Edmonton

Massive Edmonton Opera Centre opens in an unlikely spot

We're taking you on a tour of the new 22,000-square-foot Edmonton Opera Centre. Yes we have one, and you won't believe what's inside.

‘It’s a hidden gem. Because it’s in the warehouse district, you have no idea’

Performers rehearse at the new Edmonton Opera Centre for an upcoming production of Hansel and Gretel. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Tim Yakimec beams with pride as he watches a rehearsal at the new Edmonton Opera Centre.

"We have rehearsals, administration, box office, production, costumes, the whole meal deal right here," says the general director of Edmonton Opera.

The company, now in its 55th season, has spent the last six years and $2 million converting a linoleum warehouse into a one-stop shop for all things opera, but you wouldn't know it from the outside.

General director of Edmonton Opera Tim Yakimec basks in the new Edmonton Opera Centre. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

"It's a hidden gem. Because it's in the warehouse district, you have no idea," Yakimec says. "Once you get in the door you go 'wooo.' People say this really is a happening place, so it's kind of cool."

The 22,000-square-foot brown brick warehouse at 152nd Street and 128th Avenue is in an industrial park off Yellowhead Trail, just down from a flooring wholesaler, an auto auction house and a paper recycler.

The centre has a woodshop for building sets, a spray booth for painting, a wardrobe shop — complete with a room dedicated to thousands of buttons — for designing costumes, and office space for 20 staff.
You could drive past the Edmonton Opera Centre at 15230 128th Ave. and never be the wiser of what's happening inside. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Yakimec believes securing the building with a long-term lease will transform the way the opera operates.

"We used to have numerous warehouses, building sets and costumes in different little warehouses. Our box office was downtown. We were stuck in administration offices elsewhere. We were rehearsing in the second floor of the Jubilee [Auditorium] in a tight little rehearsal hall."

The new 150-seat rehearsal hall can stage smaller preformances and events and will give singers a boost in confidence when they practice.

"We would have to guess in a smaller rehearsal space, what [the production] would translate into on the big stage. This room is larger than the Jubilee stage so it allows us to actually stage exactly," Yakimec says.

Take a tour of the new 22,000 sq. ft. Edmonton Opera Centre. 2:34

The opera centre is also home to the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, set builds for Opera Nuova and rehearsals of The Singing Christmas Tree, among other groups.

Today a director, conductor, accompanists and singers are running through a scene from Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel which takes to the stage in Edmonton next month.

Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman belts out her notes with vigour in the role of Hansel's and Gretel's mother.

The renowned Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations performer has travelled the country for 20 years performing in operatic productions and says she loves working in the new space.

"The sound quality is good. We can sing with our full voices everyday without feeling worn out or like we're trying to imagine singing to a bigger hall. I think this is ideal."

On break from rehearsal, performers Marion Newman, Andrea Hill and Lida Szkwarek share a laugh with director Robert Herriot. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Newman believes having the dedicated space and running through with the same sets that will be used in the actual performance is also a treat.

"One of the amazing things about this centre is that the whole set can fit in this space because the ceiling is high enough and the room is wide enough in all directions.

"This is really pretty deluxe."

You can see more from the Edmonton Opera Centre on Our Edmonton, Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.
Thousands of buttons are stacked in a room ready to be used in costumes at the Edmonton Opera Centre. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.