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Festival Guide

Vancouver Opera Festival 2018

Running from April 28 to May 6, the second annual Vancouver Opera Festival celebrates Russian composers.

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2018-2019 Season and Festival

Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, Charles Gounod’s Faust, and Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola

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Frequently Asked Questions about the 2016-2017 Season and Festival

Will the planned Festival repertoire be consecutive, or overlapping?

Productions will overlap. As currently planned, production #1 will open in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on a Thursday, and Production #2 will open there two nights later, on Saturday. Production #3, in the Vancouver Playhouse, will open the following Friday evening. There will be days with simultaneous productions in both venues. It will be possible to see all three productions in as few as three consecutive days, or to spread your opera experiences over three weeks. 

Will VO advertise south of the border to attract a wider audience?

Our first objective is to create an exciting and widely appealing opera festival for our community. Then, as the festival becomes firmly rooted in Vancouver’s cultural calendar, we will extend our range to nearby markets south of the border, and to opera tourists further away, in order to take advantage of Vancouver’s proven attraction as a destination city.

What happens if the Festival doesn't work? Will VO return to the old model?

We are committed to making the festival a success, and to building the format carefully and deliberately. We know it will take a few years to anchor the festival as a cultural fixture in the city, and we have taken that into account in our planning. It’s important to emphasize that although the festival will be home to most of our programming, we will have a year-round presence in the city. Each year, before Christmas, we will produce an entertaining opera in the Vancouver Playhouse. We will also be expanding the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program, with more singers and more performances throughout the fall and winter months in Metro Vancouver. And we will be collaborating with other organizations to present interesting opera performances and opera-centric experiences. Prominent among those collaborations is our partnership with UBC Opera, which allows us to offer its June production each year as an add-on to VO subscriptions.


Will the festival season be harder to manage? Will the production quality suffer?

We are not wavering from our commitment to quality. Every production at the Festival will be presented to the same high standard for which we have always strived. In 2017, our music director, Jonathan Darlington, will conduct our chorus and orchestra in the two productions in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The atmosphere around the festival will be livelier than what one normally encounters at the theatre, and there will be ancillary events and experiences on offer, but the quality of productions will not change. 

Years ago, did we have a condensed opera season in Vancouver?

When Richard Bonynge was the artistic director, in the late 1970s, he programmed operas in a condensed season to accommodate personal schedules for himself and his wife, Joan Sutherland. It’s hard to compare what Maestro Bonynge did with what we are planning, 40 years later, in a city that has changed dramatically since then. That schedule was not presented or marketed as a festival, nor did the company create any of the festive elements, such as a tent on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre plaza, that we are planning for the Vancouver Opera Festival.

What is the progress of the Portland Opera Festival?

Their first condensed season will take place in the spring of 2016. Their model is not the same as ours: they will stage two operas in sequence, in their larger venue, one each in the months of May and June. Then, in July each year, they will produce two productions in overlapping repertoire, in a smaller venue that is several blocks from the larger venue. Our Vancouver Opera Festival will take place in two side-by-side venues, and the adjoining plaza, during a three-week period.

What, if any, words of caution have we received from funders?

All levels of government are enthusiastically supportive of the move to a festival model. The Canada Council and the BC Arts Council both have emphasized the importance of maintaining a year-round presence in the community, which we have already built into the new model with a pre-Christmas production, an expanded schedule of performances for our Young Artists, a collaboration with UBC Opera and a planned co-production at thePuSh International Performing Arts Festival. The City of Vancouver is keenly interested in our plans and has shown its support, in particular by making the main venues and the adjoining plaza available to us for the entire run of the festival. 

What is the subscription structure going to be? Will we be able to keep our current seats?

Current subscribers will have priority access to seats at the Vancouver Opera Festival. As with past and current seasons, the productions at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre will each comprise four subscriber performances. However, the calendar will be different from its current Saturday/Thursday/Saturday/Sunday matinee structure. The opening production, of Otello, for example, will have a Thursday/Sunday matinee/Thursday/Saturday schedule. Thus, subscribers would able to retain their current seats, but the performance days might be different. The show in the Vancouver Playhouse will run for up to 15 performances, including previews, over three weeks; there will be many seating options available for subscribers.

If you are trying to attract young audiences, how do prices come down in order to bring in those young audiences?

Currently we offer a limited number of $35 seats for people under the age of 35. Typically, there are 200 of these seats available for each production. This past season, for our world-premiere production of Stickboy, we also offered $19 seats to people under the age of 19. They were very popular. We will be looking at ways to expand those offerings and, more broadly, to price this very expensive art form in ways that offer affordable options for everyone.

Are you maintaining Vancouver Opera In Schools?

This year, we refocused our education efforts in order to serve schools and their communities with programs that offer meaningful and lasting curriculum-based engagement, such as Project Opera (in which children work with teaching artists and create their own pieces). We will be continuing Project Opera, as well as activities at the O’Brian Centre such as the successful Opera Camps for children. Next season, we will be touring a specially adapted production of Stickboy to secondary schools. After that, the decision to tour to elementary schools will depend on whether we can identify a piece that aligns with what we are presenting on the mainstages. In all likelihood, we will offer a VOIS tour in 2017-2018. 

Please comment on the impact that the Met HD performances have had on audiences.

Despite the international popularity of these broadcasts, they have not helped bring new audiences to VO or other opera companies. Neither have they taken audiences away, except for some people who prefer not to drive at night. Our shift two seasons ago from Tuesday performances, which were not well attended, to Sunday matinees, was in part a response to that preference.

Have you considered merging or combining schedules with other local festivals?

The Vancouver Opera Festival will be unique in the city and region: a three-week festival devoted to opera. Other festivals offer their own unique experiences. Although we might collaborate with other festivals, as we already do with Bard on the Beach, for example, we have been careful to avoid conflicts with our sister organizations. We chose the late April – early May slot for that reason, and because of the availability of the performance venues and plaza for three uninterrupted weeks. That period also coincides with the start of the cruise ship season. We plan to work with that industry and with Tourism Vancouver to take advantage of the presence of those visitors in our city at Festival time.

How does VO plan to capture multi-ethnic audiences?

We recognize that engaging diverse audiences in opera requires steady effort over time. We have been working on this and have made some progress in recent seasons, as is evidenced by the increasing diversity of our audiences. We have expanded our connections in the community and will be working with them and with professional resources to offer programming, both at the festival and off-festival, which will be attractive to different ethnicities and will connect them with our opera productions. 

Who will manage the festival?

We have great depth of experience and creativity on staff, but we are keenly aware of what we don’t know about the mechanics of producing a festival. We will engage an experienced festival manager to oversee the logistics of a busy site that will include a large tent on the theatre plaza. We will also work with creative people on programming exciting, engaging events that complement the opera productions and draw people to the festival.     

Will the Festival format ticketing be subscription or single tickets only?

We will offer a full range of options for opera goers. There will be full-experience packages available, along with single-opera tickets. Current subscribers will have priority access to seating and early access to add-on opera performances, such as the annual pre-Christmas production in the Vancouver Playhouse and the UBC Opera production in June each year.

Will there be reserved seats?

All seats in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Vancouver Playhouse, whether during the festival or off-festival, will be reserved seats.

How long is the lease on the O'Brian Centre for Vancouver Opera?

We are five years into the current 10-year lease, and we have an option to renew the lease after that time.

What are the next steps for Vancouver Opera and the VO Board as you move toward the first festival year?

Our main tasks are to finalize core programming for the festival and for the pre-Christmas production in the Vancouver Playhouse, continue to attract financial support for the transition to the new model, begin to program ancillary events, determine pricing, and establish a sponsorship model that includes a title sponsor.

Will access to seats at the festival require a donation, as is done at other opera companies?

We will not require a donation in order to secure seats at the festival. Current subscribers will have priority access to seats, and will, if they choose, be able to retain their current seats, albeit not necessarily on the same days of the week as they currently attend. 

Are there other festival models which are similar to what you envision for the Vancouver Opera Festival?

Our festival will be unique, and designed to suit our city. Other opera festivals around the world are distinctive and differ from our model in several ways. For example, Glimmerglass, in tiny Cooperstown, NY, has an all-imported audience; the two-week Spoleto Festival, in Charleston, South Carolina, is more eclectic, contemporary and esoteric. Opera Theatre of St. Louis is the most similar, in that they perform operas in overlapping repertoire each summer, but their business model and facilities are very different from ours: they perform at a college facility, bring in “headliner” singers, and perform all their operas in English. 

Why is Vancouver Opera making the change to a festival model?

Vancouver Opera’s reputation for artistic excellence and innovation has grown over its 55-year history as Vancouver has become an increasingly vibrant and diverse city, known around the world for its festivals and celebrations. By presenting our core programming in a festival format, beginning in 2017, we are continuing to evolve alongside our city, while enhancing our contribution to the cultural life of Vancouver. The Vancouver Opera Festival will offer a concentrated and intensified cultural experience for opera lovers and audiences of all generations.

The Vancouver Opera Festival is an exciting, forward-looking development in the evolution of the organization. It aligns with our mission to offer entertaining, stimulating programming that redefines ‘opera’ and revolutionizes its accessibility and community value. 

Many opera companies in North America have struggled in recent years, in part because of traditional scheduling that dilutes rather than focuses opportunities for audiences to experience opera. We believe that Vancouver Opera’s festival model is an innovative adaptation to fluctuating demand and changing demographics in our community. Vancouver Opera is staying ahead of the curve by responding to these changes. 

We hope the Vancouver Opera Festival will excite current patrons and encourage new audiences to experience opera in an accessible, engaging environment. 

What can audiences expect from the Vancouver Opera Festival?

Audiences around the world love the atmosphere of excitement, passion and fun at opera and theatre festivals, such as Vancouver’s own PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Looking to our neighbours down south, the same can be said for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Cincinnati Opera, Fort Worth Opera, and Santa Fe Opera, all of whom schedule productions in a concentrated period. Portland Opera will also shift to a similar festival structure in 2016.

The Vancouver Opera Festival promises to add new energy and new voices to the city’s festival calendar with a spectacular mix of great opera favourites, contemporary classics, intimate smaller-scale works, and exciting world premieres. 

The Vancouver Opera Festival will officially launch in April 2017 with more than 20 opera performances and events held annually over a three-week period at the festival hub - the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, and their adjoining outdoor plaza spaces - where there will be an array of events and attractions for audiences of all generations.

The new format will also feature a mix of unique experiences, such as collaborative performances in other venues, animated lobbies, pre- and post-performance events, special programming for young people and families, complementary workshops and forums, and free events – all designed and curated to appeal to opera lovers old and new. The festival will ignite the imagination of the city each spring, enhancing the busy lives of Vancouverites with unique opera-focused events.

What programming will you offer?

Although we can’t announce the complete line up for the inaugural 2017 festival quite yet, we are thrilled to confirm that the Vancouver Opera Festival will launch with an opera we have not produced in more than 30 years: Verdi’s magnificent Otello. Each year, the mix at the Vancouver Opera Festival will include traditional opera favourites and large-scale masterpieces, contemporary classics, intimate smaller-scale works, and exciting world premieres. There will be something for everyone!

In April 2017, the Vancouver Opera Festival will present three major core productions: the 2,650-seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre will showcase two productions with four performances each; the 650-seat Vancouver Playhouse Theatre will present one work with up to 15 performances.

Each year, the Vancouver Opera Festival will also include an array of experiences, such as complementary workshops and forums, collaborative performances in other venues, animated lobby and plaza spaces, pre- and post-performance events, special programming for young people and families, and free events. 

Is Vancouver Opera making this change because of financial hardship?

Vancouver Opera is well supported by generous donors, by community-minded corporate sponsors, by all levels of government, and by the loyal commitment of its season ticket holders.

We are making this innovative adaptation due to fluctuating demand and changing demographics in our community, both of which have had an adverse impact on company revenues. Also, the ways in which today’s audiences enjoy cultural experiences are shifting. Vancouver Opera is staying ahead of the curve by responding to these changes. By creating a concentrated, intensified cultural experience we will bring increased awareness of opera to Vancouverites in an accessible and exciting festival environment.

How will I get my opera fix during non-festival months?

There will always be something cooking at Vancouver Opera! As early as the fall of 2016, long before the festival officially launches, we will be offering plenty of community-based opera experiences for our current ticket-holders and for the public, thus ensuring there will be even more opportunities for Vancouverites to connect with the art form year-round.

We will be expanding the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program from four singers to seven, and increasing their calendar of public appearances. The singers, and their piano accompanist and stage director, will give performances during the winter months at the O’Brian Centre for Vancouver Opera and at venues throughout Metro Vancouver.

We will be growing our partnership with UBC’s Opera Program, through co-productions and collaborations. Vancouver Opera Festival patrons will have early access to seats at UBC Opera’s annual spring production.

We are also working on several other exciting opportunities, including a family-friendly pre-holiday opera production at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre in November 2016, and a co-presentation of a provocative opera adaptation at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in January 2017. For future years, we are also looking at presenting a full-scale fall production of a musical.

Do Vancouver Opera's major donors and funders know about this change?

It was essential that our major donors and funders were in support of our plans before making this transition; as such we thoroughly explored the idea with key government funders, major donors, and partners in the community before we made a formal decision. Overwhelmingly, their response has been extremely positive about the innovative evolution of the organization.

Here are some samples of the support we’ve been receiving:

“I joined the Board because I believed in the vision and strategic direction of the company —to revolutionize the Opera’s value to community. Never has this been truer than with our conversion to a festival model. It’s a brave new direction that will provide a variety of multi-sensory experiences and create more opportunity for diverse audiences to engage in the intense, energized atmosphere of a festival. This has to be the most exciting time to be a part of Vancouver Opera.”

– Mo Dhaliwal, Vancouver Opera Board of Directors, former director, Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration 

“I think Vancouver Opera’s move to a festival model is very exciting. Vancouver is known for its festivals; The Vancouver Opera Festival will add new energy to the city. From gleaming classic operas to shiny world premieres with an eye to the future, these changes will build connections with a younger audience and will animate community relationships. I can’t wait to see and experience this Opera-Fest in person. See you there!”

– Ben Heppner, Honorary Patron, Vancouver Opera Festival 2017

“I applaud Vancouver Opera for taking such a bold move to launch a new festival as a platform for their core programming. This type of resourceful and innovative thinking is, of course, nothing new—it’s what one has come to expect from Jim Wright and his team. Festivals are a uniquely forceful catalyst for artistic excellence and organizational renewal, for attracting a young and diverse audience, and for situating the operatic arts at the centre of this city’s identity. I have no doubt that Vancouver Opera will seize each of these opportunities, and many more associated with what lies ahead.”

– Norman Armour, Artistic and Executive Director, PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

To read all statements of support for the Vancouver Opera Festival, click here.

If I have been a long-time subscriber of Vancouver Opera, what benefits can I expect to see with the new festival model?

As we transition to a festival model in April 2017, our valued subscribers can expect to retain a number of the benefits they have come to enjoy, including: 

•      Priority access to the best seats at the best prices. 
•      Free ticket exchange privileges
•      Priority access to additional tickets for family and friends
•      Priority access to add-on performances, such as UBC Opera’s spring production, and other off-festival performances throughout the year
•      Optional, flexible installment payment plan
•      Exclusive invitations during the festival and throughout the year