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Friday, September 7, 2012

VO On the Water

Having originally grown up – and, until fairly recently, lived – in Calgary, Alberta, I don’t have a lot of experience with water. Somewhere along the way, this general lack of experience gradually became a direct aversion. As a kid, I managed to avoid swimming lessons and waterparks. As a young adult, I avoided pool parties. To this day, I still don’t own a pair of swimming trunks.

So, when it was announced that the staff of Vancouver Opera would be sharing in a paddle boat-based tour of the Cates Park region of Deep Cove shortly after the Labour Day weekend, I was more than a little anxious.  

In March 2013, Vancouver Opera will re-mount its acclaimed 2007 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. While this work remains very much a staple of the conventional repertoire ( currently lists it as the 4th-most frequently produced opera worldwide), we drew unique inspiration from British Columbia’s geography and cultural heritage to create something truly original and reflective of our land and its people: a First Nations-infused production of The Magic Flute. 

Our production preserves the original storyline, but resets its narrative to the rocky shores and ancient rainforests of the Pacific Coast, and incorporates 30 words of original Halq’emeylem language into its libretto, which otherwise underwent an English translation.

For its 2007 premiere, VO worked with both the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council and an advisory group of First Nations artists so as to ensure accurate and respectful adherence to cultural protocol for key aspects of the work, such as sets, costumes, properties and staging.

The production debuted to great acclaim, and served as another example of the cross-cultural collaboration that VO has since become known for. We’re very excited to revisit this production this coming Spring.

In order to provide VO staffers (many of whom have joined the company in the years since the original production) with a greater sense of connectedness to the cultural and geographic elements that breathe life into our Magic Flute, it was arranged for the full company to spend half a day on the water with Takaya Tours – a local, First Nations-owned eco-tourism venture comprised of members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, which originates from the surrounding areas.

Takaya Tours staff members organize paddle-boat excursions to coastal First Nations lands for both locals and tourists, and provide a mix of historical commentary, story and song to lend additional context to the natural beauty which surrounds the area. You’re still expected to (literally) pull your weight, however!

So, with only minor hesitation (and the assistance of a few colleagues), I climbed aboard the Soaring Eagle, and we set out on the water after a company-wide picnic and official welcome from both VO’s General Director Jim Wright and Takaya representatives. 

Throughout the afternoon, VO staffers and their Takaya companions shared stories, myths and songs dating back hundreds of years. We learned about the very tangible and lasting connection First Nations peoples hold to their natural surroundings. And, by day’s end, we had come to a mutually-shared agreement – paddling is definitely hard work!

As I headed home that day, I thought about what I had learned, and about the colleagues I had shared these experiences with. I reflected on how proud I am to be a part of a company with such a strong and viable connection to the people, the history and the mythology which comprises the cultural landscape that we are privileged to inhabit.

I also made the decision to sign up for swimming lessons.

Joseph Bardsley
Development Manager, Grants & Proposals

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