Gilbert and Sullivan within the opera home? The place does this depart Verdi, Puccini and Wagner?

Now don’t get me mistaken; I like Gilbert and Sullivan as a lot as I like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” There is just a little John Cleese in all of us.

But what has Canada’s self-described second largest opera firm been doing this spring by producing “H.M.S. Pinafore”?

OK, so the Canadian Opera Company as soon as produced — and produced very nicely — the Broadway musical “Kismet.” So why shouldn’t Vancouver Opera slum just a little?

Slum? Well, snob that I’m, I occur to consider that opera firms ought to be producing opera. And the explanation? We in Canada are operatically underserved. Our so-called second largest firm gives its patrons the grand complete of three mainstage productions yearly and this season, shockingly, so does our largest firm.

So the place does this depart Verdi, Puccini and Wagner? Out within the Canadian chilly, that’s the place.

While it’s true that Canada is creating quite a few smaller, extra experimentally minded firms, generally championing new work, our mainstream firms, notably throughout these COVID-conscious occasions, appear to be making an attempt to play it protected.

Of course they wish to develop their viewers. What they’re doing within the course of is turning into much less of who they’re. And it doesn’t all the time work. Tom Wright, basic director of Vancouver Opera, expressed disappointment lately on the ticket gross sales for “H.M.S. Pinafore,” a success when his firm final produced it a number of years in the past.

I sat by way of considered one of this season’s performances and was disillusioned as nicely, not solely by the attendance however by a not unrelated consciousness that Vancouver Opera had did not convey this classic 1878 piece of Victoriana absolutely to life.

There was definitely life current within the particular person of Peter McGillivray within the scene-stealing position of Sir Joseph Porter, Ok.C.B., first lord of the admiralty. And he was definitely not surrounded by cadavers amongst “his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.”

What the solid however wanted was the sort of vitality and sense of fashion Brian Macdonald dropped at his Stratford Festival Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Brenna Corner introduced bits of enterprise however no agency directorial hand and her colleague within the pit, Rosemary Thomson, now in her fifteenth season as music director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, carried out at a tepid temperature.

No, the manufacturing was not likely incompetent, it was provincial, additional hampered by the unflattering acoustics of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Two days after attending “H.M.S. Pinafore,” I discovered myself in Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre, listening to the Canadian Opera Company’s manufacturing of Verdi’s “La Traviata” and questioning why the music abruptly sounded so loud.

The music sounded loud as a result of I used to be sitting in an actual opera home with superb acoustics. It isn’t typically sufficient appreciated how a lot most Canadian opera firms undergo, like Vancouver’s, from unsympathetic lodging.

The Vancouver Opera, like its sister firms, has definitely suffered by way of a few years of COVID-19 shutdowns and viewers restrictions, having at one level needed to reduce its price range nearly in half.

But there gained’t be any Gilbert and Sullivan within the season forward. To its appreciable credit score, the corporate shall be bouncing bravely again with three substantial and much from over-performed operatic items, starting with Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” (Oct. 22-30), persevering with with Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Feb. 11-19) and concluding with Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” (April 29-May 7).

This, bear in mind, is the corporate that launched the world to Joan Sutherland’s Norma and Lucrezia Borgia, staged the Canadian premiere of John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and commissioned Lillian Alling. There are outstanding pages in its historical past.

Granted, its days of 5 annual mainstage productions seem to lie, a minimum of quickly, prior to now. But the Vancouver Opera is a nationwide chief in its teaching programs, its colleges program having introduced brief operas in English to greater than 1.6 million kids.

While “H.M.S. Pinafore” could have did not convey capability crowds again to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Wright believes a minimum of a part of the reason lies with the reluctance of individuals to return to common theatregoing when COVID-19 stays a societal presence.

As an inducement to return, the corporate plans to current its first free out of doors live performance in a Burnaby park in July. “We want to send the message that opera is fun,” he mentioned.

It is a message opera producers all through North America are sending. In pursuit of youthful audiences, much less wedded to the usual repertory, they’re additionally turning into extra aware of the sounds of our time. As nicely because the issues.

In commissioning “Naomi’s Road,” an opera primarily based on Joy Kogawa’s guide a few Japanese-Canadian woman’s expertise of her household’s internment in the course of the Second World War, the corporate addressed a topic with persevering with resonance for British Columbians.

So possibly an occasional tone-lightening snicker with Gilbert and Sullivan will not be such a nasty thought in spite of everything. Just be certain the fitting individuals are telling the jokes.


William Littler is a Toronto-based classical music author and a contract contributing columnist for the Star.


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