“It’s really a story about love, emotion, revenge—all these big big emotions that only opera can do really well.” This is how the newly-appointed General Director of the Vancouver Opera, Kim Gaynor, describes Otello, one of the mainstage operas to be featured in the VO’s upcoming inaugural Opera Festival from April 28–May 13. With a lineup of classics—Otello and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro—to a more contemporary piece like Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, the new VO festival program creates a rich mix of tragedy and comedy, contemporary and classic.
Under Gaynor’s direction, the lauded Vancouver Opera takes a big leap with this new festival format. The festival showcases “big emotion and feeling”, both on stage and off, with plans to immerse audiences in a full and collaborative, operatic experience. The three mainstage productions are paired with interactive activities, such as panel discussions on topics ranging from “transitional justice” to how opera is viewed in the 21st century. These unique events give audiences a chance to hear from individuals like Sister Helen Prejean (whose story inspired Dead Man Walking), and to take part in the discussion of relevant issues.
What else can we expect? Lots of collaboration and new creation. Events like a sing-along version of Carl Orff’s mid-century masterpiece, with music direction by Leslie Dala, will challenge and delight both seasoned singers and choral enthusiasts. Members of the community can register to rehearse and perform with the Vancouver Bach Choir on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Participants will be taught the first and final movements of the work during the event.
Collaboration is a big idea for the festival, as is accessibility; Vancouver Opera has big things in store on the Queen Elizabeth Plaza. Plans are set for an interactive visual art display. The Opera has commissioned artist Paul Wong to create an exhibit that will feature material from the VO’s own archive alongside new visual pieces from young opera singers. The goal? To immerse festival-goers in big ideas while they dip in and out of different main stage performances and activities.
For the next season, Gaynor shares the VO’s plans to continue its exploration of emotion with a focus on balance. With two major operas, Turandot and L’elisir D’amore kicking off the 2017-18 season, emphasis is placed on the discovery of new voices in old classics. While Turandot will feature American soprano Amber Wagner, L’elisir D’amore will showcase Chinese soprano Ying Fang. Both are brand new to the roles they will be performing. This theme of newness continues throughout the VO’s second festival in a showcase of intriguing collaborations with Tapestry Theatre and the Canadian Stage Company with the premiere The Overcoat: an Opera.
As the VO’s prepares for a new festival format this season, themes of emotion and feeling are evident in the programming. Moving into this new format, the tradition of opera being a medium for a larger message is still being retained and, most definitely, reinforced for audiences both new and old.
Jasmine Proctor is a writer, theatre-fanatic, and recent BA graduate from Simon Fraser University, majoring in Communications and English Literature. Jasmine is a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fangirl, part-time poet, and a not-so-secret lover of K-pop. She is thrilled to work with Artslandia and cannot wait to see what performance she can write about next.