Visual art, Inuk throat-singing and German cabaret part of the first Vancouver Opera Festival

Tanya Tagaq, pictured here performing in Vancouver in 2011, is one of the performers at the inaugural Vancouver Opera Festival. Ashley Tanasiychuk photo.

Beginning April 28 and running until May 13, Vancouver will host its first opera festival. Presented by Vancouver Opera, the Vancouver Opera Festival includes three operas as well as concerts from celebrated Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq and German cabaret stylist Ute Lemper, an art installation by Vancouver artist Paul Wong, and more. Festival-goers will also be able to party and talk opera at an opera bar and tent set up on the plaza outside Queen Elizabeth Theatre (650 Hamilton St.) in downtown Vancouver.

That’s not all, as we learned in a conversation with Tom Wright, Director of Artist Planning.

“The festival gives us an opportunity to present to try and expose a larger percentage of the population to what opera can be, by programming so many diverse events, symposiums, talks, operas,” Wright said. “We’re hoping to attract new audiences and to give our current audience a look at how diverse opera can be.”

Mounting one opera is a monumental task; Vancouver Opera has decided to present three. The operas cover a spectrum, notes Wright, including Verdi’s Otello, which hasn’t been performed in Vancouver since 1980. The others include Dead Man Walking, which is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean (and which subsequently became a movie with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn); and The Marriage of Figaro, which Wright says “is in many people’s opinion probably the most important opera ever written by Mozart.”

To inject a little contemporary fashion into The Marriage of Figaro, Vancouver Opera commissioned costumes from Sid Neigum, whom Wright calls “one of Canada’s most up-and-coming, well-known, hot-shot fashion designers.”

In addition to the operas, Vancouver Opera is hosting a New Composers series as well as symposiums on the backgrounds of the operas, “specifically Dead Man Walking, and capital punishment, and social justice.”

The festival will spill out onto the plaza outside Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Passersby won’t be able to help but notice that something’s happening on the plaza, not just because of the tent but also because of Five Octave Range, a video installation by local artist Paul Wong.

“Four projectors are projecting his installation onto four eight-foot-high screens, 11 feet in the air, with sound,” Wright said. “It will be an experience people will see and hear, and be able to walk around and through.”

In addition, Vancouver Opera has commissioned a local architect to build three large pieces of furniture for the plaza, “and which people can lay on, sit on, experience,” Wright said.

The opera bar will be located in what is now the old restaurant at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (the operas will be performed in the theatre, though Ute Lemper is at the Orpheum and Tanya Tagaq at the Vogue). “We’re going to transform that into a really cool space,” Wright said. DJs will be spinning at the opera bar, which will also feature food from Nuba, a Lebanese restaurant.

The opera bar will open up onto a patio, and people will be able to walk from the opera bar through to the patio and then into the tent. “In the tent,  there will be impromptu performances by some of the artists who are performing in the operas. It’s going to be quite an exciting experience.”

We’ll have more on the Vancouver Opera Festival in the coming days. In the meantime, check out for ticket and schedule info.

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