EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Apr 29, 2013) - In 1904, inspirational hymns reverberated off the walls of downtown's All Saints Cathedral courtesy of choirmaster and co-founder of the 105-year-old Kiwanis Music Festival, Vernon Barford. He formed an amateur opera company and ignited the city's love of opera. The spark raged on in the 1930s, when Beatrice Carmichael, a Chicago soprano who had made Alberta her home produced operas using local singers. She produced 50 amateur shows over three decades. Some called her the grand dame of Edmonton opera, but she preferred the nickname her friends had given her, "Auntie Van." She inspired many to reach for greatness. In 1960, she collaborated with budding theatre producer Joe Shoctor and mounted the Edmonton production of Guys and Dolls. Joe went on to establish the Citadel Theatre, western Canada's largest regional theatre.
Auntie Van also inspired Peter Dezman, who co-founded an opera group that evolved into the city's first professional opera company in 1963. The organization's first artistic director, Jean Letourneau boasted an impressive resume. For three years, this tenor performed at Radio City Music Hall before moving to Edmonton to teach at Alberta College. Among his students was Robert Goulet, the dashing performer who originated the role of Lancelot in Broadway's Camelot and went on to fame in Hollywood. In 1966, the "Father of Opera," Irving Guttman took over the company and elevated it to even grander heights. He exposed Edmonton audiences to the talents of international opera stars including a young tenor named José Carreras. Today, Edmonton Opera continues its tradition of high-calibre performances as the company celebrates its 50th anniversary.
With this history, it's no wonder Edmonton has a festival dedicated to opera. Just off the southern banks of the North Saskatchewan River, the University of Alberta plays home to much of the Vocal Arts Festival. Under the leadership of artistic and managing director Kim Mattice-Wanat, the festival has showcased young opera singers for 15 years. According to Kim, "celebrating emerging artists has become our festival's theme."
Sit in on a master class and watch singers fine-tune their voices in a rare glimpse behind the scenes. You could rub elbows with the next Andriana Chuchman, the talented soprano who was part of the festival in 2003, and made her New York Metropolitan Opera debut in 2012.
The Vocal Arts Festival kicks off with the Vocal Gems Night of Celebration in the Muttart Conservatory located in the heart of Edmonton's river valley. Within the botanical pyramids, audiences will enjoy cuisine from Edmonton's finest restaurants while featured singers perform arias, duets and trios from the festival's 15-year history.
On Tuesday evenings, audiences can experience Song Soirées. Opera artists team up with pianists to perform poetry-inspired art songs while stunning visual slides complement their numbers. It is a treat for the eyes and ears. For comic relief, catch Opera Scene Extravaganza, a unique marriage of opera and improv that would keep even Figaro on his toes. Improvisers recreate opera scenes with comic panache while talented singers impress audiences with performances of arias from the same scenes.
Throughout the six-week festival, audiences can enjoy Song Soirées, showcases and other events, including the popular Broadway concert. Festival performers tackle classic Broadway songs, resulting in a crowd favourite.
The festival has attracted performers and mentors from across Canada, but it's also drawn attention from across North America. In Edmonton, the Vocal Arts Festival hits the high notes.