Okanagan Vocal Arts Festival in Vernon – Pirates of Penzance, La Boheme + more

It was a busy weekend in Vernon.
The Okanagan Vocal Arts Festival is an incredible gem. Expanded to three weeks, it wrapped up this past Saturday night. I saw their closing production of Pirates of Penzance and attended the cast party afterwards.  All the festival participants were thrilled that a representative from Opera Canada magazine even came to Vernon to attend the final 3 shows and cast party.

The production of La Boheme was lauded by everybody, and called the best La Boheme he’s ever seen by one cast member, Paul Philips, who participated in 3 productions during his 30 year tenure as a chorus member with Winnipeg Opera.

Conductor Tyrone Paterson came all the way from Ottawa to put together an orchestra consisting of members of the Okanagan Symphony and other freelance musicians, happy to spend a week in this sunny valley, a favourite summer (& skiing) destination.

Kudos to artistic director Paul Moore and his wife Melina Moore for their hard work and vision. They operate Studio Moore year round from their home on Tillicum Mountain, and have done much to enrich the Okanagan arts scene.

The Aria Extravaganza concerts, held on July 7 in Kelown and July 8 in Vernon, were again recorded by CBC Radio Two and hosted by Dr. Stephen Friesen – now a part-time Opera singer, as well as a medical doctor with a growing practice. I thought he was FANTASTIC as the pirate king.

Judith Forst came from from Vancouver/Port Moody to teach Master Classes during the first week.  Some very young singers were priveledged to receive guidance usually reserved for much more experienced students. Randall Jacobsch, Mariateresa Magisano, Andrew Greenwood also performed and taught classes.

Bernard Turgeon and his wife, pianist Teresa Turgeon, stayed for the duration of the festival. Zsuzsanna Lukacs was/is fantastic as festival pianist. Her accompaniment for the Arias is perfect, and she WAS the orchestra for Pirates of Penzance, playing with great musicality.

Pirates was conducted by Frank Klassen. The 20 young artists were almost all double cast in Pirates, giving them both chorus and solo experience. They spent the 3 weeks mixing with the professional singers who were working on La Boheme. Some participants performed 11 times
during their 21 day stay.

It really is a small world, when one of the students, Christina Lewal (an absolutely wonderful Mabel in Pirates), billeted at the home of my girlfriend’s parents says to me, “I’ve heard of Gung Haggis Fat Choy… My teacher is Heather Pawsey (who has performed with me).”

During the Pirates of Penzance intermission, Jim Barrie of the Kalamalka Highlanders learned that I was in attendance, and asked to be introduced to me, excitedly saying he had heard me internveiwed on CBC Radio, and was glad to meet “Toddish McWong.”

Please visit www.ovaf.ca for more information on this year’s festival and see the plans for next year.

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