The University of Toronto has quietly announced two of Canada’s most important voices in Opera will be receiving dual honorary degrees on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
The dual honour marks a deep connection between Mary Morrison and Barbara Hannigan, who have both shared a relationship as student and teacher.
“I started studying with Mary when I moved to Toronto, which was the year before I came to U of T. I had come here to the Etobicoke School of the Arts for my last year of high school, and Mary took me on.”
Hannigan recalled Mary telling her before her U of T audition at the age of 17 that she should not be disappointed if she didn’t get in because she is so young.
The two sopranos, separated by a generation, have shared parallel careers with uncanny similarity. Both made their way to Toronto in their teens to start their careers, and both went on to become known particularly for singing contemporary music repertoire.
Morrison, now 91, was raised in Winnipeg, and while in her teens made her radio debut on CBC. She has performed lead roles in Canadian Opera Company productions from Marguerite in Faust to the countess in The Marriage of Figaro. Beyond traditional repertoire, Morrison was one of the first singers in Canada to focus her career on contemporary music, premiering works by Berio, Birtwistle, Cage, Crumb, Peter Maxwell Davies, Globokar, Ligeti, Pousseur, Takemitsu, and Xenakis and many others.
Morrison retired from singing in 1985 and has taught at U of T’s Faculty of Music, since 1979, where she later met Hannigan.
Taking a cue from her teacher’s influence, Hannigan has followed in Morrison’s footsteps with similar success. Most recently she has performed the Canadian premiere of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin to worldwide critical acclaim.
She is also known for her performances of Hans Abrahamsen’s wintry song cycle Let Me Tell You, and simultaneously conducting and singing Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre.
This marks the second honorary degree for Hannagan, where she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Mount Allison University this past May. She received the Order of Canada in June 2016.