A joint venture between the Victoria Symphony and Pacific Opera Victoria spread over the next two weekends will bring music back to the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy in downtown Victoria — a significant post-pandemic development where local live music is concerned.
Open Air: A Summer Festival of Music is the latest offering to result from the 41-year relationship between the two companies, which collaborate closely on Pacific Opera performances each year but have never staged an event of this magnitude. As one of the first large-scale events to be held on the heels of the provincial re-start, the festival — especially one that employs musicians and staff from two of the biggest performing arts organizations in Victoria — is expected to make a big splash when it opens today.
“This is good news, no matter how you chop it up,” said Timothy Vernon, artistic director of Pacific Opera Victoria. “It doesn’t look like much, in some ways, but it’s incredible.”
The 10-day outdoor event features up to 12 performances on two stages today through Monday; the event will repeat its program when it resumes July 29 until its conclusion on Aug. 2. Thirty-odd performances each week, from chamber music to opera, have been programmed to offer something for all tastes, said Victoria Symphony CEO Matthew White.
“We’ve all been chomping at the bit to get back in front of a live audience,” White said. “This just came up as a great possibility.”
Tickets are required for individual performances, which run approximately 45 minutes in length, with ticketys available on site and in advance. Performances will be held at several locations on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy, in either The Butler’s Garden (with physically distanced seating for up to 60 people) or the Victoria Foundation Courtyard (85 people). Musicians from the Victoria Symphony and soloists from Pacific Opera are among the artists being featured.
Short, unscheduled pop-up performances, under the banner of Music in the Meadows, featuring everyone from Indigenous performers to young musicians, will also be held at various locations on the grounds free of charge.
The event was originally meant for the grounds of Government House, but due to ongoing construction at the Rockland Avenue site Open Air was moved to St. Ann’s, which has been home to several festival food and beverage and pop and rock festivals in years prior. It’s an ideal location for a first-year festival, Vernon said. “The opera company hasn’t had summer activity for a very long time, and we’ve been looking for an opportunity to start something in collaboration, without pushing anybody out. We just want to give artists more opportunities, which of course means more opportunities for an audience.”
It was important to find an event that would benefit both the opera and symphony coming out of a year of inactivity due to the pandemic, Vernon added. “We are beholden to the orchestra, but we also feel responsible for them because normally we engage them for three productions a year. Going into this fall, the orchestra is going to have a big gap in their budget, and we’re working very hard to find ways to compensate them. We need them. We need the partnership.”
White believes the inaugural Open Air is the first of many instalments.
“We’ve certainly never collaborated on it on a summer festival of this sort. We all worked together to put together a program that was really kind of representative of both the organizations, and not just both organizations but the individuals who are participating.
“We’re going to take it one step at a time. The hope is that this could potentially be a longer term thing, but we also need to see what the response is. We see this as sort of a canary in the coal mine. We had to do something because it just feels so strange to work for and with arts organizations like this and be cut off from the audience for so long. It just feels totally unnatural and strange. We were we were willing to take the risk.”