Bold Programming at the Inaugural Vancouver Opera Festival

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Otello, Dead Man Walking and The Marriage of Figaro feature superb singers, stunning designs

Programming also includes a new commissioned video installation by award-winning artist Paul Wong, performances by vocal stylist Ute Lemper and Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq

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Many events and experiences for audiences of all ages

Vancouver, BC ~ Three dazzling new opera productions are at the core of the inaugural Vancouver Opera Festival, April 28 to May 13, 2017.

Full-scale productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s late-career masterpiece Otello, featuring powerful tenor Clifton Forbis in the title role, and Jake Heggie’s modern classic Dead Man Walking, with charismatic bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Joseph De Rocher, will be presented in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Award-winning set designer Erhard Rom, who created VO’s internationally renowned 2010 production of Nixon in China, is the scenic designer for both productions.

Mozart’s magnificent The Marriage of Figaro, at the Vancouver Playhouse, will feature a terrific cast of emerging stars, sets designed by Vancouver’s multi-Jessie-Award-winning Drew Facey(Stickboy, 2014) and contemporary costumes by Canadian fashion designer Sid Neigum, who is receiving international attention for his bold geometric creations.

In addition to the core opera productions, the 16-day Vancouver Opera Festival will offer a new VO-commissioned visual art installation, performances by superb vocal artists, new collaborations with other Vancouver arts organizations, a massive choral extravaganza, and engaging, immersive experiences for people of all ages.

The Vancouver Opera Festival will take place at three venues in downtown Vancouver: the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Vancouver Playhouse, and in the 500-plus-seat Festival Tent, which will be erected on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre plaza. Details of all announced events, including on-sale dates for tickets, appear below. Tickets are currently on sale for all operas in VO’s 2016-2017 season, including the three festival operas, through the VO Ticket Centre 604-683-0222 or online at

Kim Gaynor, VO’s new general director, says, “I am thrilled to be joining VO at this exciting moment in its history. At the core of our sixteen-day festival are three fantastic new productions, two of which are of operas rarely or never before seen in Vancouver. The festival format is an exciting extension to what VO has traditionally done, and it creates a platform to explore repertoire, collaborations and many new opportunities to engage, educate and entertain audiences, new and old.”

The Operas

VO’s music director Jonathan Darlington will conduct the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Vancouver Opera Chorus in the company premiere of Jake Heggie’s very moving Dead Man Walking (2000, libretto by Terrence McNally), based on the well-known book by Sister Helen Prejean and the popular movie. Dead Man Walking is the most-produced 21st– century opera, with important productions in the United States, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Australia, and in Canada at L’Opéra de Montréal and Calgary Opera. The internationally heralded Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch (Don Giovanni, 2014), will sing the role of convicted murderer Joseph De Rocher. Legendary Canadian mezzo-soprano Judith Forst will sing the role of his mother, Mrs. Patrick De Rocher. The role of Sister Helen Prejean will be sung by the sensational American mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges. Sister Helen herself is slated to appear at a free public forum at the Festival, to share her compassionate interest in the issues of capital punishment, incarceration and restorative justice.

Maestro Darlington will also conduct Verdi’s monumental Otello in its first VO production in 36 years. Powerful Vancouver-raised soprano Erin Wall will sing the role of Desdemona in her first appearance since 2011’s La traviata. The title role will be sung by acclaimed tenor Clifton Forbis, whose voice “flashes electrifying muscular power but still floats captivating sotto voce effects” (Financial Times). Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl, a favourite of Vancouver audiences, will sing Iago.

Otello and Dead Man Walking will be performed 4 times each, in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Mozart’s masterful The Marriage of Figaro is the third opera production in the Festival. Leslie Dala conducts members of the VO Orchestra in 13 performances in the intimate Vancouver Playhouse. Award-winning stage director Rachel Peake (Stickboy, 2014) directs the striking new contemporary production and a cast comprised of the cream of emerging opera stars from Canada and beyond. For the first time in VO history, the sets will be constructed entirely in the VO scene shop, located at the O’Brian Centre for Vancouver Opera.

All opera performance dates are listed at the bottom of this news release.

Visual Art by Paul Wong

VO has commissioned Audain Prize-winning artist Paul Wong to create “Five Octave Range”, a new immersive site-specific video installation in the Festival Tent which will incorporate archival images from five decades of VO productions. Paul Wong is an acclaimed visual, media and interdisciplinary artist and curator. Known for pioneering early visual and media art in Canada, he has founded several artist-run groups, spearheaded lively discussions around public arts policy, and organized events, festivals, conferences and public interventions since the 1970s.

Vocal Performances

German singer and actress Ute Lemper, one of the world’s great song stylists, makes a rare Vancouver appearance, for two performances of her show “Last Tango in Berlin”, in the Festival Tent, Thursday and Friday, May 4 and 5, 2017 at 9:00pm with support from the Goethe Institute. Backed by a superb trio (piano, bandoneon, bass), Ute Lemper explores the backstreets of Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires in songs by Weill & Brecht, Brel, Piaf, Ferré and Piazzolla.

In collaboration with Music On Main, VO presents Tanya Tagaq, the Polaris Prize-winning throat singer, in performance in the Festival Tent Friday, May 12, 2017 at 9:00pm. Nunavut-born Tagaq combines Inuit tradition with modern electronica, industrial and metal influences in a riveting vocal performance.

Total Choral Immersion

In a unique and entertaining evening of choral singing, members of invited regional professional,  semi-professional and amateur choirs bring their best game to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, massing onstage with the VO Chorus and VO Orchestra to sing famous opera choruses. Maestro Jonathan Darlington conducts and Leslie Dala is the chorus director of what will be one of the largest massed opera choruses in the city’s history, Wednesday May 3, 2017 at 7:30pm. Presented in collaboration with the Vancouver Bach Choir.


Tickets for Ute Lemper, Tanya Tagaq, and Total Choral Immersion are currently available only to VO season subscribers and will go on sale to the public November 14, 2016.

Film Night at the Opera

In collaboration with DOXA Documentary Film Festival, VO will screen an engrossing opera-themed documentary on Monday, May 8, 2017 at 7:30pm in the Vancouver Playhouse.

Master Classes for Young Singers

In four sessions in the Festival Tent, the singers of tomorrow work on technique and explore repertoire, coached by principal artists from the casts of Otello, Dead Man Walking and The Marriage of Figaro. The public is welcome to come to just one, or attend all four and witness the singers’ process as it unfolds over two weeks. Admission is free. 

Young Composers Workshops

Composers early in their careers will be invited to submit new work for the voice. In four open workshops in the Festival Tent, these young creators will receive constructive criticism and direction from VO’s music director, Jonathan Darlington, and from members of the VO Orchestra and VO Chorus. Admission is free.

The Artistry of Youth: a performance by young singers

The results of two weeks of coaching and creation will be shared with the public as the participants in the Young Singers Master Classes present their work, including selected work developed in the Young Composers Workshops. This is a ticketed event in the Festival Tent Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 7:00pm.

Delta Opera & Performance Academy

VO and the Delta School District are collaborating in Delta School District’s innovative year-long Opera & Performance program for students in grades 8 through 12. They will present the fruits of their work in the Festival Tent Thursday, May 11, 2017 at 8:00pm. Admission will be free but tickets will be required.  

Experiences for Families

Opera Tales

Fairy tales and traditional stories come to life in Opera Tales – a clever mash-up of narrated story and opera selections by 4 energetic singers and a nimble-fingered pianist, all members of VO’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program. Featuring familiar music by composers such as Rossini, Bizet and Mozart, Opera Tales is designed to delight the young AND their parents. In addition to the one-hour performance, the audience will have an opportunity to meet the singers and get hands-on experience with sets, costumes and props. Tuesday, May 2, 2017, Noon to 2:00pm, in the Vancouver Playhouse.

Tickets for The Artistry of Youth, Delta Opera & Performance Academy’s presentation, and Opera Tales will be available in spring 2017.

Opera in Context: Forums and Discussions

VO continues its long tradition of exploring opera’s music and stories, and of engaging audiences in discussing important contemporary issues which arise from the work it produces. Two sessions in a longer series of free events are currently scheduled:

The Music of Verdi, Heggie and Mozart

Three composers will be explored in a free lecture/presentation in the Festival Tent on Thursday April 27 at 4:00pm.

Opera Speaks about Ethical Justice

Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book Dead Man Walking, joins a distinguished cross-cultural panel to discuss the death penalty, incarceration and their alternatives, onThursday, April 27 from 7:00 to 8:30pm. Venue to be confirmed.

Preview Talks

Free to opera ticket-holders, these lively and informative free 30-minute talks by VO experts prepare audiences for the performance, with insights into the story, the creators, the music and the production. In the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the talks take place in the theatre (mezzanine level). In the Vancouver Playhouse, they take place in the upper lobby. They are scheduled for one hour before curtain at each performance.

Happy Hours in the Festival Tent

The Festival Tent will be a hive of activity every day of the Vancouver Opera Festival. Almost every evening, from 4:00pm to 7:00pm, the tent will be open for socializing, light refreshments and intriguing programming: talks, panel discussions, performances.

Dates & Times of Opera Performances

Otello, By Giuseppe Verdi
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Friday, April 28, 7:30 pm

Sunday, April 30, 2:00 pm

Thursday, May 4, 7:30 pm
Saturday, May 6, 7:30 pm

Dead Man Walking, By Jake Heggie
Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Saturday, April 29, 7:30 pm
Tuesday, May 2, 7:30 pm
Friday, May 5, 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 7, 2:00 pm

The Marriage of Figaro, by W.A. Mozart

Vancouver Playhouse

Sunday, April 30, 2:00 pm

Wednesday, May 3, 2:00 pm
Saturday, May 6, 1:30 and 7:30 pm
Tuesday, May 9, 7:30 pm
Wednesday, May 10, 7:30 pm
Thursday, May 11, 7:30 pm
Friday, May 12, 7:30 pm
Saturday, May 13, 1:30 and 7:30 pm
Plus 3 post-Festival performances:

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, May 16, 17, & 18, 7:30 pm

For Festival information and to sign up for Festival e-news updates, visit


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