Good times are coming for our local Italian Opera aficionados. Opera Mariposa and the Heroic Opera Company will present Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera on November 17 and 19 at Canadian Memorial United Church, and on November 25 at Marpole United Church. Opera Mariposa is a critically acclaimed Vancouver opera company dedicated to showcasing young and emerging artists, and they are currently in their sixth season. Heroic Opera is a recently founded opera company, the brainchild of soprano Sarah Templeton, who sang as a protagonist in Mariposa’s 2014 Suor Angelica production and Dido from 2016′s Dido and Aeneas. Now, Templeton is also producing a series of classical, romantic-era operas, especially focussing on the great composers of that time: Verdi, Wagner, and Richard Strauss. Our city is fortunate in hosting a number of smaller opera companies besides Vancouver Opera, not only because these local companies cater to special segments of opera fans and offer access to light opera, or classic musical productions like the ever-popular Gilbert & Sullivan’s works, but also are a showcasing new and emerging talents in the field. The cast of Un ballo in maschera includes several Italian-Canadian artists such as Adam Da Ros, a stage director hailing from Dawson Creek; Mark Pepe, tenor; and bass-baritone Frantz De Rycke.
Many people in our community will remember Mark Pepe singing the national Anthem at the inauguration of Italian Day on Commercial Drive. Mark, who will be singing as King Gustavo in the coming production of Verdi’s opera, is a local boy. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Opera Performance and Music Education, and a Bachelor of Education from the University of British Columbia. Recent appearances include concerts in Milano and Busseto, Italy with Operavision Academy; chorus in Verdi’s Otello and Puccini’s Turandot with Vancouver Opera; the tenor soloist in Mozart’s Mass in C minor with Capilano University; Morales and Dancairo in Bizet’s Carmen and Goro in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, both with Burnaby Lyric Opera; Don Basilio in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro with Vancouver Island Opera; and Turiddu in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with Opera Opulenza. He has also appeared with DragonDiva Operatic Theatre, the Vancouver Academy of Music, Opera NUOVA, Bard on the Beach, and the UBC Opera Ensemble. Upcoming performances include Gustavo in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera with Opera Mariposa and Heroic Opera. He is a music teacher, band director, and choir director at Immaculate Conception Delta Elementary School and Our Lady of Sorrows Elementary School. Mark has accepted to be interviewed for the Marcopolo’s readers, and to answer a few questions about his life and career.
MARCO POLO Mark, it seems that you come from an artistically talented family. When did you start considering a career as an operatic tenor?
MARK PEPE I started considering it in my early twenties when I naturally ended up in opera. After graduating high school, Notre Dame Regional Secondary, I wanted to go to university, but I didn’t know what for. I really enjoyed being involved in all of the choirs and drama productions at Notre Dame so I wanted to continue in the performing arts. I spent a few years at Capilano University studying music, and after attending a summer voice intensive at the University of British Columbia I got admitted in their renowned Opera Performance program. I fell in love with opera right away.
Both of my parents were in the town band in Orsara di Puglia, Foggia. As a matter of fact, my mother was the first woman in the town band playing soprano saxophone. My father played trumpet. In Orsara they say, piantano le patate e escono fuori i bandisti. I also have many members of my extended family who are involved in music.
MARCO POLO You studied and performed in Italy. Could you share some of your thoughts about your experiences and the significant people you met in Italy within your professional field?
MARK PEPE I spent three weeks in Busseto, Parma this summer studying with my teacher Maria Vetere, as well as renowned soprano Aprile Millo. I studied with coaches InSeon Lee, from Teatro all Scala in Milano, and Gildo Di Nunzio, from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, who also coached Luciano Pavarotti regularly. There were also masterclasses where I got to sing for Italian stage director Marco Gandini, and for the legendary conductor Richard Bonynge. To be able to study with such legendary people in a place like Busseto was an incredible experience.
Busseto is Giuseppe Verdi’s home town. It’s a surreal place; I regularly rehearsed and performed in a place called Casa Barezzi, which is where Verdi received a scholarship to study composition, and it also had one of Verdi’s very own pianos. To the right is the church where he played organ. There’s a statue of Verdi in the main piazza, and while walking past, locals would greet the statue by saying, Buongiorno Maestro.
It’s exciting performing in Italy because the audience is so engaged and involved during the performance. They immediately let you know if you’re singing well!
MARCO POLO You were cast and will be singing in the role of King Gustavo III in Mariposa and Heroic’s production of Un ballo in maschera. What can you tell us about this character and the way you portray him?
MARK PEPE King Gustavo III of Sweden is very interesting character in life and in the opera.
He was a patron of the arts, starting the Swedish National Theatre and commissioning the original Stockholm Opera House in which he was assassinated. He was also known to have a passion for acting.
I hope to present an honest interpretation of him: a passionate, larger-than-life personality who is compassionate for his people, and is accountable for his actions when he has to be.
Verdi makes it very easy for me to interpret his character in the way he composed the opera.
He starts with very regal and playful music in the first act.
As the opera progresses it becomes more romantic for him, almost like La traviata, ending very melodramatically with his final duet with Amelia, and his death.
MARCO POLO What are your future projects?
MARK PEPE After Un ballo in maschera, my next performance is joining the Vancouver Opera Chorus again for the great Russian opera Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky this Spring for their festival. I’ll be continuing to study operatic roles privately with my teacher. Tickets to Un ballo in maschera are available now at 1-800-838-3006, at http://www.operamariposa.com/tickets or at the door. For more information, please visit operamariposa.com or heroicopera.com
Photos: Kathryn Nickford Photography
By Anna Ciampolini Foschi