The curtains sweep open, the overture plays and the story unfolds, a careful balancing act begins. Act I, Scene I, Calgary Opera’s 2006-2007 season. As their production of Rossini’s Cinderella waltzes into the Jubilee Auditorium, general director and chief executive Bob McPhee is already preparing for seasons to come and is able to look back at this season’s offerings.
“We try to keep a balance,” explains McPhee. ” This year we’re starting with something light, then something new with Frobisher and finishing with a dramatic classic, Carmen.”
McPhee is walking a tightrope between keeping abreast of the performing arts scene while keeping a rather conservative audience happy. If they fail, Calgary Opera risks the same fate as many an opera heroine: anihilation, death or insanity. However, if Calgary Opera’s role in commissioning new works is any indication, they’re not afraid of pushing boundaries. What’s more, their ticket sales would suggest their audience is open to it.
“One doesn’t want to boast, but I think our results should speak for themselves,” says McPhee. “I want you to look at what we’re doing, presenting a newer repertoire, getting great attendance.”
Calgary Opera has a lot to be proud of. They’re running their eighth year in surplus, commissioning new operas and selling out shows. Few events in Calgary can boast attendance rates surpassing 94 per cent capacity of venue, and even fewer in the arts sector. It may all be part of a flourishing trend in Canada, the renaissance of opera.
“I wouldn’t say Canada’s a sanctuary for opera,” says McPhee. “That’s too noble a thought. I would say it’s thriving and growing here.”
Despite what McPhee may say, opera has found an ally in some of Canada’s bigger cities. The opening of the Canadian Opera Company’s new opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, and their homecoming performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle marks a new era in Canada’s performing arts circle. A time when opera is the ticket to get, instead of the ballet.
“Opera takes all the disciplines and brings them into one art,” explains McPhee. “We often incorporate dance. We have a full orchestra, a chorus 40-strong. It’s an event. When people go out they want to go to something big.”
If anything, Calgarians are known for their cattle and their go-big-or-go-home attitude. Slowly, an interest in the arts is sneaking its way into the civic sub-conscious. There are theatre companies, art galleries, a ballet company–as well as the U of C fine arts and Alberta College of Art and Design communities. It’s no surprise the city has thrown itself behind such groups as Calgary Opera.
“We’re the fourth largest city in the country,” says McPhee. ” Why shouldn’t we have the fourth largest arts scene? Calgary’s so much more than the Stampede.”