Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Camp Fire Stories With Our Father

Last Friday, VO had their annual staff retreat at the beautiful Van Dusen Gardens. We're celebrating 50 years so the retreat focus was on our Golden Anniversary: Past, Present & Future.

Special guest speakers included Rosemary Cunningham, Leo Sauve and the father of opera in Western Canada, Irving Guttman, C.M.

Irving Guttman's prolific operatic career has spanned five decades. In 1960, Guttman was appointed Artistic Director of Vancouver Opera, where he began his efforts to populize the operatic art form in Western Canada. He later served as Artistic Director of Edmonton and Winnipeg Opera.

He is also an internationally acclaimed stage director with leading opera companies throughout the world, having worked with some of the greatest opera luminaries of our time: Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland and Placido Domingo. Irving also played an active hand in engaging the early careers of Judith Forst, Maureen Forrester, Heather Thomson, John Fanning, Tracey Dahl, Richard Margison, Ben Heppner and countless others.

VO staffers sat rapt around Irving, camp-fire style, learning about the early days of Vancouver Opera; not to mention what the (very limited) Vancouver art scene looked like in the 60s.

When the folks back home in Montreal found out Irving was taking the job as VO's Artistic Director, they responded with, "There's nothing out there, there's no real culture, and I don't know how you can do it."

Irving reminisced about how Theatre Under the Stars provided a wonderful training ground for all the local talent who was then handpicked to form the opera chorus.

Vancouver Opera's first production was Carmen. Surprisingly or should I say shockingly, VO opened the premier show with only $35 in the bank. Luckily, the run was sold out, so everything panned out beautifully.

We listened as he spoke about all the past volunteers who laboured tirelessly to help put Vancouver on the map in the international opera community.

That morning, what we learned about Irving was that he dreams big and enjoys risk. He embraces opportunity and dives into challenge. And that his kick butt ability to hear the voice is unparalled. Even today, he is frequently approached by opera companies for lending his ear to casting singers.

Irving embodies all the qualities you'd want for a leader, a visionary and a founding father of an opera company. Had it not been for Irving, Western Canada's opera scene would've looked very different than how it is today.

A big thanks from all of your "children"!

~ Ling Chan

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