News / Halifax

'The Beatlemania of its time:' Opera gets edgy in Halifax summer festival

A crowd of young people chatted and broke into song as they left a Mount Saint Vincent University classroom Thursday, putting away a long pink wig and Roman helmet.

From outside in the hallway, a girl yelled: “I found my penis!”

Laughter, a safe place to experiment with music, and the props required to enhance your opposite-gender role, are all part of the daily routine for members of the Halifax Summer Opera Festival (HSOF).

Sharon Tikiryan, a 31-year-old vocal teacher from Toronto, has attended month-long festival for five years and said opera is not all stuffy or high society.

“This was ... the Beatlemania of its time,” Tikiryan said with a laugh. “It was always for everyone.”

For the 10th anniversary season, artistic director Nina Scott-Stoddart said she wanted a balance of shows to attract the public as well as performers, so Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach was a great fit.

Scott-Stoddart said the operetta, performed in English, is a satire of an older opera based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Audiences will recognize the famous “Can-can” tune the demons of Hades introduce, she said.

“It’s light, it’s very sexy, it was totally scandalous for the French in their day.”

Other operas include Rusalka, from the original Slavic tale of Undine the water nymph who loved a human prince and was adapted into the Little Mermaid, in Czech with English subtitles.

Fans of Handel’s Messiah will love his opera Giulio Cesare, the dramatic love story of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra performed in Italian with subtitles and featuring “gorgeous” music, said Scott-Stoddart.

“My favourite thing … is just connecting with people. Showing them that this is fun, this is real,” said first-time member Courtney Dugan, 23, of Winnipeg.

Scott-Stoddart said the festival has “exploded” since it’s first season when nine performers and three staff put on an opera, into more than 80 performers and 25 staff.

“It’s good opera sung by passionate, incredibly talented young people in often challenging productions,” said Scott-Stoddart. “This is just something young, edgy.”

The festival should stay small enough to focus on individuals, she said, but hopes to eventually get more funds to offer scholarships for singers who can’t afford the program fee.

“There are a million people who will tell you you’re not good enough,” said Scott-Stoddart. “We want to be the place … where everyone is dedicated to looking at everyone else and saying ‘That is special. That is amazing.’”

Shows run from August 8 to 17.  Go to for a full schedule.

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