Performers of colour in Pacific Opera Victoria’s spotlight

A groundbreaking new Pacific Opera Victoria series featuring interviews and performances with people of colour will explore issues of inequality in the classical arts.

For All to Hear will focus primarily on Canadians in the classical music and opera communities, but the series will be of interest to anyone wanting to better understand the complexities of race in the performing arts, according to series creator Rebecca Hass.

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The idea for the summer series came to Hass, Pacific Opera’s director of community engagement, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder during an arrest on May 25. The death of the black Minneapolis, Minnesota, man set off riots across the world and led to conversations about racism and inequality — one of the main issues Hass hopes to address during For All to Hear’s upcoming run.

“I’m a white-presenting Métis, but I have not suffered racial discrimination in my background, so I want to hear from the people who live and walk it every day,” she said. “We have a position of power as a company, and can offer space. It will be good to get out of the way and offer that space.”

For All to Hear gets underway at 1 p.m. today with guest Charlotte Siegel, a Toronto soprano who is Black.

Siegel will appear in conversation via video — which she recorded this week in Toronto — on the Pacific Opera website, and will also perform.

Hass said the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many artists to explore new ideas, one of which was a musical response by Siegel.

“We have created a lot of online programming, trying to find another way of reaching people with the arts, so I offered Charlotte a space to sing and talk about what it’s like to be her in this moment. By the time we were talking about this, it was at the height of the riots. And because of the pandemic, she had all these new songs she’d written, but nowhere to sing them.”

Other artists taking part in the series, through videos and podcasts on Pacific Opera’s site, include Asian-Canadian baritone Samuel Chan and Priti Gandhi, chief artistic officer of Minnesota Opera.

A podcast featuring interviews with Chan, who will talk about his experiences being the only person of colour in a rehearsal room, and Ghandi will appear at 1 p.m. July 3, while Chan will return at 1 p.m. July 10 for a prerecorded performance.

The variety of voices being presented will hopefully provide some perspective to the issues many artists of colour face, Hass said. The artists will also be paid for what they create, she added, which gave Pacific Opera a chance to help artists whose income has been largely erased.

“I recognize that sometimes when we think we’re doing good, we’re not. But we really feel this is a good response. We are ripe for change.”

Artists in the classical and opera field wishing to participate in future instalments of For All to Hear can contact Hass by email at rebecca@pacificopera.ca. “We’ll curate it as it goes. It really will be as it comes to us.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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