New leader & smaller shows survival for Saskatoon Opera
“We face a lot of uncertainty right now but we’re determined to help Saskatoon Opera survive.”
It’s a harsh reality for many artists and arts organizations these days; cancelling live shows, having to pivot to new ways of presenting performance and figuring out how to stay afloat. That’s why it’s surprising that in the middle of a pandemic, Spencer McKnight didn’t hesitate taking over as executive director of Saskatoon Opera.
Spencer McKnight is making a turn from performer to executive director of Saskatoon Opera. (Julie Isaac Photography)
“I’ve been involved with Saskatoon Opera since 2012, starting in the chorus and then running its social media. When Karen Reynaud told me, she was stepping down and thought I would be a great candidate,” says McKnight. “This was a chance to take a fresh approach. We aren’t able to have a major, staged opera this year but I thought that left room for smaller, more intimate events. We face a lot of uncertainty right now but we’re determined to help Saskatoon Opera survive.”
McKnight has helped Saskatoon Opera pivot by partnering with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra on some of its concerts and enlisting its crew in creating a live stream of its own performances. McKnight is also taking full advantage of many talented performers who’ve moved back home to Saskatchewan because of COVID-19.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to have this caliber of musicians,” says McKnight. “We don’t typically have the resources but they are here now and ready to share their talents.”
Kateryna Khartova has moved back to Saskatoon during the pandemic and is excited for a chance to perform. (Saskatoon Opera)
Pianist Sophia Mycyk and soprano Kateryna Khartova home from Minnesota and Toronto respectively are the featured artists in the opera’s live stream Ukrainian Art Song on a Starlit Night. Khartova is excited to share her love of Ukrainian composers and their music.
“Here in Saskatchewan they say you’re either Ukrainian or married to one. We all have a connection somewhere,” jokes Khartova. “Ukrainian art and folk music deserve to be on the world stage. I love introducing audiences to the music of my people.”
McKnight says live streamed shows that tap into the local talent pool are key moving forward. The company is also reaching out to the community through Opera Club, a monthly meeting of fans over Zoom. they are able to watch operas from all over the world and then discuss the performance. McKnight says the opera is an important piece in the artistic fabric of Saskatoon.
“We have a very dedicated audience. We are a city with a major art gallery, a symphony, a museum and we want to be a part of it all,” says McKnight. “Saskatoon opera adds to the cultural texture of Saskatoon and it’s up to us to keep that passion alive.”