Bringing opera to the Surrey masses

Members of the Vancouver Opera present Opera
Members of the Vancouver Opera present Opera's Greatest Hits in Surrey Feb. 8, featuring singers Aaron Durand, Rocco Rupolo, Kristin Hoff, Sheila Christie, and pianist Kimberley-Ann Bartczak.
— image credit: Submitted

To the uninitiated, the word opera might conjure images of larger-than-life people with long braids and horned hats on their heads, singing complicated music that's difficult to understand.

Vancouver Opera (VO) is well aware of the stereotype. And the company would like to quash the inaccurate image.

"Almost everyone who hasn't seen opera has a pre-conceived notion about it," says Doug Tuck, director of marketing for Vancouver Opera. "I think that people feel its unapproachable, requires a lot of knowledge to enjoy it, and is expensive.

"What we're trying to do is show them that it doesn't take a lot to appreciate opera and the singing is beautiful."

This weekend, Surreyites will have the chance to experience opera just minutes from home.

Vancouver Opera will present Opera's Greatest Hits – and More at the Surrey Arts Centre Feb. 8.

For 40 years, singers from the VO have toured Surrey schools, bringing adaptations of traditional operas to gymnasiums around the city or presenting commissioned, educational musical productions to students.

"We haven't really brought our adult programming to Surrey," says Tuck. "And with Surrey being the burgeoning cultural centre that it's becoming, we're very excited to come and be there."

As of late last week, more than 200 people had bought tickets for the Surrey show, leaving just half the theatre's seats up for grabs.

Tuck said though a significant proportion of the Lower Mainland's population lives in Surrey, very few residents – roughly 10 per cent of the audience – venture to see a VO show.

"So we're coming out to them and we're hoping to entice them downtown with a little sample, especially for those people who aren't familiar with the art form."

The company is also looking to expand its outreach, planning more future productions south of the Fraser. Currently in the works is a new opera called Stickboy, based on a novel by spoken word poet Shane Koyczan. The VO plans to produce it on the main Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage in November and then take it on the road to other venues, including those in Surrey.

The all-ages Feb. 8 best-of concert will feature a selection of songs to give audiences a taste of opera's greatest areas and ensembles – some of them well-known, such as the solo from the Barber of Seville with its familiar "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!" refrain.

There will also be pieces from Carmen, The Pearl Fishers, and more.

"It should be widely appealing to people who've never heard opera before … and for those who have heard it, there will be some surprises, and the chance to hear it again," Tuck says.

Though the performers are part of the VO's Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program, all of the performers are in their 20s, and are broadly trained, highly experienced performers and singers. Singers include soprano Sheila Christie, mezzo-soprano Kristin Hoff, tenor Rocco Rupolo, baritone Aaron Durand, alongside pianist Kimberley-Ann Bartczak and directed by Fanny Gilbert-Collet.

"These are people who audition from across Canada to get into our program," says Tuck. "They're all on their way to having careers."

It's hoped the local show will be the first of many.

"We're just sort of dipping our toes into the Surrey waters, as it were," Tuck says. "We're tip toeing across the Fraser and establishing relationships with people there and bringing what we have to offer out to the already vibrant place that Surrey is."

Tickets for Opera's Greatest Hits – and More are $20 for adults and $10 for children 18 and under and seniors, available at tickets.surrey.ca or by calling 604-501-5566. The Surrey Arts Centre is located at 13750 88 Ave.

Every ticket holder will also receive $20 "opera bucks" to be used toward purchasing a ticket to a VO production at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this season. Anyone using their opera bucks for a show can also get a free day pass on TransLink to travel to Vancouver.


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