Opera Lyra Ottawa

Opera Lyra Ottawa (OLO). Non-profit opera company founded in 1984 by soprano Diana Gilchrist after the demise of the National Arts Centre's (NAC's) summer opera productions.

Opera Lyra Ottawa

Opera Lyra Ottawa (OLO). Non-profit opera company founded in 1984 by soprano Diana Gilchrist after the demise of the National Arts Centre's (NAC's) summer opera productions. Mozart's The Impresario and Telemann's Pimpinone were given in 1984, and the company's first full-length production was Così fan tutte at Carleton University in 1985. After a fund-raising performance by Anna Russell in 1986 the company moved to the theatre of the NAC for its staged presentations: Barber of Seville (1986), Donizetti's The Elixir of Love (1987), La Bohème (1988), Carmen (1989), Madama Butterfly (1990), Amahl and the Night Visitors (1990 and 1991), and The Magic Flute (1991). Since the early 1990s, the company's mainstage performances have occurred in the NAC's Southam Hall, eg, Salome (2002), Rigoletto (2004), The Telephone and The Old Maid and the Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti (2005), and Contes d'Hoffmann (2005), among others. OLO also has given concert performances of operas, including Massenet's Werther (1987), and has mounted evenings of opera excerpts, and concerts featuring the music of composers such as Kurt Weill, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Stephen Sondheim. The company produces two mainstages and a children's opera per year.

The company has presented such singers as Donna Brown, Tracy Dahl, Glyn Evans, Nancy Hermiston, Richard Margison, Catherine Robbin, Jean Stilwell, and Liping Zhang. Conductors have included Dwight Bennett, Ermanno Florio, John Greer, Brian Law, Brian Jackson, and Tyrone Paterson. In 1988 Opera Lyra Ottawa took its staged production of La Bohème to Kingston, Ont. In 1990, in co-operation with the Canadian Musical Heritage Society, the company produced a program of 'Canadian Opera Treasures' with Thirteen Strings, the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, and soloists including Sandra Graham, Rosemarie Landry, John Fanning, and Michael Schade. The concert included excerpts from eight operas including Lavallée's The Widow, Telgmann'sLeo, the Royal Cadet, and Quesnel'sLucas et Cécile. In 2005 OLO staged another Canadian opera, John Estacio's Filumena (libretto by John Murrell), as part of Alberta's centennial celebrations.

Changes 1987-2000s

Gilchrist was succeeded as artistic director by Jeannette Aster in 1987. Under Aster's direction, the company continued its policy of presenting most operas in French or English (though this changed in the 1990 production of Madama Butterfly, which was sung in Italian with English and French surtitles). Since then, operas are sung in their original languages.

The 1996-7 season proved difficult for Aster and OLO. The company staged several costly productions (Die Fledermaus, Faust, and Aïda) that were neither well-attended nor, in the case of Aïda, well-reviewed. Aster was dismissed in December 1997, six months before her contract expired. Marcus Hadman stepped in as artistic director but resigned in 1998. The orchestra then appointed Tyrone Paterson as artistic director and principal conductor. Under Paterson's leadership, OLO came back from its crises, increased its budget, and continued to cautiously but successfully program its seasons.

OLO obtains most of its funding from the City of Ottawa, though this was nearly cut in a 2004 city budget.

Training and Education Activities

In 1990 OLO began to give lectures for adults, school programs, and workshops for children. That year, the company formed the Opera Lyra Ottawa Boys' Choir, later the OLO Chorus, led by Laurence Ewashko. Paterson founded the Youth Training Program in 1999. This group of emerging artists organizes several musical events per year, including a third opera for children.

A Successful Mid-Sized Company
The company does not aim to duplicate the stature of the largest companies; as Aster commented, 'a series of solid mid-size companies [is] badly needed in Canada to provide [young] artists with experience and a step up to major international houses' (Globe and Mail 6 Sep 1990). Since Paterson's arrival, the company has explored new repertoire to critical acclaim. In 2004, the OLO orchestra was formed from professional musicians in the Ottawa area.

Writing for the Ottawa Citizen, Richard Todd noted that OLO's 2006 version of Verdi's Falstaff "was an overall success and a major feather in the company's cape [sic]. It is easily the most ambitious production the company has undertaken to date."


Further Reading

  • Kaptainis, Arthur. 'Ottawa's Opera Lyra turns tide on Black Wednesday,' Montreal Gazette, 13 Sep 1986

    Jennings, Sarah. 'The voice that filled the void,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 6 Sep 1990

    Stone, Jay. 'Ottawa's best-kept secret,' Ottawa Citizen, 14 Apr 1991

    Lemery, Marthe. 'Opera Lyra, le retour en douce de l'opéra à Ottawa,' Aria, vol 10, Fall 1987

    "Ready for a bigger challenge," Ottawa Citizen, 12 Oct 1997

    Mazey, Steven. "Opera Lyra sacks director," Ottawa Citizen, 13 Dec 1997

    Mazey, Steven. "Cripton denies suggesting Opera Lyra dismiss director," Ottawa Citizen, 18 Dec 1997