Opéra de Montréal | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Opéra de Montréal

Historical AccountAt the invitation of bass Joseph Rouleau and baritone Robert Savoie, a group of artists formed the Mouvement d'action pour l'art lyrique du Québec (MAALQ) and began acting as a pressure group.
Madame Butterfly
Scene from the Opéra de Montréal's 1993 production of Puccini's opera (photo by Yves Renaud).

Opéra de Montréal

 Opéra de Montréal. Opera company founded 1980 in Montreal by the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec (MACQ) with the purpose of succeeding the Opéra du Québec which ceased to exist in 1975 due to its accumulated deficit.

Historical Account
At the invitation of bass Joseph Rouleau and baritone Robert Savoie, a group of artists formed the Mouvement d'action pour l'art lyrique du Québec (MAALQ) and began acting as a pressure group. The Quebec Minister of Cultural Affairs, Denis Vaugeois, announced 5 Feb 1980 the establishment of a new company, the Opéra de Montréal, with Jean-Paul Jeannotte as artistic director and Jean-Claude Delorme as president of the board.

The program for the 1980-81 season was three productions (seven performances each) at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Place des Arts: Tosca, Cosi fan tutte and La Traviata. For 1981-2 the number rose to four: Madama Butterfly, L'Elisir d'amore, Werther, and Il Trovatore. The company had a provincial grant of $638,000.

As part of the new company's mandate, young singers from Quebec would be favoured, as well as Quebec conductors, stage directors and set designers. The Opéra made a point of hiring singers in training to perform supporting roles.

Later Developments

In 1983, the Opéra de Montréal appointed Jacques Langevin, director of the MACQ's music department, to the new post of director general. Langevin resigned in Nov 1986 and was replaced by Bernard Creighton. The number of productions rose from four to five for 1986-7 but returned to four in 1987-8 and 1988-9, with six performances each.

The financial situation of the company deteriorated, because of inflation and an accumulated deficit exceeding $1 million by 1988. That year, the board appointed Bernard Uzan, a Franco-Tunisian stage director, as director general and one month later artistic director as well. Under his exacting leadership the company recovered: by the end of 1989 the deficit had been cut in half and expenses curtailed significantly. Uzan also introduced surtitles in an effort to attract a larger public. For the 1991-2 season Uzan added a fifth yearly production, an operetta. By 1993-4 he was mounting an ambitious seven productions annually, many of them co-productions. In 1994-5, there were 12,000 subscribers.

Uzan focussed on risk-free programming that guaranteed ticket sales and audience interest. By 1997 the company enjoyed a surplus. However, reviews sometimes described productions during his tenure as of mediocre vocal and musical standard.

Uzan remained as managing director until Sept 2000, and remained an additional season as artistic director. In Apr 2002 Bernard Labadie was appointed artistic director of a five-opera season. Among the operas chosen under Labadie were Thais (2003), the Baroque Agrippina (2005), and darker fare including Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung (both 2004); however, houses were not full. The 2005-6 season lost money despite audience-building initiatives such as the big-screen broadcast of Aida outdoors.

Opéra de Montréal's budget for 2002-3 and 2003-4 was $9 million. To then, financing had relied on ticket sales and Canada Council and other grants. New managers/general directors (Kimberly Gaynor Jan 2001-Nov 2002, Pierre Dufour acting 2002-3, David Moss Aug 2003-06) attempted broader fundraising. By 2006, when a deficit ($1.95 million) again plagued the company, necessitating layoffs and nearly causing the cancellation of the season, Dufour returned as general director; Labadie departed and the position of artistic director was allowed to remain vacant. The season was further downsized to four operas a year and the budget reduced to $8 million.


From the 1980-1 opening season, the Opéra de Montréal presented over 800 performances of over 80 operas. Performances are given in either Salle Wilfrid Pelletier at Montreal's Place des Arts, or Salle Pierre Mercure at Centre Pierre-Peladeau. Preference is given to the most popular operas of the repertoire, especially long-standing repertoire staples in Italian and, to a lesser degree, French, with such favourites as Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, The Barber of Seville, Fidelio, Rigoletto, and Roméo et Juliette having been staged more than once. Seasons have been programmed in keeping with the company's philosophy, especially under Uzan, to stage new works only if there is a market for them.

The company's only Canadian production was the commission and premiere (March 1990) of Nelligan (libretto by Michel Tremblay and music by André Gagnon). Nelligan was performed 16 times in Montreal, five times in Quebec City, and twice in Ottawa. The cancellation of a planned 1995 Canadian opera, Bruce Mather's La princesse blanche, was controversial. The company has also been criticised for not attempting other works by living composers.

Opéra de Montréal was awarded two Prix Opus, in 1998, for Jenufa, and again in 2004, for Bluebeard's Castle.


The Opéra de Montréal set as a priority the hiring of singers from Quebec, whether they be international stars or at the start of their career. Among Quebec singers who have sung major or minor roles are sopranos Colette Boky, Michèle Boucher, Clarice Carson, Gail Desmarais, Yolande Dulude, Céline Dussault, Hélène Fortin, Lyne Fortin, Christiane Guénette, Chantal Lambert, Nicole Lorange, Marie-Danielle Parent, and Adrienne Savoie; mezzo-sopranos or contraltos Christine Lemelin, Thérèse Sevadjian, Odette Beaupré, Gabrielle Lavigne; tenors Benoît Boutet, Yves Cantin, André Lortie, Claude-Robin Pelletier, and André Turp; baritones Jean-Clément Bergeron, Desmond Byrne, Gaétan Laperrière, Bruno Laplante, Grégoire Legendre, Claude Létourneau, Erik Oland, Louis Quilico; basses Gregory Atkinson, Pierre Charbonneau, Claude Corbeil, Roland Gosselin, Jean-Pierre Hurteau, and Joseph Rouleau.

Other Canadians who have sung with Opéra de Montréal include Theodore Baerg, Russell Braun, Benjamin Butterfield, Maureen Forrester, Judith Forst, Karina Gauvin, Joanne Kolomyjec, Michèle Losier, Linda Maguire, Richard Margison, Ermanno Mauro, Krisztina Szabo, and Daniel Taylor. Each year, US and European singers are engaged as well.

The MSO or Orchestre métropolitain have shared duties as Opéra de Montréal's resident orchestra. Conductors have included Charles Dutoit, Mario Bernardi, Franz-Paul Decker, Pierre Hétu, Raffi Armenian, and Richard Bradshaw, as well as many international invitees. Staging has been entrusted to Jean Gascon, Olivier Reichenbach, Peter Symcox, André Jobin, Bernard Uzan, and Irving Guttman; René Lacourse, Brian Law, Guy Bélanger, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (1998-2002), and Jean-Marie Zeitouni (from 2002) have led the choir.

Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal
In 1984, the company opened the Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal, where talented singers could complete their training; Yvonne Goudreau was its director 1984-9, succeeded by Chantal Lambert in 1990.

Presidents have been Jean-Claude Delorme (1980-2), Hervé Belzile (1982-8), and Claude Béland (1988-9), succeeded by Roger D. Landry.

To help maintain the company's financial stability, in 1989 the Guilde de l'Opéra de Montréal was founded, with Jacqueline Desmarais, president, and Pierre Béique, vice-president.

The Opéra de Montréal has published informative periodicals, among them Apéro-Opéra, Ouverture, and Prélude à l'Opéra de Montréal.

Further Reading