Intrigued by what the West Coast Opera Studio had to offer, I drove to the edge of Marpole, parked my car between a dumpster and a blackberry bush, and settled in for my first-ever opera experience. On Saturday, July 30, The Studio was presenting not one, but two Baroque operas. An initiative created by performers themselves, The Studio aims to offer valuable stage time to aspiring professionals. They are also out to reject the notion that opera is a dying art. I was open to this, but two operas in two hours seemed like too much, too soon.
I arrived at the Metro Theatre three minutes before the scheduled start, terrified that I would be late and worried that I was under dressed. First up was Dido and Aeneas, a love story that I would struggle to follow for the better part of an hour. While I initially thought it a brilliant idea to open with an opera performed entirely in English, I quickly learned that this wouldn’t help me when it came to understanding the words being sung. It wasn’t until I read the program during intermission that I was able to make sense of what had just unfolded on the stage before me.
The second opera, La serva padrona, would be an entirely different experience. Less heartbreak, witchcraft and death, more hijinks, physical comedy and on-stage chemistry. A cast of three would sing only in Spanish, supported by subtitles that weren’t even necessary. Not only was the singing phenomenal, but the acting was great too. This would prove to be a funny and endearing story of a master, unable to control his beautiful and bossy maidservant, who has demanded he marry her. The audience was enamoured and laughed loudly throughout
The West Coast Opera succeeded at offering a relaxed and welcoming environment. My Birkenstocks were not out of place among the backpacks and sneakers, which I feel is a detail that deserves being mentioned. Still, there were high heels and pleated pants too. While at times it was apparent we were watching students and not seasoned professionals, it felt good to be there. I was rooting for them, and I was happy to have my butt in a chair if it meant that these artists would gain valuable experience towards mastering their craft.
That said, this was an undeniably talented group. They deserve opportunities to perform. And, they deserve to perform to a room that’s more than a quarter full, mostly with loved ones, especially on their opening night. Opera may not being dying, but if we don’t give it a chance, it might just.
WCOS is a brand new opera company dedicated to showcasing local performers by creating opportunities for them to sing full roles. Entirely funded by arts lovers and the community, the project strives to help underfunded young singers as they prepare for full careers.