Founded in 1995 by co-artistic directors Dáirine Ní Mheadhra (cellist, born in Cork, Ireland) and John Hess (pianist, born in Kitchener, ON), Toronto's Queen of Puddings Music Theatre produces original Canadian chamber opera with a performer-based, physical theatre aesthetic.
The company (which is named after a dessert) made its debut with Mad For All Reasons (1996) featuring Canadian composer Marie Pelletier; followed by elemental (1997), incorporating works by Sean Ferguson, György Kurtág, Karin Rehnqvist, Wolfgang Rihm and Robert Zuidam. Queen of Puddings then began to specialize in Canadian creations through the production of such original works as Beatrice Chancy (1998-9, music by James Rolfe and libretto by George Elliott Clarke); Sirens (2000, vocal works by Canadians Michael Oesterle, Pelletier, Juhan Puhm, Rolfe, Doug Schmidt, and Ana Sokolovic); Echoes (2001, works by Puhm, Harry Somers, and the Europeans Veljo Tormis and Manfred Trojahn); Kabarett (2002, works by Christopher Butterfield, Omar Daniel, Harry Freedman, Melissa Hui, Oesterle and Juliet Palmer); Charlotte (2003 workshop, music by Rolfe, libretto by Jeremy Podeswa); and The Midnight Court (premiered 11 Jun 2005; music by Ana Sokolovic and libretto by Paul Bentley). Love Songs (by Sokolovic) premiered 25 Mar 2008 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.
Ní Mheadhra and Hess have created a signature Queen of Puddings vocabulary of movement and vocal production. Their style is so singular in its approach that the company runs a multidisciplinary summer institute for classical singers, employing such artists as Marie-Josée Chartier, Tom Diamond and Martin Katz.
In 2001, CBC broadcast a TV film of the Queen of Puddings production of Beatrice Chancy. Voted one of the best shows of 1999 by Toronto Life magazine, Beatrice Chancy also launched the careers of soprano Measha Brueggergosman and baritone Gregory Dahl. The company toured The Midnight Court to Covent Garden, London, premiering 29 Jun 2006.
Featured Canadian performers with the Puddings have included tenor John Kriter; baritones Marcus Nance and Nigel Smith; mezzo-sopranos Catherine Carew, Lori Klassen, Mireille Lebel and Laura Pudwell; and sopranos Hannah Shelton, Krisztina Szabó and Monica Whicher. From 1996 to 2006, Puddings productions were directed by Michael Cavanagh, Alisa Palmer and Jennifer Tarver.
Ní Mheadhra and Hess have cited Quebec's Cirque du Soleil as a muse for the evolution of the Queen of Puddings' distinct aesthetic and intercultural opera art form.