Young composer aims to remove opera’s ‘dusty reputation’ with debut show

27 July 2023 / by Owen Thompson

Jonathan Kravtchenko, an 18-year-old Toronto composer, is trying to revamp opera in his debut production Tango for Two.

In his time in the music industry, Kravtchenko has performed as a soloist with his own compositions and concerts. This upcoming show is his first major production.

Tango for Two as a show is blending the tango musical genre with the nautical themes. The show takes place in Eastern Canada with a sailor as one of the primary characters. Like the main character from the novel The Sailor Who Fell out of Grace with the Sea, after travelling the world he is looking to settle down and meet someone. When he does, “tragedy strikes and they cannot see each other.”

Opera has been around for centuries with some shows having been performed for hundreds of years. With Tango for Two, Kravtchenko says that he is trying to distance the show from the classical understanding of opera. With this production, Kravtchenko says that they are bringing modernization to the theatrical genre: he calls it “opera nova.”

“Opera as itself has a very, I would call it dusty reputation…[opera nova] gives you a certain feel that it’s new. This isn’t just any opera that you can just go and see. Or there’s people that have seen like 25 productions of the same opera. And they’re like comparing productions, that’s not the direction we want to go,” says Kravtchenko.

To keep the opera part of the production, he is keeping the classical sound of the progenitors of the genre while incorporating modern elements. He says that with his production there is more of an emphasis on visual storytelling by incorporating dance into the show to aid in telling the story.

The choreography is being done by Jonthan Giller, teacher at the Dance Institute and member of the Toronto Raptors Northside dance crew. Giller is performing in the show alongside Anna Kravtchenko, sister of the composer.

Tango for Two came into existence from two of Kravtchenko’s compositions: Tango and Blue Whale. Two pieces that are unrelated to each other, other than who composed them. Kravtchenko says that the large gulf between the two compositions and how to put them together is where the idea for the show came from.

“I would be hard pressed to find someone who would be interested in an opera that consists only of sea shanties. That would be pretty tough to listen to, you have to be a pretty big fan to enjoy that. And so it’s a matter of having diversity in the plot, having diversity in the script and having something new,” says Kractchenko.

Kravtchenko is a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto with a year left before finishing his time at the conservatory. He says that his time there with his mentors has been artistically a huge help in his development as a composer.

“Gerry Shatford was a huge inspiration to me. He was one of my first teachers who said, doing something creative is not bad. In the sense that (when) you’re playing there’s an attitude of perfectionism. There’s an attitude of you played the wrong note, there’s a punishment. He was one of the first to say, ‘Well, why don’t you expand on that? Why don’t you add your own creative ideas,'” says Kravtchenko.

Tango for Two premieres on Oct. 21 at the Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Listen below for the full interview: