Othello and Dead Man Walking headline Vancouver Opera's inaugural 2017 festival

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      Vancouver Opera has announced the lineup for its new festival in 2017, and it spans everything from a contemporary death-row-set opera to the return of Otello and outdoor happenings staged by the Arrival Agency.

      The company won't have a regular season starting in 2016-17, instead presenting Old Trout Puppet Workshop's version of Hansel & Gretel as a holiday family show from November 24 to December 11, and launching the Vancouver Opera Festival from April 28 to May 18, 2017.

      The holiday show, with its score by Engelbert Humperdinck, will feature Old Trout's famous puppets (seen locally in shows like Famous Puppet Death Scenes), with young British maestro Alexander Prior  at the podium and direction by  Brenna Corner. It will be staged at the Vancouver Playhouse.

      The inaugural Vancouver Opera Festival opens with Giuseppe Verdi's Otello, which hasn't been staged by the VO in 36 years. Conducted by Jonathan Darlington and directed by Michael Cavanagh, this new production at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre features Clifton Forbis as Otello, Erin Wall as Desdemona and Gregory Dahl as Iago.

      The company will also premiere a new production of Dead Man Walking at the same large venue,  with its music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Terrence McNally. Like the movie of the same name, it's based on Sister Helen Prejean's real account of her relationship with a death-row inmate. Conducted by Jonathan Darlington and directed by Joel Ivany, it stars J'nai Bridges as Sister Helen Prejean, Daniel Okulitch as Joseph De Rocher and Judith Forst as Mrs. Patrick De Rocher. 

      And Leslie Dala will conduct Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the smaller Vancouver Playhouse. Rachel Peake directs.

      Meanwhile, the Vancouver Opera is teaming up with event innovator Tom Anselmi, who has been hired as the new associate producer to program a large festival tent on the Q.E. Theatre plaza with events and activities for all ages. Anselmi and his Arrival Agency have staged multimedia happenings everywhere from the Vancouver Art Gallery's FUSE to the Waldorf Hotel to the Khatsahlano Street Party.

      Details of all festival programming are to be announced later. Among the events and experiences being promised: a grand choral gathering;  a cinema screening with live musical performance; an evening of cabaret with an international vocal artist; chamber music performance; visual art; lectures, workshops and educational programs for all ages, and for families; and inventive food.

      Last but not least, the opera has plans to team up with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and IL CENTRO Italian Cultural Centre for an off-site version of playwright Brett Bailey's strikingly dark and politically charged adaptation of Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth. Running in January 2017 and set in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it features members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra performing alongside 10 singers and two percussionists from South Africa, led by Serbian conductor Premil Petrović. Owen Metsileng will play Macbeth and Nobulumko Mngxekeza is Lady Macbeth.

      In a press statement Vancouver Opera general director James Wright said, “The 2016-2017 season truly is a landmark for the company and the community. We have selected four wonderful operas to appeal to people of all ages and interests. Three of them will be new to many people: Vancouver Opera has presented Hansel and Gretel and Otello only once each, in 1966 and 1981 respectively; and Dead Man Walking—a modern classic, and the most successful new opera of the 21st Century—is a company premiere.

      The fourth, The Marriage of Figaro, will be ‘new’ too: it will feature contemporary set and costume design and an intimate production that I’m sure will create excitement and pleasure for our audiences, both seasoned and new alike. And, to add even more excitement we are delighted to be co-presenting a remarkable version of Macbeth at PuSh Festival 2017.

      “We are especially thrilled to be launching the inaugural Vancouver Opera Festival, April 28 through May 18, 2017. The three major opera productions and events, experiences, and entertainment in the Festival tent will combine to create an immersive, eclectic and diverse world of music, vocal and visual art. We can’t share details quite yet, but we are working on some really exciting – and perhaps unexpected – programming.”

      Wright will not be leading the company for 2016-17; he is retiring and his successor, Kim Gaynor, was announced yesterday.

      Wright said in the press statement of her appointment: “I would like to say that I am very pleased with our Board of Directors’ selection of Kim Gaynor as my successor as General Director. I have met Kim several times over the years and know of her many accomplishments here in Canada and in Europe. Under her leadership, together with the company’s esteemed Music Director Jonathan Darlington and our experienced artistic and administrative staff, Vancouver Opera Festival and the company are in exceedingly good hands.”