Opéra du Québec | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Opéra du Québec

Opéra du Québec. A company devoted to the production of operas, mainly in Montreal and Quebec City. It was created by the MACQ, and was active on a regular basis for four seasons 1971-5.

Opéra du Québec

Opéra du Québec. A company devoted to the production of operas, mainly in Montreal and Quebec City. It was created by the MACQ, and was active on a regular basis for four seasons 1971-5.

Broached many times after the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of state-supported opera in Quebec came nearer to realization during the summer of 1967 when Jean-Noël Tremblay, then Quebec minister of cultural affairs, announced the formation of 'a committee headed by Léopold Simoneau, charged with drawing up a plan for the organization and operation of a state-supported theatre devoted wholly or in part to opera.' Submitted at the end of 1967, the committee's report was never made public. It was not until February 1971 that a new minister at the MACQ, François Cloutier, announced that 'in response to the very marked interest of Quebeckers in opera, the minister had examined several solutions, including that of a state company.' He further announced that he had opted for a company that was 'flexible in structure,' one that would 'utilize the administrative services of the already existing institutions: the PDA and the Grand Théâtre in Quebec City.' Established as a non-profit company, the Opéra du Québec was incorporated under the Companies Act, with a seven-member board of directors including, ex officio, the managing directors of both the PDA and the Grand Théâtre. Its founding president, 1971-3, was H. Marcel Caron; he was succeeded by Jacques Vadboncoeur. Léopold Simoneau was appointed artistic director in 1971 but tendered his resignation at the end of that same year, following a disagreement over the hiring of a guest conductor, on which the management was insistent. Instead of appointing a successor to Simoneau the board set up a committee of three artistic advisers: Pierre Boutet, Edgar Fruitier, and John Newmark. An executive director, Émilien Morissette, was subsequently replaced by Gérard Lamarche.

By the musical and visual quality of its productions the Opéra du Québec immediately won the public's favour. Supported by an initial subsidy of $200,000 from the MACQ, it received additional sums from the Canada Council and donations from Seagram's and the du Maurier Council for the Performing Arts (du Mauier Arts Ltd). However, despite the desire for permanence expressed at the outset and massive public support, the Opéra du Québec soon faced a considerable operating deficit.

Beginning in 1973, three productions were presented instead of four. With the deficit approaching $1 million in the first months of 1975, a new minister, Denis Hardy, announced the cessation of activities, at least temporarily. Coinciding as it did with the memorable performances of Tristan und Isolde, this announcement of the company's demise sparked a sharp outcry from the public and led to some harsh exchanges between the minister in charge and the Opéra management. Inactive thereafter the Opéra du Québec nevertheless staged three performances of The Barber of Seville in July 1976 at the PDA, thanks to a special subsidy of $200,000. The production was part of the Arts and Culture program of the Olympics.

Early in 1980 the MACQ announced the establishment of two companies to succeed the Opéra du Québec: the Opéra de chambre du Québec, whose activities were limited to a few seasons, and the Opéra de Montréal.


In four seasons the Opéra du Québec presented 13 productions at the PDA, 10 of them presented also at Quebec City's Grand Théâtre, and one at the NAC, Ottawa. There were 114 performances in all, 82 in Montreal, 30 in Quebec City, and 2 in Ottawa. (The figures do not include the three performances in 1976.) The works presented were Samson et Dalila, Il Trittico, The Daughter of the Regiment, and La Traviata (1971-2); Rigoletto, Salomé, Cavalleria Rusticana, I Pagliacci, and Manon (1972-3); Otello, Don Giovanni, and Madama Butterfly (1973-4); and Falstaff, La Bohème, and Tristan und Isolde (1974-5).


In its very first season the troupe was proud that, of a total of 49 roles, 41 were given to Canadian singers. Subsequently certain productions - such as Il Trittico - were entirely Canadian. Among the singers were Colette Boky, Clarice Carson, Anna Chornodolska, France Dion, Claire Gagnier, Louise Lebrun, Maria Pellegrini, and Heather Thomson, sopranos; Fernande Chiocchio and Maureen Forrester, contraltos; Jean Bonhomme, Pierre Duval, and Jon Vickers, tenors; Bruno Laplante, Louis Quilico, Robert Savoie, and Bernard Turgeon, baritones; and Claude Corbeil, Yoland Guérard, and Joseph Rouleau, basses. Among the guest singers were the sopranos Roberta Knie, Ursula Schroder, and Tatiana Troyanos; the contraltos Rita de Carlo, Mignon Dunn, and Regina Sarfaty; the tenors John Alexander, Pier-Miranda Ferraro, and Robert Nagy; the baritones Peter Glossop and Sigmund Nimsgern; and the basses Giovanni Foiani and Peter Meven. The conductors were Jacques Beaudry, Alfredo Bonavera, Franz-Paul Decker, Jean Deslauriers (who assumed the position of regular assistant conductor in 1972), Pierre Hétu, Zubin Mehta, and Nicholas Rescigno.

Those responsible for stage direction were Jan Doat, Carlo Maestrini, Nathaniel Merrill, Albert Millaire, Ernst Poettgen, Peter Potter, and Peter Symcox. The Opéra du Québec called on the designers Robert Darling, Rudolf Heinrich, Roberto Oswald, Robert Prévost, Jean-Claude Rinfret, Mark Negin, and Hugo Wuetrich.

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