City Opera Vancouver
City Opera Vancouver, the city’s main producer of new opera, presented PopUp Opera in August, an idea borrowed from Pacific Opera Victoria and Memphis Opera: free outdoor mini-concerts, “intended to make a joyful noise in a wretched time,” says COV Artistic Director Charles Barber. September will see COV’s Festival of Contemporary, a curated look at dance, drama, design, music poetry, cinema, song, photography, opera and more. Barber says it’s all 21st century, all dazzling, all Canadian, online and free.
In January 2021, COV will present a radical take on Poulenc’s monodrama, La Voix Humaine, “in a new production…set in the time of COVID-19 and the socially distant, emotional abyss all of us confront,” says Barber. It will feature Canadian tenor Isaiah Bell in the customarily soprano role of Elle, and in this version, it’s the story of the break-up of a same-sex relationship. Voix will be performed with an English (vs French) text, online and free.
The creation of Chinatown, COV’s latest commissioned opera, continues unabated. Madeleine Thien has finished the libretto and Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho’s draft of Act I is complete.
“Thanks to COVID, we are about two months ahead of schedule,” Barber says wryly.
National online auditions for Chinatown’s principal roles continue into October and Barber says he is optimistic that casting will wrap up by November. The premiere of Chinatown is booked at the Vancouver Playhouse for September, 2021.
At the University of British Columbia, Nancy Hermiston, Chair of the School of Music’s Voice and Opera Divisions, stresses that one-on-one lessons, opera ensembles and acting classes are going ahead while keeping strictly within COVID-19 guidelines. Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims, rescheduled from last June, ran Oct. 16-18 at the Chan Centre and online.
“I call it my COVID opera,” chuckles Hermiston. “In this opera, nobody likes anybody much anyway…I’m going to stage it in an old-fashioned way and the singers will be distancing themselves and getting overly dramatic. It will be crazy and I think we need a good laugh.”
If no live audience is permitted by October: “I’ve got UBC Studios on board to make a really wonderful webcast of it,” says Hermiston.
After Viaggio, comes Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park at the Old Auditorium in January and The Marriage of Figaro in May. Specific details remain uncertain this far in advance but Mansfield Park lends itself well to performance under COVID-19 conditions. Set in the drawing room of a stately English home, Dove’s opera is scored for only ten voices with piano, 4-hand accompaniment. There is also a version for a small instrumental ensemble which Hermiston would gladly use if COVID-19 restrictions lift enough by January to permit a larger ensemble in the orchestra pit.
Underneath all these plans looms the spectre of the financial bottom line. Donor largesse will only carry things so far. Without traditional revenue streams from ticket sales, will ‘the show must go on’ spirit help opera companies to balance their books post-pandemic?
Vancouver Opera has been covered in a previous report. You can find more season previews like these from across Canada in our Fall 2020 issue. To receive more exclusive content, help support our writers and Canadian artists by subscribing here.