Vancouver Opera

Vancouver Opera (Vancouver Opera Association until 1984). Non-profit organization founded in 1959. Vancouver Opera's first production was (Carmen, April 1960, with Nan Merriman, Richard Cassilly, and Louis Quilico).

Vancouver Opera

Vancouver Opera (Vancouver Opera Association until 1984). Non-profit organization founded in 1959. Vancouver Opera's first production was (Carmen, April 1960, with Nan Merriman, Richard Cassilly, and Louis Quilico). The company subsequently gave approximately 16-25 performances of four or five operas each (winter) season at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. It also mounted an opera each summer until 1967 for the Vancouver International Festival. In 1977 the season was divided between three home productions in September-October and an exchange program with Seattle in the spring. In May 1986 a controversial Lucian Pintile staging of Carmen was mounted for Expo 86.

While drawing predominantly on the traditional repertoire, the company has attempted a balance between the most popular works (La Traviata, La Bohème, etc) and those less often done (eg, Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri in 1966, Massenet's Le Roi de Lahore in 1977, Janáček's From the House of the Dead in its North American stage premiere in 1986, Handel's Alcina in 1990). It also presented Australian soprano Joan Sutherland's first Norma (1963) and first Lucrezia Borgia (1972). Vancouver Opera has also staged such 20th-century operas as Peter Grimes (in 1995), Candide (1996), and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (1997) and Of Mice and Men (2002). The company's first commissioned opera, The Architect (music by David MacIntyre, libretto by Tom Cone), premiered 11 Jun 1994. A second commission, the children's opera Naomi's Road (score by Ramona Luengen, libretto by Ann Hodges on the Joy Kogawa novel), was premiered 30 Sep 2005.

Singers and Artistic Directors

Although it has continued to engage important foreign singers for casting or box-office reasons (eg, Mary Costa, Placido Domingo, Ryan Edwards, Reri Grist, Marilyn Horne, Dorothy Kirsten, Gloria Lane, Luciano Pavarotti, Victoria Vergaza, Deborah Voigt, Li-Ping Zhang), the Vancouver Opera, under its artistic directors or consultants (Irving Guttman 1960-74 and 1982-4, Richard Bonynge 1974-80, Hamilton McClymont 1980-2, Brian McMaster 1984-9, Guus Mostart 1989-92), has made use regularly of Canadian singers. Valdine Anderson, Milla Andrew, Theodore Baerg, Donald Bell, Russell Braun, Victor Braun, Clarice Carson, Claude Corbeil, Tracy Dahl, Gloria Doubleday, Judith Forst, Ben Heppner, Richard Margison, Ermanno Mauro, Allan Monk, Cornelis Opthof, Maria Pellegrini, Louis Quilico, Jean Stilwell, Heather Thomson, Huguette Tourangeau, Riki Turofsky, and Lyn Vernon are among those who have sung in its productions.

The Orchestra, Conductors, and Stage Directors

The Vancouver Opera orchestra, established in 1977, replaced the Vancouver Symphony Orchestrawhich had been the accompanying orchestra 1967-77. A controversial 1997 proposal to merge the Vancouver Opera and Vancouver Symphony orchestras was not acted upon.

Conductors of Vancouver Opera productions have included Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Richard Armstrong, Kees Bakels, Stephen Barlow, Mario Bernardi, Richard Bonynge, James Craig, George Crum, Jonathan Darlington, Meredith Davies, Mark Ermler, Otto-Werner Mueller, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Antonio Pappano, Paolo Peloso, and Leslie Uyeda. The first music director was David Agler 1992-9. Jonathan Darlington was principal conductor beginning in 2004. Stage directors have included Pamela Berlin, Atom Egoyan, Michael Cavanagh, David Gately, Irving Guttman, Joachim Herz, Goran Jarvefelt, Harry Kupfer (his North American debut), James Lucas, Lotfi Mansouri, and Andrei Serban. Local singers have received encouragement through Resident Artist programs (1967-70, 1974-6, 1989-90).

Educational Programs

The Vancouver Opera Guild in 1972 initiated the 'Opera in the Schools' project (adopted shortly afterwards by the Vancouver Opera as a regular part of its program). In 1977 a condensed Il Trovatore featuring young Canadian singers was performed for a total of some 21,000 elementary school children in British Columbia's lower mainland. By the early 2000s the schools program was one of the longest-running enterprises of its kind in Canada and reached over 50,000 students. In 1989 a high school and 'opera experience' program was added.

Budget; General Managers

By the 1977-8 season, Vancouver Opera's annual budget had reached approximately $1 million, with half of this amount coming from ticket sales (over 6000 subscriptions) and the rest from the Canada Council, the British Columbia Cultural Fund, the city of Vancouver, and corporate and private donations. By the 1990-1 season the annual budget had risen to $3.5 million, with 30 per cent from all government sources, 43 per cent from ticket sales, 23 per cent from private funding, and 4 per cent from the Vancouver Foundation.

Vancouver Opera enjoyed several years of modest surpluses, ending with the 1995-6 season, the budget for which was $6.6 million. However, the company ran a deficit 1996-7 of over $1 million, due to a few unpopular productions, government cutbacks, and competition from new entertainment venues. This deficit was eventually retired; at the end of 2005-6 the budget was $8.4 million, with 42 per cent of revenues earned, 42 per cent from the private sector, and 16 per cent from the public sector.

The company was managed 1960-5 by Karl Norman, 1965-7 by James Norcop, 1967-9 by John Finlay, 1969-75 by Brian Hanson, 1975-8 by Barry Thompson, 1978-82 by Hamilton McClymont, 1982-4 by Catherine Lowther (as acting general manager), by Beverley Trifonidis 1984-91, and Robert Hallam 1991-9. Hallam's contract was not renewed; he was replaced by James Wright.

Beverly Fyfe was chorus master 1962-92, succeeded by Leslie Uyeda in 1992.


Further Reading

  • 'The Vancouver Opera Association 1960-4: 5 years of progress,' Opera Canada, Feb 1965

    Watmough, David. 'The Vancouver Opera Association,' Opera Canada, Feb 1968

    'Vancouver Opera Association,' Opera Canada, Sep 1975

    Ewert, Henry. 'Joan Sutherland's 20 year love affair with Vancouver,' Fugue, Jun-Jul 1978

    Mertens, Susan. 'The dream of international opera fades as Vancouver faces fiscal realities,' Performing Arts in Canada, Spring 1979

    Forst, Graham. 'Hamilton McClymont: the VOA's high-flying General Director has down to earth plans,' Opera Canada, Fall 1979

    Gooch, Bryan N.S. 'Vancouver loves opera,' Opera Canada, Fall 1984

    Watmough, David. The Unlikely Pioneer: Building Opera from the Pacific through the Prairies (Oakville, Ont 1986)

    Hughes, Douglas. 'Vancouver Opera: where to next?' Performing Arts in Canada, Jul 1988

    Scott, Michael. 'Thirty years of opera,' Vancouver Sun, 21 Apr 1990

    "Excitement ahead in Vancouver Opera's 96/97 season," Playboard, Sep 1996

    Dykk, Lloyd. "Two distinct orchestras means opera's voice will continue to be heard," Vancouver Sun, 21 Feb 1997

    Owen, David. "Looming corporate merger called off," OCSM Una Voce, May 1997

    Dykk, Lloyd. "Benefactor's exit signals next act for city's opera," Vancouver Sun, 28 Sep 1998

    Daniels, Alan. "After emerging from a million-dollar debt load, Vancouver Opera is hitting all the right notes," CanWest News, 11 Oct 2003