BRAVO: The History of Opera in
by Rosemary Cunningham
208 pages, photos; $39.95
“Opera is on a roll in British Columbia,” writes Rosemary Cunningham in this rich historical survey of opera performance in British Columbia. It has been published to celebrate the anniversaries of the two most prominent opera companies in British Columbia. Vancouver Opera turns fifty years old, and Pacific Opera Victoria turns thirty.
To her credit, Cunningham manages to do justice to all the organizations that produces opera in British Columbia, from Modern Baroque Opera to Vancouver New Music. At the same time, she focuses on the individuals who have made opera happen there. These include the first artistic director of Vancouver Opera, Irving Guttman, and his equally visionary counterpart at Pacific Opera Victoria, Timothy Vernon. There’s the controversial Richard Bonynge, who played fast and loose with budgets.
He is nonetheless fondly remembered by many for raising the international standing of Vancouver Opera, forming the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, and bringing in his wife Joan Sutherland to sing. Cunningham also discusses other international singers who visited, like Plácido Domingo and Marilyn Horne, as well as the Canadian singers nurtured by these companies, like Richard Margison and Judith Forst.
Cunningham has examined archives and board minutes. These prove to be more revealing than the old newspaper reviews and box-office records she frequently relies on. Fortunately, she has, as well, interviewed a number of people involved. These documents make interesting reading, but her reluctance to offer a critical response diminishes the impact of her descriptions. About the tenure of Robert Hallam as general director at Vancouver Oprera in the 1990’s, she comments, “Understandably, nobody wants to revisit this discordant period”. Her conclusion? “It is best left in the past.”
Cunningham is at her best in her sympathetic descriptions of the more adventurous productions these companies have mounted in the face of the “conservative taste” of their audiences, like the First Nations-themed The Magic Flute at Vancouver Opera in 2004.
Bravo has been produced with care, beautifully laid-out, with a reliable index and documentation, lists of productions, and lots of high-quality photos. It offers convincing evidence that opera has an important presence in the cultural life of British Columbia.