Brett Polegato in Calgary Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance: accessible performances that newcomers can enjoy.

Adventure travel of the musical kind with Calgary’s newest festival

If you like discovering the unexpected and pushing your boundaries, or if you want to be the first in your neighbourhood to go to an opera, you might consider some adventure travel of the musical kind and add Calgary’s opera festival to your travel plans.

If you like discovering the unexpected and pushing your boundaries, or if you want to be the first in your neighbourhood to go to an opera, you might consider some adventure travel of the musical kind and add Calgary’s opera festival to your travel plans.

If a night at the opera sounds like as much fun as a trip to the dentist, you are not alone. Only six per cent of the population has been to the opera, although you are probably more familiar with the medium than you think. The movies Apocalypse Now, Godfather Part III and Fatal Attraction all included opera music. Even the Muppets and the Simpsons have performed opera!

In its heyday, opera was wildly popular. True, that was a few centuries back, but opera is gaining new fans with Calgary Opera’s latest reinvention — Opera In The Village — Canada’s first outdoor opera festival.

Set in Calgary’s East Village, Pirates of the Penzance played from Aug. 22 to 25. Johnny Depp made pirates popular with his quirky portrayal of Jack Sparrow and pirates make opera entertaining for a new audience.

“This is an operetta — the border between traditional grand opera and musical theatre, so there are scripted lines between singing,” says producer Bob McPhee. “It is comedy, not a tragedy and lighter.”

As a neophyte opera attendee, I found it easy to follow the story and was enthralled by the grand sets and drama.

If you like to get involved in your entertainment, you would enjoy the festival atmosphere. There was a workshop to learn how to stage fight like a pirate and a talent contest to find the next opera star. The winner got a chance to perform in a real opera.

For the true pirate lover, there were pirate-themed movies projected onto the outside of the historical Simpson building.

The setting for the opera was as impressive as the large tent that held it. Set up steps from the Bow River on the RiverWalk, I could listen to the river and the singing simultaneously.

Public art decorates the space and after dark the pathways are lit with vibrant blue and red LED lights.

The opera tent was open to the warmth of the night sky and the stage location in the middle of the crowd meant there are twice as many front-row seats and chances to ogle the vivid oranges, blues and burgundy’s of the pirates’ costumes.

The Pirates of Penzance was performed over four days this year, but the opera festival will grow to a two-week event in the next few years.

“Every major city in Europe and the U.S. has an opera festival,” said McPhee. “When we were looking at the next thing to take on as a project, we felt a festival in Calgary was a good idea.”

To learn more, go to

Carol Patterson of Kalahari Management Inc. is a strategic planner, author and public speaker for nature tourism and emerging destinations. When she isn’t travelling for work, she is travelling for fun. More of Carol’s adventures can be found at

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