Battleford Opera House
The restored town hall that now houses the Battleford opera.
When I was growing up in Battleford, opera was all-important in our house. Every week my dad would tune into CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, “live from the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York.” My sister and I—sometimes making excuses to get out of the house—didn’t always appreciate it then, but that early grounding in opera instilled in us both a love for this classic art form.
My dad, Menno Fieguth, was so serious about music that in 1964 he went to Europe to study voice at the Vienna Academy of Music for several months. Although singing opera wasn’t his professional goal—he viewed church music as a higher form—Dad was active in the local music community, promoting and organizing concerts, many of them as president of the local Overture Concerts Association. He even persuaded the Canadian Opera Company to visit the Battlefords, where they performed Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.
These events never took place in an opera house, though. They were always set in a high school auditorium, a church, or, more recently, a combined art gallery/music venue.
Not to be discouraged, Dad worked hard at educating the community on classical music. In the 1990s, he put together a concert called “Opera for People who Hate Opera,” employing local singers to perform famous “hits” of the opera world, such as “Non più andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro, the Flower Duet from Lakmé, the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, and the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. The concert sold out.
But Dad still wished for a proper concert venue with great acoustics.
His long-time wish for a proper concert venue is finally coming true.
The day after Chris Odishaw was elected mayor of Battleford in the fall of 2006, the receptionist offered him a tour of Town Hall. He was surprised when the staff led him up a rickety, narrow back stairway and into a dusty, cavernous auditorium.
“When I walked out on the stage I could feel the history,” he recalls of that day five years ago. “I could feel the ambience. I could feel the heart and the soul of the building.” Though he’s not musical himself, “I could tell the acoustics were just amazing.”
Having sung in the opera house several times in the 1950s and 1960s (pieces from The Mikado and songs by Richard Strauss, for instance), Dad knew that the acoustics—a prime consideration in any performing arts venue—were stellar.
The project isn’t being financed through taxes in the town of 4,000. Among other fundraising initiatives, Odishaw commissioned an artist, Dan Reid, to create a watercolour painting, called “Battleford Vista,” with prints of different sizes, to give to donors.
Many local organizations have already expressed interest in using the opera house for their events, Odishaw notes. There are also plans to create a space for visual arts.
And yes, there will be opera. Both Saskatoon Opera and Opera Nuova in Edmonton hope to hold productions there.