The third annual Vancouver Opera Festival commences this week, featuring two main stage productions, one of which is Charles Gounod’s beloved Faust. Audiences should prepare to have their plates filled, because according to its leading lady, this opera is a “full-meal.”
Faust is not your average love-death tale. The 19th-century French opera, based on the first part of Goethe’s play, Faust, features the title character (sung by David Pomeroy), his struggle with old age, and the regret that he has never truly loved. After deciding to sell his soul to Méphistophélès (Robert Pomakov), Faust is re-gifted his youth and falls in love with young Marguerite (Simone Osborne), who in turn falls in love with him. A wild series of events lead Marguerite into a state of madness, yet she manages to save her soul by following her heart, despite immense pressure to do otherwise.
Vancouver-born soprano Simone Osborne has been a favourite of Canadian opera audiences for many years, and she is looking forward to returning to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in the role of Marguerite, alongside this all-Canadian cast.
Osborne received her vocal training at UBC studying under Nancy Hermiston, of whom she considers her “opera mom.” She advanced quickly during her undergrad, having participated in the Vancouver Opera Young Artist Program while still in university, and becoming the youngest singer to win the New York Metropolitan Opera Competition at age 21.
From there she went on to join the Ensemble Studio with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, where she has now sung over ten leading roles, and will be debuting the role of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel next year.
Osborne does not take for granted the support she has received from Canadian opera companies throughout her career.
“Often, singers have to go to Europe or the States to then come back and have opportunities in Canada or in their home country,” she says. “The fact that Canadian opera companies got behind me, before I even had a career, is something I will always be grateful for. It’s important for us to bring brilliant international talent for Canadian audiences to experience live, but it’s also really important, I think, to support our young Canadian opera singers, because if we’re not going to do it, no one else has a particularly best interest in doing that. I’m so, so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had from many Canadian opera companies.”
Osborne is grateful to be making her role debut as Marguerite in Vancouver Opera’s Faust, because the character is so far ahead of her time.
“Of course, Faust is the protagonist of the story in many ways, but to watch a woman (Marguerite) be so strong in such an old piece of literature and music, and to see her ascend in every way at the end of the piece; learn her lessons in life but ultimately make the right decision and be honoured for that…it’s a pretty incredible character arch to play and a pretty incredible night in the theatre, that’s for sure,” Osborne says.
She notes that in Faust, “you have a little bit of everything … yes, you have a ton of tragedy and heartbreak, but you also have beautiful love duets and incredibly fun, mischievous music from the devil, and then total madness, so you go on kind-of an emotional roller coaster … it’s a full meal.”
Osborne also refers to this opera as a “sampler platter of the human voice.” From soaring lines, to evil laughs, to glass-shattering high notes, she guarantees there is something in it for everyone, whether you consider yourself an opera lover or not.
The five-act Vancouver Opera production directed by François Racine will be sung in French with English surtitles, and conducted by Jonathan Darlington.
In addition to Faust, the nine-day Festival is jam-packed with varying arts events, including the world premiere of Brian Current’s The River of Light. It also features a Festival Open House day of free performances and workshops, the CBC Chamber Music Series concerts, Opera Off Site pop-up performances and film screenings. The second main stage production this year is Rossini’s La Cenerentola at the Vancouver Playhouse.
The Vancouver Opera Festival runs from April 27-March 5. Visit vancouveropera.ca for tickets and information.