Benjamin Butterfield brings Viennese New Year's music tradition to Victoria

PREVIEW

What: A Viennese New Year’s

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When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.

Tickets: $47–$92 at rmts.bc.ca

 

Benjamin Butterfield recently hopped off “the Christmas train,” which is what the celebrated Victoria singer calls his run of performances each December in Canada and the U.S.

Now, he’s ready to go back to school.

Butterfield, who has been teaching at the University of Victoria for 10 years and is head of the school’s voice program, will join his students Jan. 4 as second term begins. For some, the holidays couldn’t be long enough. Butterfield, on the other hand, loves his career on campus.

“There’s lots on my mind about what the future holds there,” Butterfield, 52, said of UVic. “I could see myself doing at least another 10 years.”

He will get 2017 underway Sunday with a performance of light opera under the banner of A Viennese New Year’s. The afternoon of operettas from Johann Strauss and some of his Austrian and Hungarian contemporaries, including Emmerich Kálmán, Leo Fall and Franz Lehár, was named after the legendary New Year’s Day concert in Vienna, which was broadcast live to 90 countries and tens of millions of viewers last year.

“It’s a lovely tradition,” Butterfield said. “It’s very festive.”

Butterfield will be joined at the Victoria Symphony event by conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia, soprano Sharleen Joynt and members of Ballet Victoria. A Viennese New Year’s will mark the first time Butterfield has sung with Joynt, but his relationship with Pietraroia goes back several decades to when the two friends were in university.

“We were at school together at McGill,” Butterfield said. “We’ve done a lot of stuff together over the years. Since he has been back [with both Pacific Opera Victoria and the Victoria Symphony], it has been fun growing up together.”

The performance will focus on the “fun, frothy” side of opera, Butterfield said. Included on the program is Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, from the Lehár operetta Land of Smiles, and selections from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and Lehár’s Giuditta. Though festive, it will differ greatly from the Christmas repertoire he performed this month with the Kansas City Symphony, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.

Butterfield is busiest in the months where classical music reigns. His career as a performer features highlight-reel appearances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Hollywood Bowl, among others, but he has become a popular attraction singing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at Christmas and Handel’s Messiah at Easter. “The seasonal stuff is big for a singer like me. Easter and Christmas have been mainstays in my career as a concert singer.”

Teaching at UVic affords him the luxury of being at home in Victoria for long stretches while maintaining his international reputation. Butterfield is finding that as he gets older, he’s getting better at managing the various facets of his career.

“As long as you keep singing, it’s fine. Sticking to the repertoire you are suited for, rather than thinking: ‘I’m growing older, I should be getting into bigger, thicker things.’ I tend to like to maintain my chops.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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