Detroit, Oberlin, Elyria, and Lorain County.
ROBERT DE VRIJ (Bass) - Kelior
PATRICK BURTON (Baritone) - Thoth-Amon
Originally from Thunder Bay, Patrick took his Bachelor of Music from McGill, and a Master of Architecture from University of Toronto. Patrick has enjoyed many successes as a varsity oarsman, competing internationally for both schools. Opera credits include Dulcamara (Elisir d’Amore), The Four Villains (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), Horace Tabor (Ballad of Baby Doe), Malatesta (Don Pasquale), Escamillo (Carmen), Marcello & Schaunard (La Bohème), Nick Shadow (The Rake’s Progress), David (A Hand of Bridge), Rigoletto (Rigoletto), Silvio (Pagliacci), Marchese d’Obigny (La Traviata), Enrico (Lucia di Lammermoor), Nilakantha & Frederik (Lakmé), Mark (Frobisher), Njegus (The Merry Widow), and Seargent Fiorello (Il Barbiere di Siviglia).
Patrick has enjoyed being on the Canadian Opera Company stage as part of the Chorus (War and Peace, Aida, Cosi Fan Tutte, Un Ballo in Masquera). As owner of a residential design firm, Patrick currently focuses his energy on the design and construction of custom residential architecture. When the rare opportunity presents itself, Patrick enjoys the chance to escape for a while and go surfing somewhere warm.
AUSTIN LARUSSON (Baritone) - Shem and Patho
Praised for his "fine baritone voice" (The Brooklyn Eagle), "Austin Larusson sang beautifully" (barczablog.com), “Austin Larusson’s Crespel was a very effective and even touching foil” John Gilks operarambling.blog). Austin is a baritone originally from Victoria, BC who now resides in Toronto.
Recent Toronto/GTA appearances include Marchese, LA TRAVIATA with Mississauga Symphony, Hermann/Crespel, LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN with Toronto City Opera, THE MESSIAH at College Street United Church, Conte Carnero, THE GYPSY BARON; Vicomte Cascada, THE MERRY WIDOW; Ajax A, THE BEAUTIFUL HELEN; Police Sergeant, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE; Massakroff, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER with Toronto Operetta Theatre; Benoit/Alcindoro, LA BOHEME; Count Ceprano, RIGOLETTO; Bartolo/Antonio, LE NOZZE DI FIGARO with SOUTHERN ONTARIO LYRIC OPERA; Johann, WERTHER; Lorenzo, I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI with Opera in Concert; Leporello in DON GIOVANNI and Malatesta in DON PASQUALE with Vera Causa Opera; Vicomte Cascada, THE MERRY WIDOW; Marchese, LA TRAVIATA; Fiorello, IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA with Opera York.
New York appearances include Yamadori, MADAMA BUTTERFLY; Sciarrone/Jailer, TOSCA; Hermann, LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN; Priest, THE MAGIC FLUTE with Regina Opera, and the baritone soloist in Brahms EIN DEUTSCHES REQUIEM at Riverside Church.
Upcoming engagements include Montschi in A WALTZ DREAM with Toronto Operetta Theatre at the Jane Mallett Theatre in Toronto in June 2022!
BRITTANY STEWART (Soprano) - Thura, Arinna, Gena
Soprano Brittany Stewart has been described as a performer with wonderful charm and stage presence by her audiences and colleagues. She is a native of Toronto, Canada and a graduate of the University of Toronto with a Double Major in Classical Civilization and Celtic Studies. Miss. Stewarts accomplishments include performing in the Vianden International Music Festival (Luxembourg), Yorkshire Opera Workshop (England), Casalmaggiore International Music Festival (Italy) and Opera Viva! (Italy).
She was lucky enough to be invited to Dublin, Ireland to study voice with world renowned Irish Soprano Veronica Dunne. She is a member of ‘Opera in Concert’ and also performs with ‘Toronto Operetta Theatre’. Miss. Stewart is currently in the private studio of Katherine Ciesinski (Eastman School of Music).
RIANNA ROBINSON (Mezzo-Soprano) - Shalza, Ahmosé
Nova Scotian mezzo soprano Rianna Robinson has performed a diverse range of operatic roles and classical repertoire, most recently in the role of Hansel in Maritime Concert Opera’s production of Hansel and Gretel.
She has been featured as a soloist with Opera Nova Scotia, Maritime Concert Opera, and Xara Choral Theatre. Robinson recently competed her Masters of Voice Performance at the University of Toronto under the tutelage of Mark Daboll.
She continues to stay active in the music community performing both as a soloist and chorus member.
ROANNA KITCHEN (Soprano) - Maiden, Mentuhotep, Scout
Roanna Kitchen is a Canadian soprano recognized for her musical versatility and audience engagement. She recently completed her undergraduate degree in Voice Performance from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music and is currently completing her master’s degree at the same institution. Roanna has performed various roles on stage including Miss Robinson and Lady Appleby in The Shop Girl. This spring, she looks forward to premiering the roles of Mentuhotep, Scout, and Maiden in Conan and the Stone of Kelior.
Previously, she has performed the roles of Iris in Semele, Mabel in Pirates of Penzance and Donna Marie in Blood Brothers. Roanna has performed staged scenes such as “Restino imbalsamate... T'aspetto e tu non vieni” (La Calisto) as Calisto, “Pur ti miro” (L'incoronazione di Poppea) as Poppea, “Alfin siam liberati, Zerlinetta gentil…Là ci darem la mano” (Don Giovanni) as Zerlina and “Basilio, in traccia tosto di Figaro
volate” (Le Nozze di Figaro) as Susanna. She has appeared and soloed in concert works such as Handel’s Messiah and Dixit Dominus, A Celebration, A Child’s Prayer, Vive la Différence and Fauré’s Requiem. Additionally, Roanna has soloed in concerts such as A Night at the Opera and What’s New With You as part of the University of Toronto Vocalis Series and in Songs of Hope and Comfort as part of the University of Toronto’s Festival of Song. In addition to solo work, Roanna also enjoys performing with ensembles. Previously she has performed as part of the University of Toronto’s Schola Cantorum, Chamber Choir and Soprano/Alto Chorus as well as the Prince Edward County Economical Choir. Roanna has also participated in multiple summer
programs including St. Andrew’s Vocal Techniques Workshop, Opera Nuova’s 10 Day
Development Program and the Summer Opera Lyric Theatre.
In addition to her love for music Roanna also became involved in film. After graduating
from Mode Elle Model and Talent Agency and working with Catalyst TCM Inc. her credits have included the principal role of Elizabeth Ennen in the television show See No Evil, as well as commercials for Disney Cinderella Princess, Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Dolls.
Roanna is currently working with The Lane School of Music and as an independent voice
teacher, having previously worked for Upbeat Piano Studio. She is very excited to continue working with youth and to assist them in their vocal development and pursuit of excellence.
She believes that working to bridge the gap between the youth of today and the established classical
Facebook: Roanna Kitchen
HANDAYA RUSLI (Baritone) - General
Handaya made his operatic debut as Guglielmo in Mozart’s COSI FAN TUTTE, staged by OperaLab at The Esplanade, Singapore in March 2018. In the same year, Handaya also sang Schubert lieder for the Sonic Blossom project staged at the National Gallery Singapore for Singapore’s “Light to Night Festival 2018”, produced by New York and Paris-based artist Lee Mingwei.
In July 2018, Handaya performed his debut role as Lescaut in Jules Massenet’s MANON, produced by the Summer Opera Lyric Theatre and he also sang the role of Jimmy in Kurt Weill's LITTLE MAHAGONNY production by VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert, both in Toronto, Canada.
In March 2019, Handaya performed the role of Giorgio Germont in the Toronto City Opera’s production of Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA. He reprised his role as Germont in LA TRAVIATA that following summer for the Summer Opera Lyric Theatre production, and later in the fall for the Muskoka Music Festival in Ontario, Canada. In December 2019, he debuted his role of Dikoj in Toronto’s Opera in Concert production of Janacek's KATYA KABANOVA.
SHAYNA BURNS (Soprano) - Oracle Thrall, Hyborian
Shayna Burns is an actor, singer, director, aerialist, creator and graduate of Humber Theatre. Shayna’s focus is on emotionally-driven physical theatre; and as a co-founder of Third Wheel Theatre Co, she continues to devise original works. Recent theatre credits include Tell Me There’s A Garden, and It Happened During The Quarantine. You can also find her in the Indie films In Two Words, Family Affairs, and How Touching. She is very excited to be making her opera debut in Conan and The Stone of Kelior.
TEIGAN LITKE (Mezzo-Soprano) - Hyborian
Teigan Litke is a singer and actor who is delighted to be making her debut with Mightier Productions! Favourite stage credits include Vi Moore in Footloose (Randolph College), Katie in The Sisters (Creatives’ House), and Danielle in FOMO (Toronto Youth Theatre). She is a graduate of Randolph College for the Performing Arts.
Catch her on Season 7 of See No Evil (Arrow Media).
Represented by Young Canadian Artists Agency.
Follow her adventures on Instagram @teiiigan!
SHERILY DESILVA (Soprano) - Hyborian
Sherily is thrilled to be in the cast as ensemble of Conan and the Stone of Kelior. She is passionate about embracing diverse perspectives in opera and is on the Board of Directors for Amplified Opera.
Sherily is a proud and long standing member of the talented and inclusive Toronto City Opera Chorus. She has spent over a decade supporting various performances at the Canadian Opera Company in production and supernumerary roles.
She has also volunteered with the Canadian Children's Opera Company. Sherily would like to thank her friends and family for their encouragement and would like to especially thank Katie Montgomery for her support and mentorship through this production.
ARDAVAN TARAPOREWALA (Tenor) - Hyborian
An avid fan of musical theater, Ardavan has gained experience as a performer and recording artist around the world. After making his theatrical debut in Dubai with the Musical Youth Theater as Jeremy in Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, he went on to originate the role of Jack Scott in the Middle East Premiere of Disney’s High School Musical on Stage! with West End Stage Experience.
Upon completing his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Music from Western University, Ardavan signed with Premier Artists’ Management in Toronto, and was set to premiere three new Canadian works prior to COVID-19, and perform principal roles in Chicago and Little Shop of Horrors besides. He just finished recording the leading role of Jeremy in the concept album of a new Canadian work- Bound! The Musical, and is immensely grateful to be able to still create art in these trying times. Much gratitude to the cast and crew of “Stone”, break all the legs, peeps!
Follow him on FB & Insta- @ardavanstage, and on YouTube @Ardavan Taraporewala
ANUKA - Dancer
Anuka is a professional bellydancer who has performed at hundreds of events in Toronto and the GTA. She has choreographed for dance productions, theatre, music videos, and for her own dance troupe Mirage (2003-2019). She is known for creating dynamic group pieces and for her love of silk props. In addition to performing traditional styles Anuka enjoys opportunities to have fun with fantasy characters.
In addition to performing Anuka shares her love of dance through teaching. She was a core faculty member at Hannan’s Bellydance Studio (2007 to 2009) and Dragonfly Bellydance Studio (2010 - 2019), teaching multiple weekly classes and specialty workshops. During the pandemic she taught online group and private classes through Dragonfly and independently.
RHYTHM VEKARIYA - Dancer
Rhythm Vekariya started Belly dancing in India in 2014 under her dance teacher Joseph Stanley. Since then she won numerous Dance Competitions and Talent Shows in India. Belly Dance just came naturally to her. In 2016, she decided to pass on this knowledge further to other girls. She started organizing belly dance workshops and choreographed various shows all over the small city of Ahmedabad in India.
She also studied Belly Dance with the famous Belly Dancer of India – Meher Malik. Currently Rhythm is a part of a company named – Yasmina Ramzy Arts in Toronto and has performed in numerous events in Toronto. She was also one of the Dance Artist in the movie Al Qamar- The Moon. She looks forward to embody her true self through her dancing and inspire other people to be comfortable in their own body.
JORDAN M. BURNS - Apprentice Producer and Director
Jordan M. Burns (they/he) is a Disabled, Indigenous, Two-Spirit, Neurodivergent, multidisciplinary artist from Treaty 3 territory on Turtle Island. As an actor, director, producer, playwright, and puppeteer, Jordan has filled a multiplicity of positions throughout their career. Jordan serves as a co-founding artistic director with Third Wheel Theatre Co. Jordan is also a proud honours graduate of both Humber College’s Theatre Performance and York University’s B.F.A. Acting programs. Some of their favourite credits include Salt Baby (dir. N. Robitaille), Mno Bimaadiziwin (dir. H. Barnes), TMTYG (dir. J. Burns), Cat in the Hat (dir. S. Prelletz), Echoes II: Pigeon Pie (dir. M. Wodzinska), Vermilion (dir. G. Kosmidis), and A Pineberry’s Past (writ. J. Burns).
See what Jordan’s working on now by following @ThirdWheelTheatreCo / @BurnsBright97 on Instagram!
SARAH BRAWN - Stage Manager
Sarah Brawn is a graduate of the Queen’s Drama program. She has stage managed a number of shows, from play series to musicals, as well as technical directed, production managed, and costume designed, among other roles. She has spent the last couple years in Toronto working as a bartender, barista, and engaging with the arts. Sarah is excited to be returning to the theatre with her first opera.
MARK REHKPOF - Illustrator
PUPPET MASTER - Kristi Ann Holt
Kristi Ann Holt is a creator. She has always made things from imagination since she was little and was especially inspired by the puppets of the Jim Henson Creature Shop.
She has worked as a wrangler/fabricator and even craft designer for children’s tv shows such as Opie’s Home, Super Mighty Makers, Miss Persona and more recently in the Creature Shop in Calgary for the new series Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock. Kristi is a collector of tools, gadgets and gizmos to further her skills and is constantly learning more about puppetry every day.
First off, what inspired you to write this story? And Second, why an opera?
It was actually the other way around! I wanted to make another opera in pastiche (pasticcio) like my James Bond opera, A Convenient Lie, which combines a modern property with the world’s most famous operatic music. I’ve been looking at the problems of opera very seriously since I began singing professionally in 2014 – and there are many problems, not least of all, that it’s live theatre, which has been hurting for decades. That’s a larger problem that needs an entire discussion unto itself, but, as for the opera specifically, the difficulties are surprisingly simple: it’s seldom performed in English, the run times are too long, the stories are old, and performances are often stilted because they’re enslaved to 19th century interpretations of the scores. Nevermind the expense.
Of course, these operas are beautiful! But the audience spends most of its time reading, and the plots of the shows are spelled out in the program. Do you think people would enjoy Breaking Bad as much if they had to watch it in Lithuanian with English surtitles, and with all the spoilers in the preroll? Or, worse still, if the actors were expected to perform it in a language they didn't speak?
The light-bulb moment came while working with Guillermo Silva-Marin on a Summer Opera Lyric Theatre performance - my family came, and they positively loved the show. This is a testament to Silva-Marin's vision of course, but he also insisted that the show be sung in English. I come from the theatre and have performed in many Shakespearean plays - Shakespeare IS English, or so I keep saying - but the response was never this invigorated. I also had a sense that old things need to be draped in new apparel - the trick of making art is finding something familiar ("brand recognition") while also making it new. Very challenging.
When I first decided to do the pasticcio format, I made a list of franchises and properties that excited me – Star Wars and Lord of The Rings being at the top of the list. I can’t get the rights to those properties (possibly LOTR since Tolkein's work is in the public domain in some places), but Bond went public domain in Canada in the early 2010's, and Conan has been public domain for years…and while the movies with Schwarzenegger (who declined to join the show for reasons of not being an opera singer) were marvelous, it was really the music and the aesthetic that made those films so iconic and memorable. Poledouris’ score was unlike anything I’d heard when I was young, and it wasn’t until I encountered orchestral music and opera that I found the same sensibility and power. And this is why I think Conan is a great subject for an opera – everything is so extreme; in a way, talking can’t do it justice. The pseudo-historical world of Robert E. Howard is actually a world of horrors and violence - a salient insight into his mind - his lost of his life to suicide in 1936. In this brutal world there are empires rising and falling, and territories uncharted - just to be able to play around in this world is a great delight as a writer and creator. There are only pockets where laws are in effect, and the rest is a monster infested wilderness undergirded by subtle, ancient forces. Sounds like opera to me! A play would be too literal; a musical would be too flippant; a ballet would be absurd. But an opera...
The other test I put the show idea through was this: when I described the premise to people, how did they react? With Conan, there hasn't been a single person I've spoken to about it that hasn't said, "I'd see that!"
AND you’re directing it? How many hours a day do you HAVE?
Indeed! BUT, I’ve been sitting on it for two years, and I haven’t been idle, so all the work has already been done even before getting into the rehearsal hall. PLUS, my cast and crew are spectacular and are making this very smooth sailing. In the cast I have some of the hottest up and comers, plus a few established singers who do the show honour by coming on board. I have a bright young apprentice who’s shadowing me in my role as producer and director, and he’s going to be immensely helpful in rehearsals. I have an award winning illustrator hand drawing the backgrounds, and a world class puppeteer who just finished working on the new Fraggle Rock building an asset for me. I’m definitely not alone, I’m very happy with my team, and I’m very lucky to have them working with me.
What makes Conan different from other operas?
It’s in English, it’s action-adventure, it’s built like a film, so scenes move quickly in many locations, and there’s a shadow serpent!
So, what can people expect when they come to the show?
First of all, they can expect to have fun: the show moves quickly and the characters are unapologetic. Secondly, they can expect to be thrilled – I don’t want to give anything away, but…let’s just say you never know who’s going to end before the scene does. And thirdly, people can find inspiration in Conan’s refusal to capitulate. In a world where everyone is vying for our attention and, often, submission to their wishes, Conan’s unbreakable will is a reinvigorating sight. Oh, and they can also expect lots of sword fighting!
And would you say that the show is family friendly?
As strange as it seems…it is, though I advise 13 and up because there is some edge. While there’s an impressive amount of violence, there’s no gore; while the costuming skews towards revealing, there’s nothing there that one wouldn’t see on a beach on a regular day. This would make a great show for the family, or for a date.