Manitoba Opera re-works the game plan

By Darlene Ronald

We are living in a time that just a few months ago would have seemed unimaginable. Here in Manitoba, the world as we knew it stopped on March 20th when the Province issued a state of emergency to fight COVID-19.

Manitoba Opera re-works the game plan
Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Susannah, November 2019. Photo: C. Corneau.

That day, Manitoba Opera (never mind, thousands of excited patrons) went from relishing the upcoming sold-out run of Carmen scheduled to open March 28, to cancelling the show, contacting patrons, halting the semi-truck enroute with the set, and booking flights for out-of-town artists – all in just a few days. The following week, MO staff members were already working from their homes.

“I have been working in the arts for nearly 40 years in live theatre, events, film, and for nearly 20 years at Manitoba Opera,” commented Larry Desrochers, General Director and CEO. ”I have never experienced anything like the speed at which the pandemic hit us.”

“Over the past weeks, the staff and I been working with our colleagues locally, nationally, and internationally to share strategies to respond to this emergency, to advocate to governments for assistance, and to think about the role Manitoba Opera and arts and culture will play in the future as we recover. I have been buoyed by everyone’s unfailing determination and capacity to adapt,” he added.

Arts organizations generally walk a precarious tightrope between balancing finances with artistic programming, but this balancing act has been made even harder with the pandemic.

“The pandemic has had a catastrophic financial and artistic effect on arts and cultural communities, locally and globally,” says Larry. “The public health and economic forces on the cultural sector are daunting and makes future planning for live performances a challenging proposition.”

Normally Manitoba Opera’s season performances would be over by now, but the company is currently looking at ways to stay engaged with opera fans, and the community in general, over the coming months.

“It is important to the company that we finds way to support our community of artists and theatre professionals who have lost work due to cancelled and postponed shows.”

Manitoba Opera is exploring opportunities to adapt some of its programming to online formats. The thrill of experiencing a live, fully staged opera can never be replaced, but the company is excited about opportunities to create and produce online experiences related to performances, audience development events, and education programming.

For example, this month, DeLuca’s at Home will be presented on June 18. An online take-off of the annual and much-loved Dinner at DeLuca’s, which had to be cancelled this year, DeLuca’s at Home will be held via Zoom. The evening will feature a three-course dinner delivered to participants’ doorsteps, a chance to cook pasta with Chef Mike Brown, and a performance by soprano Ana Toumine. Guests will also have a chance to visit with friends at their virtual tables!

Also in development are programs such as Opera Class Online which provide hands-on opera activities for K to 6 students; immersive digital study guides for self-directed learning experiences; and a series of video presentations of some wonderful Manitoba Opera productions hosted by Manitoban artists who will share their personal experiences of performing in these operas as they guide viewers through the presentations.

Through these past pandemic weeks as we have all individually, as a community, and as a country, journeyed through this period, it has been the creativity and work of artists – albeit virtually – that has given us a moment’s respite from our worries, a laugh, a reminder of what it means to be human.

“I’m reminded of a quote by Louis Riel. He said: “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

Larry adds, “It may take some time, but I have no doubt that the great artists we present on our stage will once again raise our spirits, move us to tears, and inspire us with their virtuosity, because that is what they live to do.”

For more information about Manitoba Opera, visit mbopera.ca

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