Edmonton Opera. Founded 1963 as the Edmonton Professional Opera Association; the name was shortened in 1966. Predecessors were the Edmonton Amateur Operatic Society, formed in 1904 by Vernon Barford; the Edmonton Civic Opera (1935-46), organized by Mrs. J.B. Carmichael; and the Light Opera of Edmonton, founded by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert G. Turner. The EPOA's first presentation (October 1963) was Madama Butterfly. Jean Létourneau was the first artistic director, 1963-5, succeeded in 1965 by Irving Guttman. David Ker was the first president. The first general manager was Barry Thompson 1969-73.
Edmonton Opera on Tour, a program designed to bring opera performances to children in their own schools, was active 1973-84, giving more than 200 performances per year. In 1968, with the Vancouver Opera Association, the EO initiated the system later incorporated as Opera West, collaborating in productions of La Bohème (1969) and Lucrezia Borgia (1972, with Joan Sutherland). In 2004, a typical EO season offered three productions, each running for three or four nights. Over the years, the EO has developed various community-based programs dedicated to educating the public. Adult audience members are encouraged to attend pre-performance events such as: Opera Talk, Opera Brunch or Opera Overture. The EO also offers in-school visits and opera study guides to teachers. For a reduced admission price, a dress rehearsal series is available to over 3,300 students in elementary, high school, and post-secondary levels. Guest conductors have included Raffi Armenian, Ernesto Barbini, Mario Bernardi, Richard Bonynge, Boris Brott, Anton Coppola, George Crum, Pierre Hétu, Jean Deslauriers, Lawrence Leonard, Jean Létourneau, Brian Priestman, David Speers, and Tyrone Patterson.
Among other highlights of EO productions have been the operatic debut of Ermanno Mauro (1963, as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly), Heather Thomson's first Violetta (1968) and Butterfly (1971), Beverly Sills' Canadian operatic debut (1969, in Lucia di Lammermoor), Maureen Forrester's first Ulrica (Un Ballo in Maschera, 1971), and appearances by Anna Moffo and Jose Carreras (La Traviata, 1974), Heather Thomson, Judith Forst, and Alan Titus (The Merry Widow, 1975), Teresa Stratus (La Bohème, 1976), Maria Pellegrini (Madame Butterfly, 1976), Marilyn Horne (Mignon, 1978), and Carol Neblett (Tosca, 1978). In collaboration with CBC the EO won a Canadian Music Award for Best Opera Broadcast in two consecutive years for producing Strauss' Salome (1977) and Verdi's Attila (1978). In 1999 the EO collaborated with Calgary Opera and 10 other North American opera companies to produce Verdi's Aida. The EO and the Citadel Theatre presented the Canadian opera Beatrice Chancy in 2001 and the Canadian premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men in 2002. In 2005 the EO mounted John Estacio's successful Canadian opera Filumena; a film version of its production was aired on CBC's "Opening Night" in 2006.
The association has sponsored operatic concerts by Teresa Stratas (1971), Montserrat Caballé (1974), and Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill (1974). The EO launched a new recital series in 1993 featuring world-class singers Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle, and Cecilia Bartoli. In 1997, the EO sponsored a concert with guest artists Richard Margison and Tracy Dahl at Winspearation 97, a 10-day celebration to inaugurate the new Francis Winspear Centre for Music. Since, the Francis Winspear Centre has served as a venue for other EO-sponsored events including recitals of Denyce Graves and Samuel Ramey in 1998.
The EO season was cut from four to three productions in 2003 because of financial difficulty. By 2004, thanks to the direction of General Manager Mary Phillips-Rickey and a $100,000 gift from Dr. Stuart Davis, the EO announced the near elimination of its accumulated deficit. The EO celebrated its 40th anniversary season in 2003/2004 with Turandot, Madame Butterfly, and South Pacific.