Welcome to City Opera
We are a professional chamber opera company. We produce opera from its rise in 1600 through to new opera alive in our own time. We commission new Canadian opera. We present concerts that animate our brand, widen our audience, and take our music to people where they live.
At City Opera, we are building a repertoire. Building an audience. And building a company. Welcome to the rising future of opera.
Chamber Opera. Intimate eloquence.
So close you can almost touch it.
COMING: SINGALONG GREAT OPERA CHORUSES. Saturday 28 September, 1 - 2pm, CBC Studio 700. Part of BC Culture Days. It's like singing in the shower, but without the water. Free, of course.
BERLIN: THE LAST CABARET / 23 - 25 January 2020
Berlin. 1934. The last cabaret. The last night.
BERLIN: THE LAST CABARET is a new venture for City Opera. It is an innovative chamber opera production offering a collage of music and art from the era and culture of the Weimar Republic (1919 – 1933), all presented in a cabaret setting at Performance Works in Vancouver. It will run 23, 24, and 25 January 2020, all at 8pm.
The objective of BERLIN: THE LAST CABARET is to illuminate an extraordinary period through the lives of five characters, and through music from the work of Alban Berg, Hanns Eisler, Friedrich Hollaender, Mischa Spoliansky, Viktor Ullmann, Claire Waldoff, and Kurt Weill.
Our method is to link the modular components of extant Weimar cabaret-opera-film to a new narrative that will provide an emotional arc across the whole evening. We have already located some 40 superb but little-known musical works from the era upon which to base our production.
Our objective is also to present music from the Weimar era -- but cross-connected in a new narrative. Weimar was a period of tremendous experiment and daring, risk and transgression, gender liberation, discovery and allure – especially in Berlin. We model on Kurt Tucholsky (1890 – 1935), a German journalist, writer, and satirist whose contemporary works give context to ours. He was “a canary in the coal mine of the Weimar Republic”, and foreshadowed what came next: the Third Reich.
Our further objective is to examine the rise of fascism through the manufacture of chaos and consent, deliberate lying on an unimaginable scale, and the exploitation of race, fear, and gender. The failures of the Weimar Republic may anticipate ours today.
Our final objective is to use music -- unique and vivid -- to recreate an era of exceptional creativity, and render personal the core truths shared by those times and ours.
Although opera is not documentary, we are mindful that historical facts in BERLIN: THE LAST CABARET must be sound and verifiable. To this end, we have done a great deal of research led by advisors expert in the music, film, politics and culture of the era. We are especially indebted to Dr Lauren Faulkner Rossi (History, Simon Fraser University), and Dr Ian Beacock (History, University of British Columbia) for their guidance.
We also thank our funders: The Canada Council for the Arts, the Edwina and Paul Heller Memorial Fund, the McLean Foundation, Hamber Foundation, Leon Judah Blackmore Foundation, John Fluevog Shoes, annual operating support from the BC Arts Council and City of Vancouver Cultural Services, our many private donors, and more to come.
Our key artists include Alan Corbishley, stage director; Charles Barber, music director; Roger Parton, music historian; John Webber, set and lighting designer; Jayson McLean, production manager; and, Joanna Garfinkel, dramaturge.
This is an urgent project. Mass shootings of The Other in Montréal, Pittsburgh, New Zealand, and elsewhere make it so. The liberal Constitution, the cultural wonders, the personal liberation, the emancipation of women, the rise of gay culture, and the tolerance of minorities all associated with Weimar also led to its doom, and to the Third Reich.
It is a bitter paradox, relevant in our own time. Art has the power to engage such ideas, and our times have created a significant audience for it. We may imagine we are safe, insulated, alert. Vancouver is not. Canada is not.
BERLIN: THE LAST CABARET also reflects on the irony and shattering truth of Brecht, in his 1941 allegory The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui.
At the end of the play, as people like ourselves congratulate one another on defeating the tyrant and the tyranny, we hear this:
“If we could learn to look instead of gawking,
We'd see the horror in the heart of farce…
Don't yet rejoice in his defeat, you men!
Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
CHINATOWN / September 2021
Libretto by Madeleine Thien
City Opera Vancouver has announced its fifth commission in nine years.
“CHINATOWN will tell the story of the history, people, and culture of one of our most important neighbourhoods. It could not be more timely,” said City Opera president Janet Lea.
Its librettist is the renowned writer, Vancouver-born and raised, Madeleine Thien is best known for her historical novel DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING (2016), winner of the Giller Prize and the Governor-General’s Award. It has been translated into 17 languages. CHINATOWN will be her first opera.
Said Thien, “I’m honoured to have this chance to immerse in the intricate and complex life of Vancouver’s Chinatown. For over a century, this neighbourhood has been the centre of gravity for the imaginings, stories, experiences, heartbreaks and hopes of Vancouver’s Chinese community. Many people – from divergent and overlapping histories and languages – call this neighbourhood home; for me, Strathcona and Chinatown are at the core of my own childhood and teenaged years.
“I’m deeply moved to be part of this project. I look forward to learning all that I can, and to working on an opera that might create, in unanticipated ways, a profound experience of our shared history and future.”
City Opera Vancouver, established in 2006, is a professional chamber opera company that specializes in new and unusual work, featuring Canadian themes and artists.
City Opera Vancouver will conduct a wide series of workshops and community consultations in creation of CHINATOWN. To date, 42 meetings have been held with the elders, leaders, historians and people of Chinatown. Many more will follow over the next three years.
Susan Ma serves as Community Engagement Coordinator, and Rachel Peake as Dramaturge. Our stage director is Debi Wong.
The composer will be chosen, in a Juried process, after the first draft libretto is complete.
CHINATOWN is planned for world premiere in September 2021. The evening will commence with a community dinner, and a memorial parade to The Vancouver Playhouse. This special event will honour the elders and community leaders who have made Chinatown possible, unique, and essential, all these years.
The Vancouver Foundation has awarded City Opera Vancouver a three-year creation and production grant for its new opera, CHINATOWN.
This complements an award previously granted by the City, through its Creative City Strategies programme, on 13 November 2018.
“We are honoured and grateful,” said City Opera president Janet Lea. “The generosity and imagination of The Vancouver Foundation, and of the City of Vancouver, will allow us to lead creation of an important work about the history, the people, and the future of Chinatown.
“Art elevates discourse. It moves us from the abstract to the personal. Our new opera will lead to a new discussion -- at many levels -- about one of our most important neighbourhoods and peoples. It could not be more timely.”