Ottawa operastad i Kanada

Opera Lyra

Ottawa operastad i Kanada

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Opera Lyra

The Early Years (1984 – 1989)

Opera Lyra (OL) was founded by soprano Diana Gilchrist in 1984 to fill the void created by the cancellation of the National Arts Centre’s annual opera festival in 1983.  Since then, Opera Lyra has developed into one of the largest independent performing arts organizations in the National Capital Region, developing along the way, a strong reputation for acclaimed main stage productions and exceptional educational programs.

Opera Lyra’s first production was Mozart’s one-act opera The Impresario, which was staged at the former York Street Theatre in Ottawa’s Byward Market in February of 1984. Produced and directed by Gilchrist, the production, although modest, served notice that live opera had returned to Ottawa.

In the wake of the success of The Impresario, Opera Lyra’s first season was born.  Performing at least two operas per season (either fully staged or in concert), OL began to become Ottawa’s premiere opera company.


1984 Opera Lyra is established by Diana Gilchrist, after the demise of the National Arts Centre’s summer opera productions. OL’s first two presentations are Mozart’s The Impresario and Telemann’s Pimpinone.

1985 The company produces its first full-length opera, Così fan tutte, at Carleton University.

1986 Opera Lyra presents The Barber of Seville, the company’s first production in the Theatre at the National Arts Centre.

1987 Opera Lyra presents The Elixir of Love – this was Diana Gilcrest’s last production with the company before Jeanette Aster succeeded as Artistic Director.

1988 Opera Lyra takes a fully stage production of La Bohème on the road to Kingston, Ontario.

Opera Lyra Grows (1990 – 1999)

Opera Lyra’s productions have evolved significantly since that first, community-based presentation of The Impresario. The company rapidly began to draw the talents of professional principal artists from across Canada and around the world. OL was soon able to showcase artists on the Southam Hall stage with a highly skilled chorus and the superb musicians of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

Opera Lyra also developed a wide range of educational and community outreach programs. In 1990, OL started to present lectures for adults, school programs for students, and workshops for children. That same year, the company formed the Opera Lyra Boys’ Choir and, later the Opera Lyra Chorus, both led by talented choral conductor and teacher Laurence Ewashko.

Nine years later, OL expanded its programming when Artistic Director Tyrone Paterson founded the Young Artists Training Program. Now known as the Opera Studio Program, this program offers aspiring Canadian singers a blend of intensive professional instruction and practical performance experience. Many of the program’s graduates have gone on to major professional careers in opera houses across Canada and beyond.


1990 Opera Lyra introduces surtitles, a simultaneous translation of the show’s lyrics and dialogue projected onto a screen above the stage, during its presentation of Madama Butterfly. OL innovates by projecting surtitles simultaneously in English and French. Since the debut of surtitles in Ottawa, all operas presented by OL have been sung in the original language.

1992 Opera Lyra moves to the NAC’s Opera Hall (now known as Southam Hall) with a concert performance.

1993 Opera Lyra makes the permanent move to the NAC’s largest hall with its main-stage opera, La Traviata.

1996 After giving several concerts that were broadcast from the Chateau Laurier by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, this season’s production of Faust becomes the first OL full opera to be broadcast by the CBC.

1998 The Merry Widow Project, hosted by newscaster Peter Jennings, is created as a joint benefit event for the NAC Orchestra and Opera Lyra.  This concept evolved into the Black and White Opera Soirée, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Orchestra and the Opera, before it was discontinued in 2009.

Tyrone Paterson is appointed as General Director.

Brava Opera Lyra! (2000 – 2009)

In 2002, Opera Lyra was given the prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts in recognition of its many outstanding achievements. This award honours Ontario-based arts organizations who maintain artistic excellence while becoming involved in the community and generating private sector support.

The OL Young Artists Training Program (renamed the Opera Studio Program in 2007) presented its inaugural Opera for Young Audiences (Hansel and Gretel) at the NAC Fourth Stage in 2005. The following year, thanks to a generous five-year sponsorship, Opera Lyra presented its first Young People’s Opera Matinee. That year, over 2,000 young people were introduced to the thrill of live opera through The Barber of Seville  in the lavishly grand Southam Hall.


2003 Tyrone Paterson becomes Artistic Director, giving up his administrative duties to focus on the company’s artistic and musical endeavors.

2005 Elizabeth Howarth is appointed General Director.

2009 Opera Lyra celebrates its 25th Anniversary Season.

Roadblocks and Rebuilding (2010 – Present)

In early 2011, Opera Lyra encountered serious difficulties when accumulated financial commitments threatened to hinder the company’s operations. The severity of this issue led to the cancellation of the second half of the 2011-12 season (a full production of Tosca and a concert presentation of The Flying Dutchman).

Once Opera Lyra realized the full extent of their financial problem, the Board of Directors and staff quickly took a number of drastic steps to reduce overhead and production expenses. The company’s by-laws were revised, its leadership renewed and with the fresh faces in tow OL began rebuilding, fueled by the successes of the past. In July of 2012, veteran opera manager John Peter (Jeep) Jeffries was engaged to oversee the rebuilding of OL’s financial and organizational elements.

In September of 2012, after an absence from the stage for nearly a full year, Opera Lyra made a triumphant return with a fiercely dramatic and well-received production of La Bohème, starring Canadian Joshua Hopkins and American Michael Fabbiano, both of whom had just been named among “25 Young Artists to Watch” by Opera Magazine. The final performance sold out. This success was followed by a beautifully sung concert version of La Traviata and a strong opening to the 2013/2014 season.


2011 Financial difficulties force the cancellation of two productions: a fully stage  production of Tosca and a concert presentation of The Flying Dutchman.

Experienced arts manager Cathryn Gregor steps in as interim General Director.

2012 Opera Lyra returns to the stage with a star-studded production of La Bohèmethat is beautifully sung and well received.

Veteran opera manager John Peter (Jeep) Jeffries is engaged as permanent General Director.

2013 Southam Hall is sold out for three performances of Carmen and the final evening goes to standing room only. The Pirates of Penzance adds a fifth performance at the Arts Court Theatre due to popular demand. Reviews of both shows are positive, audience response is warm, and ticket sales are strong. Opera Lyra appears to be on the comeback trail!

Looking Ahead

As Opera Lyra nears the conclusion of its third decade, there are many past accomplishments of which Ottawa can be justly proud and the promises of many more to look forward to.

Opera Lyra will continue to offer an expanding array of high quality musical and educational programming, and is developing new and exciting community initiatives to help introduce a wider audience to the wonder of opera.

Under the guidance of General Director John Peter Jeffries and interim Artistic Director Kevin Mallon, the power and passion of opera will continue to be enjoyed by growing audiences for innumerable seasons to come.


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