Recently Edwardian Fernie joined the Fernie Friends of Opera for an evening screening of Manon Lescaut at the Arts Station. Opera aficionados joined together to enjoy some opera and some fellowship and a little food and perhaps some wine. The Fernie Friends of Opera come together on a regular basis to watch operas on screen, as well as talk about the opera being shown, and every so often they bring opera singers to Fernie for live performances of aria’s and excerpts from operas. It is a light hearted and fun approach to opera. The evening made Edwardian Fernie wonder about opera in Fernie in earlier days. Fernie has always been a place that has enjoyed art and culture and there has always been an interest in opera in the community – likely because so many of our early immigrants came from places where opera was a part of their culture. By the sheer luck of happenstance Edwardian Fernie was able to find a report of what may have been the first operatic performance in Fernie in 1899.
Full disclosure requires admitting that it is not clear if this was the first operatic styled performance in Fernie, but it is the first that Edwardian Fernie could find in the pages of the Fernie Free Press. If a reader has more information please share it with Edwardian Fernie.
As to the performances in May of 1899, Edwardian Fernie will allow the reports from the Free Press to speak for themselves – for they are rather enigmatic and until Edwardian Fernie finds more evidence of what transpired the reader will be left to their own thoughts as to what the writers at the Fernie Free Press had witnessed.
The Saturday May 6, 1899 edition of the Fernie Free Press reported that “Our shop windows and boardings are gay with colored pictures of the Metropolitan Opera Co., who on Tuesday and Wednesday next play the “Mascotte” and “Mikado” in Wallace’s hall. They had a good reception in Vancouver and should be well worth seeing. We hope our townspeople will show by their presence that they will patronize a good thing. This is the only way to get good shows in the town.”
The performances were advertised for May the 9th and 10th, 1899.
The following Saturday, May 13th,1899 the Fernie Free Press reported the following: “The opera company can provide the fair ones and Host Tuttle the “fizz” but alas! Fernie is not Paris, and cannot boast of “cabinets particuliers,” and so the “fizz” only ended in “fizzle”. Disconsolate trio, we tender you our sincerest sympathies and wish you “better luck next time.”
Then on a later page in the same edition the Free Press added, with more than just tongue in cheek: “The Metropolitan Opera Company have been and gone after affording the town a good laugh. The low comedian was undoubtedly funny and we are glad to say not coarse – we heard no “double entente” (sic) and some of the jokes were not chestnuts. Perhaps the best was that on the lovers’ (sic) “Fernie grip,” which could not be “unlocked” because they had forgotten the “combination”. Come again, and bring your singers and your good looking damsels.”
Would it be wrong to surmise that what Fernie, “the fair ones” and Host Tuttle (one of Fernie’s leading citizens and Mayor during the Great Fire of 1908) expected was an opera company that was going to sing opera and that what Fernie got was a bit of a vaudeville show with some comedians, evidently no attractive talent and clearly no singers. The audience who came expecting to see “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan and “La Mascotte” by Audran and Duru and Chivot would likely have been very much disappointed because these two comic operas from the 1880’s were very famous at the time (and are still, especially The Mikado, popular today with audiences who delight at the humour and the music).It sounds like it was all a bit of a bust – opera off to an inauspicious start in Fernie. And a mystery that begs an answer – who were “the fair ones”? If you know, let Edwardian Fernie know!
Thank you to the Friends of Fernie Opera for a delightful evening and for sending Edwardian Fernie in search of Fernie’s first operatic evening.