Opera in the Garden is accessible and enjoyably relaxed

The Opera Tea in the UBC Botanical Garden on Saturday, September 18, had an intimate and easygoing atmosphere. Anyone who thinks that opera is uptight or “upper class” should challenge that belief by attending an Opera Tea event. People of all ages should enjoy these recurring events in the Opera Tea Series, whether they go to operas regularly or want to try something new, because they will get an up-close and personal look at what makes opera such a timeless art form and see the dedication of their fellow students performing centuries-old pieces of music.

The event never took itself too seriously and everyone maintained a sense of humor. Throat clearing, soft chatter with a neighbour, nose-blowing, and other normal human things never received glares of disapproval. Performing “Largo al factotum” (or the classic “Figaro!” piece), Geoffrey Schellenberg maintained a humorous character by making a grand entrance, striding down the aisle from the back of the room, causing everyone to turn around in their seats. After the intermission, one server accidentally dropped a silver tray, landing with a clunk on the hardwood floor and continuing to spiral like a spinning top for a few long seconds. The minor fiasco received a standing ovation and cheering from the audience. In the middle of “Di tanti palpiti” from Gioachino Rossini’s opera, Tancredi, a handful of audience members started clapping, mistaking a long pause for the conclusion. The singer, Yeeun Lee, and the pianist, Richard Epp, both had big smiles on their faces while still seamlessly continuing with the rest of the piece.

The hostess of the event and director of the opera and vocal programs, Nancy Hermiston, emphasized the intimacy of the small setting through her description of “feeling the vibrations” from the singers when sitting in the first few rows of the audience. Hermiston was an incredible hostess, as she helped keep a swift pace throughout the two hour duration of performances. She included short bios about each of the students before they started their pieces. These breaks in between each song served to help us get to know the performers.

The event also humanized these students by having them serve coffee, tea and pastries to attendees on the reception centre patio during intermission, which helped develop a more casual relationship with the audience. One of the performers, Tamar Simon, praised the Opera Tea in the Garden for being an “encouraging environment.” She explained that because a few of the performers have high stake auditions later this week, “they are able to practice their repertoires in a non-high pressure situation.” She expressed how this event encouraged her and her fellow performers to feel confident about future performances and auditions.

The event also provided details about upcoming performances and events that will occur throughout the year. In discussing the power that opera can have in bringing different disciplines together and making a difference in peoples' lives, Hermiston later informed the audience about a refugee symposium that UBC is hosting in October and November. The symposium will feature The Consul, an opera that tells the story of European refugees fleeing persecution during World War II.  

With grave issues like the refugee crisis happening across the globe or personal problems that affect UBC students on a daily basis, an afternoon at Opera Tea in the Garden is a good way to recharge and take your mind off of these things for a bit, while supporting fellow students in the music department.

Future Opera Tea Series Dates: Opera Tea in the Garden: October 23, 2016 // April 9, 2017 2:00 pm UBC Botanical Garden (Garden Reception Centre) Opera Tea on the Stage: November 20, 2016 // March 12, 2017 2:00 pm UBC Old Auditorium