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Opera Ontario into the millennium


a profile of Canada's largest regional opera company


Opera Ontario celebrates its 20th Anniversary Season (1999/2000) in the Millennium with exciting new productions of Verdi's La Traviata, Carlisle Floyd's Susannah and Gounod's Faust (April) as well as Popera - uniquely sparkling opera galas devised by the charismatic Artistic Director, Daniel Lipton. Since the merger in 1995 of two smaller opera groups, the 15 year-old Hamilton Opera and Kitchener-Waterloo Opera, Opera Ontario has become the fourth largest regional company in Canada, transforming its image and outlook to provide high quality opera just over an hour’s journey from Toronto's Canadian Opera Company. Each season attracts capacity audiences to the 2000-seat Great Hall of Hamilton Place Arts Centre and The Centre-in-the-Square, Kitchener, for three main productions and the ever-popular Popera concerts, performed with the impressive New Hamilton Orchestra of which Daniel Lipton is also Artistic Director. During the last three years it has not only increased its revenue considerably (over $1m box office) to complement private and public support, but has also received two prestigious Lieutenant-Governer's Awards. As Ken Freeman, appointed the company's first General Director in 1995 explained, 'The award is not only for artistic excellence but also success in community-based arts projects'. Indeed Opera Ontario also boasts an active educational 'schools' programme, as well as a more cutting-edge studio production at Kitchener-Waterloo.

Daniel Lipton, Conductor and Artistic DirectorCrucial to the company's success is conductor Daniel Lipton, who since 1986 has raised standards to rival those of leading Canadian companies. Renowned as a Verdi interpreter he enjoys a distinguished international career, including, since 1992, regular appearances with the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. During a scintillating rehearsal of La Traviata in October, I spoke to Lipton about his background: 'I studied with the 90-year old Nadia Boulanger in Paris for two years, a tremendous experience, particularly conducting Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale with Boulanger sitting there - who had known Stravinsky so well!' Lipton made his reputation early on as founder-conductor of the national opera and ballet companies in Colombia for which he received State honours: 'Early in my career the orchestra in Colombia voted me unanimously to be their conductor, but I also had an offer from Hamburg Opera. I consulted Giulini who advised me that, despite the career advantage of Hamburg, professionally it was correct to go "with the vote" in Colombia. Later I also was voted to be conductor unanimously in Hamburg!' He also conducts regularly all over Europe, including Parma, Malaga, and Dessau in Germany where, whilst conducting Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, he met his wife, then prima ballerina. As a Verdi specialist he has achieved much with Opera Ontario. 'My first production for Opera Hamilton in 1986 was Ballo in Maschera (which we hope to do next year); we also gave the Canadian premiere of Il duo Foscari - to which we invited the Count and Countess of Foscari from Italy. They were delighted!'  Other Canadian premiers include Andre Chenier and their repertoire also includes newer works such as Floyd's Susannah.

Repertoire choice is made together with Ken Freeman, who was previously manager of Virginia Opera, and is currently opera representative on the Canadian Council Music Panel. He explained the company's basic outlook: 'Our aim is to be consistently high quality, to present new good singers and some older ones, mainstream repertoire with some new operas. But the main thrust is to offer "theatre of opera", stagings which offer something different, avoiding directorial excess, and based clearly in the music and in the libretto yet with something new to say.'

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Copyright © Malcolm Miller, November 28th 1999


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