On May 15, Victoria’s musical community will join with Timothy Vernon, the founding artistic director of Pacific Opera to celebrate his 43 years with the company.
With an indefatigable passion for music, Vernon managed to transform what, in 1979, was a small theatre company into a world class, professional opera company. During that transformation he has led most of Pacific Opera’s 120 productions.
But now, Vernon will be stepping down as artistic director.
“We will miss him very much. The truth is that when Timothy started the company, there was a lot of skepticism about whether Victoria was a large enough centre to support a professional opera,” said Glynis Leyshon, a director with the company whose own involvement dates to its first production.
“Many people didn’t think it would work but I don’t believe that Timothy ever had any doubts of its success.”
Based on Vernon’s many accomplishments, it seems that his confidence in both the company and himself were well-founded.
Born in Victoria, he first studied conducting with Otto-Werner Mueller at the Victoria School (now Conservatory) of Music. From there he travelled to Vienna where he graduated from the University of Music and Performing Arts before returning to Canada in 1975.
“What’s so touching is that Timothy grew up here and, although he’s travelled around the world, Victoria has remained the center of his life,” Leyshon said. “He’s given us so much of himself and we’re all the richer for it.”
An examination of Vernon’s accomplishments confirms that he could easily have chosen to share his musical passion anywhere in the world.
For example, he has conducted for Opera de Montréal (Die Fledermaus), Opera de Quebec (Macbeth, The Barber of Seville), and Calgary Opera (Carmen, Eugene Onegin). In fact, he’s appeared with every professional opera company and orchestra in Canada (including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Windsor, London, Montreal, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and Halifax) and is conductor laureate of Orchestra London.
In 2007, Mr. Vernon conducted the Canadian premiere of Richard Strauss’ Daphne, using his own reduction of Strauss’ orchestration. This historic production was recorded for broadcast by CBC, as was Pacific Opera’s 2008 Canadian premiere of Marc Blitzstein’s Regina, the 2009 company premiere of Handel’s Semele, and the 2010 Canadian stage premiere of Strauss’s Capriccio, which also used Mr. Vernon’s orchestral reduction of the score.
Other broadcasts have included the 1988 production of Fidelio for TV by PBS and CBC, as well as a Knowledge Network documentary of Pacific Opera’s 1992 production of The Abduction from the Seraglio. CBC Radio has broadcast Pacific Opera’s productions of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1993) and Lee Hoiby’s The Tempest.
The McGill Orchestra’s recording of Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp Major, recorded live in Carnegie Hall in 1990, was nominated for a Juno Award. The 1997 film McGill, Mahler, Montreal was broadcast nationally on Bravo and on CBC.
In 2008, Timothy Vernon was presented with the Order of Canada, in recognition of his work in expanding professional opera in Canada and his commitment to young musicians. Timothy Vernon is also a recipient of Opera Canada’s 2005 Ruby Award as Opera Builder and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In 2013, Royal Roads University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of his strong leadership in and contributions to Canada’s cultural scene. The University of Victoria conferred on him an Honorary Doctor of Music in 2017.
But while Vernon’s staggering array of awards and accomplishments are hugely impressive, they are secondary to the character of the man behind the music.
“Timothy is a man of unending curiosity and an eclectic sense of wonder in the world. He embraces life and to be around him is to be caught up in that sense of wonder,” said Leyshon.
“He’s an amazing inspiration whose message is never to take things for granted – to challenge yourself – to seek out other and respect the viewpoints of others.”
Leyshon said that part of Vernon’s success has been his enormous appetite for life and an exhilarating thirst for fun.
“I think there’s a little bit of Amadeus in Timothy,” Leyshon said.
The Friends of Timothy gala evening will take place at McPherson Playhouse on May 15 and will showcase the work of the many talented artists, singers, and instrumentalists associated with Pacific Opera. Special guests include soprano Suzanne Rigden, soprano Lauren Margison, mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, tenor Colin Ainsworth, and baritone Bruce Kelly.
Timothy Vernon will be joined the conductor’s podium by Giuseppe Pietraroia and Kimberley-Ann Bartczak with the Victoria Symphony.
Tickets and more information are available at pacificopera.ca.
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