Swashbuckling the 'Walk

Celebrating the inaugural year of Opera in the Village

Swords clanged, flintlock pistols rang out, and many a high C was reached when The Pirates of Penzance jumped ship and conquered RiverWalk in East Village during Opera in the Village, Canada's first outdoor summer opera festival.

The four day extravaganza of all things opera transformed RiverWalk into a swashbuckling hotbed of scallywags and sopranos, modern Major Generals and Pirate Kings. It is, it is – after all – a glorious thing to be a Pirate King.

Pirate central – and centrepiece of the bustling festival – was a cleverly designed 900-seat open-air tent at the east end of RiverWalk plaza in EV, which was home to six performances of Calgary Opera’s presentation of Pirates, the beloved Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera.

An unconventional alley stage setting meant that sold-out audiences were seated right in the thick of the action, and open sides allowed refreshing breezes to waft in off the river. “You might just grab yourself a pirate,” one audience member suggested to a neighbour seated on the aisle, as buccaneers, policemen and maidens swooped in from all sides of the tent to clash and cavort onstage.

Lies were told, fate was callous and duties were cruelly binding, but in the end love conquered all, much to the delight of the audience. Expressing a sentiment that was echoed numerous times during the festival, opening night attendee Kate declared, “The tent is beautiful and the whole production is so well done.”

With impeccable performances by such Canadian opera royalty as Tracy Dahl, Colin Ainsworth, Brett Polegato, and Eizabeth Turnball, opera fans were treated to a production not normally achieved in a tent. “This is a really smart production,” observed Kate, “listen closely for the clever contemporary references in the songs.” Said one thrilled patron, “We performed this in glee club in high school, so I grabbed a ticket as soon as I heard about the festival.”

Everywhere around RiverWalk, free festival activities offered opera-goers and pathway-users alike a chance to embrace the full opera experience. At Arrrias in the Afternoon, alumni of Calgary Opera's Emerging Artist Program belted out some of the opera world’s greatest hits on a side-stage before each performance, while competitors channelled their inner diva at the ever-popular So You Think You Can Sing Opera competition. Pirate movies projected onto the wall of the Simmons building after Friday and Saturday evening performances encouraged night owls to extend their opera dates into the wee hours, while Swashbuckling on the Bow offered wannabes insider tips on staging realistic fight scenes. Those swords aren't going to just swashbuckle themselves, you know.

As the final note of the closing chorus of Pirates rang out, audience members leapt to their feet, cries of bravo echoing through the tent. “That was so wonderful, I could watch it all again right now," confided one delighted patron. And if the inaugural year of Opera in the Village is any indication, RiverWalk will be home to many more outdoor summer opera festival performances in the years to come. To that we say a resounding “Encore!”