Jan Rubes | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jan Rubes

In 1948 Rubeš emigrated to Canada and gave his first Canadian performance as Betto in Gianni Schicchi with the Royal Conservatory Opera (University of Toronto Opera Division).

Rubeš, Jan

 Jan (Ladislav) Rubeš. Bass, actor, director, b Volynĕ, southern Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, 6 Jun 1920, d Toronto 29 Jun 2009; honorary D LITT (Guelph) 1983. Rubeš studied with Hilbert Vávra in Prague (graduating from the Prague Conservatory in 1945), Hermann Gürtler in Geneva, and Herbert Janssen in New York. He made his opera debut in 1940 in Prague, as Basilio in The Barber of Seville, and became a leading singer in the Prague Opera. He represented Czechoslovakia at the International Music Festival at Geneva in 1948 and was a first-prize winner.

In 1948 Rubeš emigrated to Canada and gave his first Canadian performance as Betto in Gianni Schicchi with the Royal Conservatory Opera (University of Toronto Opera Division). He was a soloist 1949-58 with the CBC Opera and an original member (1950) of the Opera Festival Company of Toronto (later the Canadian Opera Company). He appeared more than 1,000 times 1949-89 in more than 50 COC productions of over 30 operas and participated in some 20 national tours. He served 1974-76 as the COC's touring director. Rubeš performed as guest soloist with opera companies in Frankfurt, Mexico, Central America, New York City, Detroit, Seattle, and New Orleans.

His repertoire comprised roles in six languages, including Major Domo in Ariadne auf Naxos, Mephisto in Faust, Bluebeard in Bluebeard's Castle, Boris in Boris Godunov, Daland in The Flying Dutchman, the King and Ramfis in Aida, Figaro and Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro, Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia, Kecal in The Bartered Bride, Pluto in Orpheus in the Underworld, and Il Maestro in Cimarosa's comic intermezzo Il Maestro di Cappella. He performed Tibor Polgar's chamber opera A European Lover (1965) throughout Canada. He appeared in the 1982 premiere of Clifford Crawley's music drama Barnardo Boy, and sang Sancho Panza in Massenet's Don Quichotte in 1986 with Opera in Concert. Rubeš sang in oratorio (eg, in the 1983 premiere of John Reeves's Salvator Mundi at St James' Cathedral, Toronto) and performed leading roles in such musicals as South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, and The King and I. He appeared at the Guelph, Montréal, Stratford, and Vancouver International festivals and with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and other symphony orchestras in Canada, the USA, and Mexico.

Rubeš was heard on radio (notably as singer and host 1953-63 for CBC's Songs of My People), appeared on TV (Parade, L'Heure du concert, Guess What?, as host for Thursday Night and for Sunday Afternoon at the Opera), and in a number of televised opera productions. He directed productions for the COC (La Bohème, on tour 1974-5, 1975-6), the Stratford Festival (The Fool, Ariadne auf Naxos, 1975), and the Vancouver Opera (La Bohème, 1976; Die Fledermaus, 1977).

In 1954 Rubeš made two 78s with Ivan Romanoff's orchestra for the Songs of My People label (SP1-2109, SP2-2109) and in 1974 he made the LP Jan Rubeš Sings Guess What? (RCA KCLI-5006), a program of folk and children's songs.


After Rubeš's performance as Leporello to George London's Don Giovanni at the 1958 Vancouver International Festival, John Beckwith wrote in the Autumn issue of the Canadian Music Journal "in the second act where they are required to impersonate each other, Mr. Rubeš even managed to adopt a bit of Mr. London's sneery vocal tone... [Rubeš's] mounting cheekiness... bred respect... for his comic stature."

In a review (Opera Canada, Winter 1980) of the COC's Canadian premiere of the completed three-act version of Berg's Lulu, William Littler praised Rubeš's "wonderfully seedy Schigolch, a character study which marked the veteran basso's triumphant return to a company he had served for a quarter of a century."

Acting Career

Rubeš acted on stage and developed a film career, appearing in more than 100 roles, eg, in The Day Grandad Died (1982), Witness, One Magic Christmas, and Charlie Grant's War (1985), Blood Relations (1987), The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick and Something About Love (1988), The Two Men (1989), Class Action (1990), Deceived (1991), and The Christmas Secret (2000). In 1995, Rubeš performed in Twelve Dreams at the Lincoln Theatre Centre. He also appeared on Canadian and US television programs including roles in The Forest Rangers, King of Kensington, and Due South.

Jan Rubeš won a Gemini Award for his role in Two Men (1989), the Queen's Jubilee Medal (1978), the Canadian Centennial Medal (1967), and the Earl Grey Award for lifetime achievement in television (1990).

Teaching and Other Activities

Jan Rubeš was artist-in-residence at Wilfrid Laurier University in 1981, and taught at the University of Windsor in 1985. In addition to his professional activities, Rubeš was the Canadian national senior tennis champion.


"To translate or not to translate?" Opera Canada, 14, May 1963

"An actor is on his own," ibid, 39, Sep 1969

Further Reading