Gems From 1988 Calgary That Inspired Cowtown’s Latest Opera
Cowtown Opera’s version of “Love Potion No. 9” is a retro experience with lots of references to 1988 Calgary.
Cowtown Opera’s adaptation of Love Potion No. 9 premieres on May 29. (The love potion in this version of the opera is Red Bull – an energy drink that hit the market in the late 1980s.)
Calgarians know by now that when they go to a Cowtown Opera show, they’re not going for ordinary, run-of-the-mill opera. They’re in for something different.
The group’s newest production, Love Potion No. 9, also known as Elixir of Love, is just as unique as its previous ones. While the original opera is performed in Italian and set in the late 1700s in the Basque Country, Cowtown’s version is much more local and contemporary.
Cowtown’s version is set in a high school in 1988 Calgary. “A lot of the people coming to our shows probably went to school in the ’80s,” says Michelle Minke, the founder and artistic director of Cowtown Opera. “It’s also really retro and it appeals to the younger generation. And that’s something we want to do too – to make opera more accessible to the younger generation.”
Minke says that the opera is “so Calgary.” And so 1980s. Here are several gems from the 1980s to watch for in the show.
The 1988 Winter Olympics
Instead of taking place at the end of the 18th century in a small Italian village, this version of the opera is set in Calgary during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. That means plenty of references to the energy of the city during the Games and, of course, the Jamaican bobsled team.
The Canadian bobsleigh team
Canada’s bobsleigh team is also mentioned – an athlete from the team is part of the hilarious love triangle. According to Minke, it’s easy to make the sport funny and dramatic for the stage, but its inclusion also highlights Canada Olympic Park which is now operated by WinSport but still in use today.
Bob Gasper, a Calgarian who competed in luge in 1988, will also be at the shows. Minke says he will be in the lobby giving talks about winter sliding sports and showing off some paraphernalia.
Hidy and Howdy
The official mascots of the ’88 Winter Olympic Games appear in this version of the opera. While Cowtown Opera was unable to rent the actual polar bear costumes, the mascots do appear on stage and are referenced.
Inside jokes that only Calgarians will understand
Members of the audience who lived in Calgary during the 1980s will also appreciate the numerous references to Canadian television shows of that decade, commercial jingles and Calgary slang. Minke says that “gag me with a spoon” is one such reference that (some) Calgarians will remember using.
The opera’s costume designer Phaedra Vandenbrun made sure that the clothing worn by all the actors is authentically 1988. Instead of puffy white shirts and long dresses, actors wear high-waisted, washed out jeans, plastic jewellery, side ponytails, and of course, scrunchies.
Popular music and movies
This production doesn’t just have the classic songs written for the opera. In addition to those, the cast sings popular songs from the 1980s. Expect to hear operatic versions of Bryan Adam’s “It’s Only Love,” Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” and the Calgary Olympic theme song “Can’t You Feel It.”
There will also be plenty of 1980s movie references. Listen for mentions of Sixteen Candles, Star Wars and Heathers.
Cowtown Opera’s Love Potion No. 9 runs from May 29 to 31 at Festival Hall. For more information visit cowtownopera.com.