What: Opera ViVace: Don Giovanni, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
When/where: July 31, Aug. 1 and 2, 7 p.m.; room B037, School of Music, MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria Tickets: $10
These days, Victoria's summer classical-music season offers a huge range of music - for solo voices and choirs, organ and piano, chamber groups, brass and string ensembles, and orchestra.
It seems only a matter of time before someone decides that our "off-season" is sufficiently "on" to justify the staging of operas.
In the meantime, three chamber-scaled concert performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni will be given here next week under the auspices of an opera workshop run by a visiting American musician.
His name is Luke Housner, and he works as a vocal coach at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and as a keyboard player for the Philadelphia Singers. A native of Massachusetts with music degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Housner, 40, has lately been involved in operatic work of various kinds around the U.S. and elsewhere, including directing staged but conductor-less productions for which he also plays piano (standing in for the orchestra).
In 2009, Housner was a guest coach for the Vancouver Academy of Music and the Vancouver Summer Opera Workshops, and he has since returned annually to Vancouver to lead workshops culminating in concert performances of a Mozart opera. This year, he has added a workshop here, too, running from July 24 to Aug. 2 - hence this venture's name, Opera ViVace, an acronym derived from "Victoria and Vancouver Coaching Experience." (He also runs an annual summer workshop in Portland, Oregon, and will launch one in Toronto in August.)
"I am a one-man operation," Housner says. "I am not affiliated with any local organizations."
Local contacts help him with the logistics, but he requires no advertising beyond word of mouth: "There are many singers who have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities for being coached in and performing an entire operatic role."
The numbers bear him out: His inaugural Victoria workshop has attracted 16 singers, from as far away as Toronto and San Francisco. Most are graduate-level students, or young professionals just starting their careers and looking to boost their repertoires and rÃ©sumÃ©s.
Soprano Sarah Vardy, for instance, who will play Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, is a Langford resident who holds a bachelor's degree from the Vancouver Academy of Music and already has considerable experience singing opera on stage. Vardy, 32, worked with Housner last summer in Vancouver and Portland and attended his Vancouver workshop earlier this month to play the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. Housner, she says, offers immensely useful coaching of a calibre rarely available here: "He is like a singer's best friend. I wish I could carry him around everywhere in my back pocket."
The participants vote in advance on what they will perform. Housner says he has offered alternatives to Mozart - Die Fledermaus, Hansel and Gretel - but "Mozart always is victorious!" Fortunately, he says, "Mozart offers singers extremely valuable tools - vocally, musically and dramatically - which they can apply to virtually any other role they choose to undertake."
The 10-day workshop, divided between the University of Victoria and private homes in Langford, includes at least a week of intensive daily work, six hours or more per day, with participants coached, individually and as an ensemble, in various skills needed to interpret an operatic role, all the while preparing the chosen opera.
The three performances of Don Giovanni, to be given in a large rehearsal room at UVic's School of Music, will be concert-style, not staged, accompanied only by Housner on the piano, but they will include the complete opera, in Italian with projected English supertitles. Some roles have been double-or triple-cast in order to provide performance opportunities to everyone.
"I would certainly be interested in returning to Victoria in 2013," Housner says, though that may depend on whether he gets good audiences for Don Giovanni (as he routinely does in Vancouver). He evidently has no trouble attracting singers, anyway, and Vardy says her colleagues universally share her enthusiasm for his coaching.
Some singers follow him from city to city to take his workshops.
So he has demonstrated a need, or at least a desire, for his expertise here, and has won admirers in the process of addressing it. It seems a good bet that he will be back.
© Copyright 2013