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Monday, March 26, 2012

Try a Sip of Opera

Last Wednesday, the Vancouver Opera In Schools (VOIS) team had two scheduled Hansel & Gretel performances at Eagle View Elementary in Port Hardy.

One show was for students from neighbouring communities, including Seaview Elementary in Port Alice, where we were scheduled to perform on Tuesday, but had to cancel due to bad weather and cancelled ferries. I'm glad they were able to make it today. The second show was for the students of Eagle View.

While the VOIS troupe was doing their first show in the morning, I spent the time working from Cafe Guido, the local coffee shop in Port Hardy. It's the kind of place where you want to sit, sip and stay a while. Cafe Guido is a hub for town activity: there's a bookstore downstairs, an artisan craft store upstairs, and the cafe, which serves awesome coffee and sandwiches and has free wifi, also hosts coffee house music nights.

I went downstairs to check out the bookstore. While browsing the books, I overheard two ladies raving about a recent Barney Bentall concert hosted by the North Island Concert Society. They were excitedly trying to convince the woman working behind the counter (I've forgotten her name), to come to the last show of the concert series at the Port Hardy Civic Centre. Malcolm Fleeton, my contact for the school district, is also on the board of NICS. Later that day I checked out the Civic Centre with him. It's a great venue, and we hope to bring the opera back to perform Naomi's Road there next year.

Upstairs in the Community Craft Shop, I met Lorraine Hudson. We chatted about the shop, the community and opera. She's seen operas before, and once saw a performance of Lucia di Lammermour in Victoria, because the main character in a book that she'd read had gone to see Lucia.  I discovered that Lorraine has also read the book Obasan, by Joy Kogawa. (The novel on which Kogawa's children's novel, Naomi's Road, and our VOIS opera for next year are both based.)

While I continued to browse the craft shop, Jen, a literacy support teacher for the school district who had picked up a book from the bookstore, had popped in to say hello. She was looking forward to Thursday's Hansel & Gretel performance in Port McNeill. By the time I had left the shop, Lorraine was already emailing her daughter to see if she still had her copy of Obasan, and she was going to see if the bookstore could start bringing in Kogawa's books!

Back in the cafe, I overheard the manager interviewing a prospective employee. A young gal, new to the country, and to Port Hardy, she had never tasted coffee in her life. The cafe staff were surprised to hear this, and excited to serve her first coffee drink. They decided on a cafe mocha, which can be a bit more palatable for first time coffee drinkers. Not everyone who comes in drinks coffee, the manager said. Some are tea drinkers, some drink both. But she further explained that she encourages her staff to try everything, so that they learn what it tastes like, know how to talk about it with customers, and understand how to make it right.

While walking up the street to Eagle View Elementary, where students were seeing their first opera, I realized there are similarities between this girl's first coffee experience, and one's first experience with opera. With coffee, if you don't take that first sip, you'll never really know what it tastes like. I think the same can be said for opera. There are different styles of opera, and likewise, there are varying kinds of coffee drinks. Some people like them all, and some have more traditional preferences.

VOIS presents operas that are like cafe mocha: great for those experiencing their first taste. Music lovers who prefer other musical styles to opera are like tea purists: they'll take tea over coffee, but they can still appreciate their community coffee shop and the buzz created by coffee. (And on that day, there was certainly a buzz in town.)

Many coffee lovers find they can't live without their daily java, just like those who fall in love with opera - it becomes an addiction and a necessity. A part of their daily life.

If I've learned one thing about life on this trip, it is that one should never hesitate to try new things.  You are never too old or too young. Take a sip and give it a try. You may find it tastes good.

- Melissa Tsang is the Vancouver Opera In Schools (VOIS) Manager. 

Melissa's very first opera experience was a touring production of Hansel & Gretel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She, to this day, still remembers the singers, costumes and catchy tunes that she saw as an elementary school student, and loving every minute of it. She loves working in opera and can't imagine a life without it (or coffee).

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