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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

THE SCOOP | Opera Canada Awards Honour Three Outstanding Canadians

By Joseph So on October 24, 2016

(l.–r.) Ernesto Ramirez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Ben Heppner, Nada Ristich, Richard Margison. (Photo: Peter Phoa)
(l.–r.) Ernesto Ramirez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Ben Heppner, Nada Ristich, Richard Margison. (Photo: Peter Phoa)

October is a great month for Toronto opera fans. Not only does it mark the start of the opera season for both the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier, but it’s also the month of “The Rubies” or Opera Canada Awards. “Rubies” is named after the late Ruby Mercer, Metropolitan Opera soprano, author, and founder of Opera Canada magazine, the only periodical devoted to opera and voice in Canada. The 16th Annual Opera Canada Gala Awards Evening took place at the headquarters of BMO Financial Group, on the 68th Floor of First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto on October 12th.  This award is given to three Canadians (occasionally organizations) each year for their outstanding contribution to opera at home and abroad. This year, the three recipients were soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, film/stage director Atom Egoyan, and L’Opéra de Québec General Director Grégoire Legendre.

Representing BMO Financial Group was Nada Ristich, Director of Corporate Donations. She gave a short welcome speech, followed by Stephen Clarke, Chair of Opera Canada Publications. Then one of the most familiar faces to opera fans, the inimitable Canadian tenor, and CBC Broadcaster Ben Heppner, came on as MC for the evening. It was a gala benefit event, with dinner and drinks. I can attest to the fabulous food! But the main reason to be there was to see old friends and make new ones, and most of all, to support Opera Canada magazine in this gala fundraiser.

Gregoire Legendre, Sondra Radvanovsky, Atom Egoyan (Photo: Peter Phoa)
Gregoire Legendre, Sondra Radvanovsky, Atom Egoyan (Photo: Peter Phoa)

Kicking off the proceedings was the Principal and Youth Choruses of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. This group was founded by Ruby Mercer when it was then called Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus. With Teri Dunn conducting and Gergely Szokolay at the piano, the chorus sang “We Are the Operatic Chorus” by Derek Holman, followed by the Overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, arranged by Howard Cable.

The first to be honoured was L’Opéra de Québec’s Managing and Artistic Director Grégoire Legendre. He was introduced by Patrick Corrigan, the General Director of Opéra de Montreal. A former singer with an international career, Mr. Legendre has been the Company’s General Director since 1996. In 2007, Mr. Legendre received the Prix de la Fondation de L’Orchestre symphonique de Québec for his contribution to the development of classical music in Québec City. He brought Placido Domingo’s Operalia to Québec in 2008 and launched the Festival d’opera de Québec in 2011. Singing in honour of Mr. Legendre was soprano France Bellemare, in a lovely, pure-toned rendition of Song to the Moon from Rusalka, with frequent Rubies collaborative pianist Rachel Andrist.

Ben Heppner and Richard Margison (Photo: Peter Phoa)
Ben Heppner and Richard Margison (Photo: Peter Phoa)

American-born and newly minted Canadian citizen soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was the second honouree of the evening. Ms. Radvanovsky is considered one of the greatest spinto-dramatic sopranos of our time. She recently triumphed at the Met by singing the “Triple Crown,” all three Donizetti Queens, in a single season. Her most recent Canadian triumph is in the title role of Norma currently on stage at the COC. I had the great good fortune of attending a working rehearsal, the final dress rehearsal and opening night of Norma. I was totally blown away by her incredible vocalism. Without a doubt, her Rubies Award is richly deserved. She was introduced by fellow colleague and tenor Richard Margison. Singing in honour of Radvanovsky was Mexican-American tenor/Toronto resident Ernesto Ramirez, who stepped in to sing one performance opposite Radvanovsky in the COC Roberto Devereux two seasons ago. His “Frederico’s Lament” was remarkable for its warm, gorgeous tone, complete with the optional high note at the end. Rachel Andrist was ever the supportive pianist. Radvanovsky gave a touching, heart-felt thank you speech, interspersed with tears, tears of joy to be sure.

The final honouree was film and stage director Atom Egoyan, introduced by retired COC Artistic Administrator Philip Boswell. In addition to his many award-winning feature films, Egoyan has also won accolades in the opera world.  His 1996 Salome remains one of the most provocative and visually stunning productions at the COC.  His 2004 Die Walküre, created as part of the COC Ring that opened the Four Seasons Centre in 2006, was recently revived to uniform praise. Mr. Egoyan’s most recent work at the COC was a re-thinking of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. Singing in honour of Egoyan was mezzo Wallis Giunta, the Dorabella in his production of Cosi and currently in Toronto for Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas. Giunta, no stranger to trouser roles, sang with gleaming tone Romeo’s First Act aria, “Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio” from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

Ernesto Ramirez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Joseph So (Photo: Peter Phoa)
Ernesto Ramirez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Joseph So (Photo: Peter Phoa)

There you have it, another year and another group of Rubies recipients. It underscores that opera is alive and well in Canada. It also serves to remind us that — this most extravagant of art form, to quote author Herbert Lindenberger, needs the support of every opera lover in the country. While this art form is largely defined by the “big shows” the likes of those at the COC, we’re witnessing a burgeoning “Indie Opera” movement, one of a group of dynamic, nascent, often small-scale opera companies that re-think standard repertoire and strive to bring new vigour to the art form, offering new works that reflect 21st century aesthetics. With the wealth of talent and interest in opera in our country, and despite the financial and demographic challenges, the future of opera in Canada is assured.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Joseph So

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