Opera Canada magazine punches above its weight

Opera Canada magazine punches above its weight
In operatic circles, 1963 is still remembered as the year when an Australian soprano named Joan Sutherland made her sensational debut as the most important interpreter of the title role in Bellini’s rarely performed “Norma” since Maria Callas.

It happened on the west coast of Canada, of all places, where the fledgling Vancouver Opera mounted a production so strong and word about it spread so fast that, before the end of the run, Decca/London invited the principal singers and conductor (Sutherland’s husband, Richard Bonynge) to fly to London and make a recording for international release.

Word spread locally as well. By the time yours truly, the then grass-green music critic of the Vancouver Sun, requested a ticket to a subsequent performance following the publication of his rave review, they were all gone.

So he found himself perched on one of two stools set up in the stage right wings of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, sitting next to the editor of the magazine Opera in Canada.

As for the editor of Opera In Canada (now known simply as Opera Canada), Ruby Mercer is no longer with us (she recruited her stool mate as its new west coast correspondent within an hour of meeting him).

It is hard to remember now that in its early years there was almost no professionally produced opera in Canada outside of Toronto and, occasionally, Montreal and Vancouver. Opera Canada became a record of the art form’s development in the true north strong and free.

Under a succession of subsequent editors — Harvey Chusid, Cynthia Dann-Beardsley, Wayne Gooding and most recently Gianmarco Segato — the magazine has sought to position itself within an international context, including reviews of foreign as well as home-grown productions, especially when they involve Canadian artists.

Each editor has added something: Chusid, for example, to the internationalizing of the magazine’s coverage; Gooding to its re-design; Segato to featuring young artists. Traditionally a quarterly, the magazine plans to add a special 60th anniversary fifth issue in the fall.

Gooding’s retirement in 2017 signalled a new phase in its development. A baritone and former adult education manager for the Canadian Opera Company, Segato is seeking to enhance the magazine’s online and social media presence.

As print advertising continues to decline, both he and Gooding can foresee a time when the magazine may cease print publication but not in the immediate future. More imminent is the need for cultivating new non-professional writers, Gooding taking special pride in the work of soprano-conductor Barbara Hannigan.

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With only one full-time employee — the others are on contract — Opera Canada remains a cottage industry with a role out of all proportion to the size of its operation. But after 242 issues it shows no signs of being over, as the cruel saying goes, “until the fat lady sings.”
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