Opera Hamilton. Opera company founded 1980 and based in Hamilton. Italian opera companies were invited to perform for Hamilton's Festitalia, a celebration of Italian culture, beginning in 1976. Because of the problems and costs of importing entire productions from Italy, Festitalia decided to produce its own La Bohème in 1979. The following year Opera Hamilton was created with a budget of $270,000 and plans for two productions annually at Hamilton Place. During the 1980-1 season La Traviata and Tosca were performed. At the conclusion of this first season, Steven Thomas was appointed artistic director, and Boris Brott musical director, with the Hamilton Philharmonic as resident orchestra. CHCH TV agreed to do a television production of one opera each year. In its first five seasons, Opera Hamilton presented popular works such as The Barber of Seville, Madama Butterfly, Rigoletto, and The Marriage of Figaro.
The French-born US conductor Daniel Lipton was appointed artistic director prior to the 1986-7 season. Under his leadership the company improved many aspects of its productions and continued to build a strong audience on the foundations of Italian 19th-century opera. In addition to standard repertoire during the next five seasons (eg, Un Ballo in Maschera, Il Trovatore, Don Pasquale, Faust, Norma), Opera Hamilton presented the Canadian premieres of Giordano's Andrea Chénier (1987) and Verdi's I Due Foscari (1989). Lipton introduced the successful 'Popera' concerts in 1987 to showcase leading operatic soloists, including many Canadians, in concert performances of popular operatic excerpts. He also expanded the Opera Hamilton season to three productions in 1989.
The Opera Ontario Venture
By 1990 Opera Hamilton's budget was $1.8 million and audiences averaged 18,000 annually. That year, the company undertook a joint production (Tales of Hoffmann) with L'Opéra de Montréal, testing its future formula. A sold-out season 1992-3 did not much alleviate five years of losses due to cuts to corporate funding and grants from all levels of government. The losses culminated in a $25,000 deficit (on a $2.3 million budget) at the end of 1995-6.
Plans to expand and share resources with the nearby city of Kitchener led to the creation of Opera Ontario, comprising Opera Hamilton and the newly formed Kitchener-Waterloo Opera. As Opera Ontario, the company began to mount its productions in Hamilton and repeat them in Kitchener's Centre in the Square, beginning with a Popera concert and The Magic Flute in 1996. As of 2007, opera continues to be produced regularly in Hamilton under the name Opera Hamilton or Opera Ontario.
Canadian and foreign soloists appearing in productions of Opera Hamilton and Opera Ontario have included Theodore Baerg, Lando Bartolino, Odette Beaupré, Russell Braun, Benjamin Butterfield, Clarice Carson, Claude Corbeil, Sally Dibblee, Puerto Rican baritone Pablo Elvira, Lyne Fortin, Don Garrard, Frances Ginzer, US soprano Janice Hall, Henry Ingram, Allan Monk, Cornelis Opthof, Louis Quilico, Joseph Rouleau, Italian baritone Mario Sereni, Jean Stilwell, Heather Thomson, and US soprano Ruth Welting. A few international stars (Renée Fleming, Carlo Bergonzi) appeared, but the emphasis was on Canadian singers.
General manager Brian McCurdy left after the 1992-3 season. Kenneth Freeman was general director 1994-2004, performing some of the duties held earlier by Lipton.