The Vancouver Opera (VO) is launching its inaugural Vancouver Opera Festival from April 28 to May 13, 2017: that’s 16 days of performances, workshops, education, and community outreach. It is what general director Kim Gaynor calls “a whole new set of access points” for opera in this region.
Like most of the performing arts, opera is not a money-making proposition these days. So, funding—both from the private and public sectors—is vital for survival. “Box office alone just doesn’t cover the costs of production,” Gaynor notes. Finding new ways of expanding awareness of opera, and of opening its abundant charms to new, younger audiences, is why the festival was conceived in the first place.
The core of it all will be performances of three major works: Verdi’s Otello; Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro; and the VO premiere of Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie. Dead Man Walking is based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book, which led to the Susan Sarandon-Sean Penn film of the same name. Prejean herself will in fact appear at the festival, as part of a panel discussion about incarceration and restorative justice.
That panel is only one of many other aspects to the event. Visual artist and Audain Prize-winner Paul Wong was commissioned to create Five Octave Range, a video installation that will feature over five decades of archival VO material. This will be set up at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre plaza, where a Festival Tent will, Gaynor hopes, “generate interest from passers-by and for drivers passing along as well.”
Legendary German chanteuse Ute Lemper will perform her Last Tango in Berlin show, in which she explores the musical worlds of Weill and Brecht, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, and even Astor Piazzolla. Throat singer Tanya Tagaq will perform as well, in conjunction with event producer Music on Main. And Matthew Kocel will conduct a throat-singing seminar, which should prove fascinating. All of these vocalists show how the world of great singing is not confined to opera, nor is opera necessarily constrained only by its own self-defined classics.
The aforementioned workshops include the New Opera Project: four sessions in which VO music director Jonathan Darling, along with other VO members, will provide comments, insight, and perhaps some advice, for four young composers, whose submitted works were chosen. There will also be Opera Tales, in which fairy tales and traditional stories are set to vocal and piano accompaniment by the VO’s Yolanda Faris Young Artists Program.
You get the idea: there will be a wealth of opera-related experiences, and spoonful-of-sugar educational opportunities, throughout the entire festival. There will be Opera in Context presentations, 30-minute preview talks by VO experts before performances, and even Happy Hours in the tent. “This is truly an exciting time for opera in Vancouver,” Gaynor declares. “There are always going to be challenges, but I believe this festival will bring opera to greater awareness in our community.”
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