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Soprano serenades opera fan outside Victoria care home

A pop-up performance by Pacific Opera Victoria brought the sights and sounds of the opera to a long-term care home resident on Sunday — despite a rain-soaked setting and social-distancing protocols. Frank Ainsworth, a resident of St.
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Victoria soprano Ai Horton serenades Frank Ainsworth with a private free performance outside his St. Charles Manor room on Sunday. COURTESY OF ILLARION GALLANT

A pop-up performance by Pacific Opera Victoria brought the sights and sounds of the opera to a long-term care home resident on Sunday — despite a rain-soaked setting and social-distancing protocols.

Frank Ainsworth, a resident of St. Charles Manor and longtime patron of Pacific Opera Victoria, loved the music just the same as Victoria soprano Ai Horton serenaded him with a private free performance on behalf of the opera company.

“I came into his room before the performance and he said, ‘I’m going to the opera today, I’ve had my hair brushed,’ and he was all dressed up,” said Victoria artist Illarion Gallant, who asked the opera company to perform for his longtime friend, who has dementia. “It just blew him away. It took him back to the thing that he loved. It was just wonderful.”

Gallant, whose father was friends with Ainsworth in Toronto decades ago, thought the idea of a pop-up opera performance would brighten the spirits of his friend. A supporter of many arts organizations in the city, Ainsworth loves the opera most of all, Gallant said.

Rebecca Hass, director of community engagement for Pacific Opera Victoria, made the performance a priority and pulled the elements together with Horton in a matter of days. “[Alzheimer’s patients] really lift their spirits when they hear music that they know and music that they love,” she said.

Hass said she tried to pick a day she thought would be sunny, but it rained all Sunday morning. “But Ai Horton was great,” she said. “She came with her Queen Elizabeth umbrella, which she could stand under.”

Ainsworth sat under an awning on the front porch of St. Charles Manor for the 10-minute performance, held at a comfortable social distance. He listened to Horton sing three songs through a speaker that also provided the background music.

“She was so sweet,” Hass said of the singer. “She talked to him about the story of the opera, and about the composers. And he would say, ‘Oh, yes, I love Mozart. I love [the Johann Strauss II operetta] Die Fledermaus.’ He was so happy. It brought all those memories back. Ai told me afterward it was really hard not to cry while she was singing. She could see him being really present, and getting excited.”

Horton joined several Pacific Opera Victoria singers this summer for pop-up concerts throughout the region. They performed on street corners four days a week, by request. It was this series of free summer concerts — mostly for seniors who no could longer interact socially on account of COVID-19 — that taught Hass the role the arts community plays in difficult times.

“I’m seeing opera now through a lens of community service,” she said. “It can be impactful to people’s health and well-being. It’s about finding different ways to bring music into the community in a good way.”

Hass said anyone wanting a similar pop-up opera experience should send her an e-mail at rebecca@pacificopera.ca. “If I can make it happen, I absolutely will,” she said.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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