Skip to content

Maestro at the Victoria Symphony helm

Joey Pietraroia conducts Christmas celebrations

-Words by John Atkinson

The Victoria Symphony and Pacific Opera will be in good hands over the Yuletide period with expert conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia at the helm.

Maestro “Joey” Pietraroia (Giuseppe is “Joseph” in Italian) is the associate conductor for both the Victoria Symphony and Pacific Opera, and has been a guest conductor of orchestras and opera companies across Canada.

His extensive opera CV with Pacific Opera includes productions of Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, La Traviata, La Bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor, Norma, Rigoletto, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, La Cenerentola, Tosca and Let’s Make an Opera/The Little Sweep.

With Victoria Choral Society, where he was music director for seven seasons, Pietraroia conducted performances of Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Mass in C Minor with the Victoria Symphony, a choreographed production of Orff’s Carmina Burana in collaboration with Ballet Victoria, and Dvo’ák’s Stabat Mater.

Pietraroia, the recipient of the George and Jane Heffelfinger Pacific Opera Victoria Artist of the Year Award and the Canada Council for the Arts’ Jean-Marie Beaudet Award in Orchestral Conducting, will celebrate 20 years in Victoria next year, having arrived in the city with partner and running opera singer Marilyn Arsenault as part of a three-year Conductor in Residence program through the Canada Council for the Arts.

“When that program expired, both organizations wanted to keep me around, and Marilyn and I both loved being in Victoria. And in the last five years, my title changed from conductor-in-residence to associate conductor, which gives me a little bit more responsibility with both organizations.”

Pietraroia met Arsenault, a then-budding opera singer, at McGill University in Montreal, while he was an undergrad in saxophone performance. It was there that he got the opera bug and signed up for a graduate degree in conducting.

“I always enjoyed singing and listening to recordings of vocal music, and then I really got into opera. I said I’d love to get involved somehow, and it just so happened that they were starting a graduate degree program in conducting. The teacher at McGill at the time was Timothy Vernon, who is the founding artistic director of Pacific Opera here in Victoria, so that’s how the connection to Victoria happened.”

As a kid, Pietraroia always enjoyed listening to music, and sometimes gravitated towards vocal music.

“I could just sit and listen to records,”he says.“I remember listening to old records of my sisters’, like the Monkees and the Beatles and Italian folk songs.

“Then, in high school, I really enjoyed the sound of the saxophone and took it up, continuing all the way to university. But I guess the vocal music was always there in the background, so when I was drawn to opera, I thought, ‘How fun would it be to actually conduct an opera and be involved in that aspect of it?’

“I guess the thrill of it is to be part of the process of bringing these great works to life musically and collaborating with singers. Opera is just a complete art form, blending theatre, music, staging and sets.

“Conducting opera is great training for conducting orchestral works. You have to find the tension and release and the overall arc of the work. I love being involved in the process of exploring these works.”

Pietraroia was drawn to conducting by Puccini’s Tosca and says the chance to conduct it here in Victoria in 2013 was a major career highlight.

“I enjoy Victoria and conducting here at Pacific Opera, but it’s also fun to travel and go conduct with other companies, including the Edmonton Opera, Opéra de Québec and Opéra de Montréal. Then in 2015 I got to conduct The Barber of Seville in Ottawa with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and being in that bigger venue was a treat.

“I also had a lovely time in Italy in 2013 in Sulmona, Abruzzo. It was a five-week summer vocal academy for Canadian students. It was a thrill to work on repertoire and produce a number of operas.”

In the upcoming December/Yuletide season, Pietraroia will conduct three major shows: Handel’s Messiah, The Gift of the Nutcracker, and the Victoria Symphony’s New Year’s Day celebration.

“I’ve had the pleasure of conducting Messiah the last few seasons pre-pandemic. So this will be my first post-pandemic performance since 2019. And I’m really looking forward to it because it’s one of those annual events that really puts you in the mood around the holidays.

“After that we have The Gift of the Nutcracker, which is a collaboration with Ballet Victoria, and again this will be the first time since December 2019. I love the music of Tchaikovsky, so it’s another seasonal favourite, and it’s with Ballet Victoria, which I always enjoy collaborating with.

“And then, on New Year’s Day, we have our big New Year’s celebration concert with the Victoria Symphony. This year we’re making it a sort of operatic celebration. So there will be some Viennese composers, like Strauss and Lehár, but we’re expanding it to include more Italian opera as well. And we have a wonderful soloist, Simone Osborne, who will be joining us, as well as the dancers of Ballet Victoria and members of the Pacific Opera Chorus.”

As his name would suggest, Pietraroia has Italian ancestry, but was born in Montreal.

And at 56, the talented conductor has no plans to slow his career down anytime soon.

“There’s such a breadth of repertoire out there and things you always eventually want to conduct or be part of. They say that conductors never retire because there’s always so much to do. And as long as I can do it, I’ll just keep going. It’s always great to re-engage with old works and put new spins on those, but there are lots of new works I haven’t conducted and would love to do someday.”

For more information and tickets, visit,, and