There are a few options for high culture in Vancouver. The Recital Society, the Vancouver Symphony and the Vancouver Opera are some standouts. The quality, I hear, can be uneven so I’ve tried to be careful when buying tickets to look for the right combination of performers and material. You don’t want to aim above what local arts groups can offer. Because the reality is that Vancouver is a 2nd tier arts city. Therefore it is unfair to compare the arts resources of a 2nd tier city like Vancouver with those of Toronto or New York. Plus, Vancouver arts have been seriously cut recently by a philistine provincial government.
(There is something curious about Vancouver’s art scene: with rare exception, performances are poorly marketed. Sometimes I hear of a visiting Russian ballet company or leading opera singer coming to town at the last minute or only because I’ve gone a deep dive search for local happenings.)
I am privileged enough to have been to big opera houses in the US and Europe. When the stops are all out, opera is an immersive and awe-some experience. I’ve also been to smaller opera houses in the US, and as in Vancouver there is no way they can ever measure up to the grand ones. Fact.
Not to say that all is perfection at the Metropolitan Opera and such. I’ve cringed at some tenors and sopranos on that stage who were way past their prime, and some of its super expensive productions were exercises in abysmal taste.
The Vancouver Opera‘s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” looked promising. Its concept was intriguing, and inspired: First Nations characters in a Pacific Northwest setting, appropriately costumed and staged. It made a good fit with Mozart’s vision of a lost Prince in a bewitched forest accompanied by a loveless bird catcher.
And I have to say, I just love the VO use of manga to market its productions. It strikes me as a clever, creative way to demonstrate relevance to younger audiences. The company’s artistic choices strike the right chord.
But somehow, the concept fell flat in execution. What did work clashed with what did not; opportunities for a better integrated mix of the First Nations aesthetic were absent, or attempted weakly. The attempt to blend the contemporary and fantastical ancient world seemed an afterthought and ultimately unnecessary. The voices were generally good but the staging plodded.
Now, while I think this was a miss, it was still a good opera for children. There was enough to keep them delighted, and the fact that it was sung in English, with surtitles, meant the story would not be lost to them or confusing.
I’ll return to the VO. I owe them that. There is an interesting contemporary opera coming up. A Gilbert and Sullivan production would interest me. But the classics and grand operas I might have to leave to the Live at the Met Opera broadcasts.