Canadian Children's Opera Company | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canadian Children's Opera Company

Canadian Children's Opera Company (CCOC) (Canadian Children's Opera Chorus to 2008).

Canadian Children's Opera Company

Canadian Children's Opera Company (CCOC) (Canadian Children's Opera Chorus to 2008). A paid, autonomous, 80-voice choir for children of 8 to 16 years that performs choral and operatic repertoire; the first of its kind in Canada, and the only permanent children's opera chorus that develops and produces new operas for children.

The Canadian Children's Opera Chorus was founded in Toronto in 1968 by Ruby Mercer and Lloyd Bradshaw. Mercer became the first president of its governing board. The chorus was originally a 32-voice ensemble under the direction of Bradshaw, and it was hired later that year for the first time by the Canadian Opera Company (COC) for productions of La Bohème and Tosca. The chorus made its concert debut 1 Dec 1968 at St Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Toronto. Further staged performances with the COC or the COC Ensemble have included Turandot in 1969 and 2004, Boris Godunov in 1974, Wozzeck in 1977, Der Rosenkavalier in 1978, Werther and Otello in 1980, The Little Sweep and Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1981, The Magic Flute in 1982, The Coronation of Poppea in 1983, Carmen in 1984, The Beggar's Opera and Macbeth in 1986, Queen of Spades in 1988, Pagliacci in 1991, Bastien and Bastienne at the Glory of Mozart festival in Toronto; an interactive simulation of a video adventure, Wonderful Wolfgang, in 1991; in 1992, Hansel and Gretel, a CCOC arrangement of Humperdinck's opera, by Terence Seaman; and Tosca in 2003.

In 1988 the CCOC established two apprentice choruses of about 35 members each under the direction of Ann Cooper Gay, Claire Preston, and Bronwen Low, with drama coach Bill Walker, to provide instruction in vocal technique, acting, theory, and solfège. The Ruby Chorus, named after the CCOC's founder, was established in 1999 to introduce five- and six-year-olds to music and drama using singing games and eurhythmic training. In 2002 the Canadian Youth Opera Chorus (CYOC) was formed to provide further choral and operatic training (under Cooper Gay's direction) for girls aged 16 to 19 and boys aged 14 to 19.

In 2003 the CCOC performed at the Opera Canada Gala Awards, The Rubies, featuring its Ruby Chorus. In 2004, in honour of R. Murray Schafer's 70th birthday, the CCOC performed with the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and other choral groups.

Commissioned Works

For its own use the chorus commissioned Charles Wilson's opera The Selfish Giant and gave its premiere 20 Dec 1973 at St Lawrence Centre, under the composer's direction. The chorus presented Richard Rodney Bennett's All the King's Men and Britten's The Golden Vanity in 1977 and commissioned Gian-Carlo Menotti's children's opera Chip and His Dog and premiered it in 1979 at the Guelph Spring Festival as part of the International Year of the Child. It presented Cinderella in Salerno (based on Rossini's Cenerentola) in 1980 and the premiere of then-conductor Derek Holman's opera Doctor Canon's Cure (also commissioned by the chorus) at the International Children's Festival at Harbourfront in 1982. The CCOC performed in 1982 at the opening of Roy Thomson Hall and returned there in 1983 for Britten's Noye's Fludde with the Toronto Symphony (TS) Youth Orchestra under Andrew Davis. It produced Malcolm Williamson's Julius Caesar Jones in 1984 and Jeffrey Bishop's The Dead Moon in 1985, both Canadian premieres.

Its 1987 Christmas concert included the premiere of Holman's choral suite Sir Christëmas (a commission); and to mark its 20th anniversary, it commissioned and premiered Harry Somers' A Midwinter Night's Dream, based on an Inuit theme, at the International Children's Festival at Harbourfront in 1988. In 1993 the CCOC commissioned John Greer and Jeremy James Taylor to write The Snow Queen, and, in a concert to end the 20th century, the company presented Carmen, the Queen and the Kids (1999), a medley of works by Humperdinck, Holst, Duruflé, Dowland, and Purcell, arranged by Gerry Thornton. The CCOC commissioned playwright Ned Dickens and composer John Greer to adapt Oscar Wilde's story The Star Child for children's chorus; the work premiered in spring of 2000. In 2004 the CCOC presented the world premiere of Dean Burry's opera, The Hobbit, an adaptation of a J.R. Tolkien tale.


The chorus participated in Expo 86 in Vancouver, giving 13 performances of John Rutter's The Piper of Hamlin and 7 performances with the National Ballet of Canada in The Dream. It also performed in Victoria. In 1987 the chorus presented the children's version of Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore (The Children's Pinafore) in Toronto and on tour in Florida. The chorus toured in March 1991 to Arizona, at the invitation of the American Choral Directors Convention. In 1993 the CCOC performed at the World Symposium on Choral Music in Vancouver. In 1997 it toured northern Ontario performing HMS Pinafore again in Sudbury, Cobalt, and Kirkland Lake. In 2001, the CCOC undertook its first European tour, performing in the Netherlands and Germany under its new artistic director, Ann Cooper Gay.

Guest Appearances and Conductors

Besides appearing with the Toronto Symphony, the Hamilton Philharmonic, the Chamber Players of Toronto, the Toronto Mendelssohn and Bach-Elgar choirs, Chamber Concerts Canada, the Toronto Operetta Theatre, and Opera Atelier, the chorus has sung in concert and provided choral workshops throughout Ontario. Conductors have been Bradshaw 1968-73, Donald Kendrick 1974-5, Holman 1975-85, John Tuttle from 1985-2000, and Ann Cooper Gay since 2000. The accompanist has been Bruce Ubukata (from 1975), the manager Suzanne Bradshaw (from 1980), and the theatre director Virginia Reh (from 1988). In 2003 the CCOC appeared on CBC Radio for its 10th anniversary concert with Bradshaw and seven international opera stars. The event was broadcast across Canada and Europe.


The CCOC's recording of Holman's Sir Christëmas and other seasonal works (under John Tuttle; released 1989) won the Association of Canadian Choral Conductor's prize for the most outstanding choral record of 1988-90. Dandelion Parachutes was released in 1993. Produced by Anton Kwiatkowski and directed by Tuttle, this recording includes the commissioned work Dandelion Parachutes by Stephen Chatman, based on poems by A.M. Klein, bpNichol, and Miriam Waddington. The recording also includes Songs of the Nativity (by Ruth Watson Henderson) as well as Canadian folksongs and works by Poulenc and Britten. The CD Creatures Great and Small was released in 1999, and There and Back Again, under Cooper Gay, was released in 2003.

Further Reading