History of Opéra de Québec
In 1983, the history of lyric arts in Quebec City reached a turning point. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of pioneers at Théâtre lyrique de Nouvelle-France, Opéra de Québec and later Société lyrique d’Aubigny who helped bring opera to Quebec City, the Opéra de Québec Foundation was created on January 7, 1983 and was soon followed by the Opéra de Québec Corporation on November 16 the same year. The corporation’s mission was to produce professional opera performances in Quebec City.
Opéra de Québec set itself the goal of presenting two well-known operas per season, showcasing local talent as much as possible. The new company’s first production, in May 1985, was Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. It was a huge success, largely thanks to the magnificent performance of Evelyne Brunner in the title role.
Messages of support for the new initiative came pouring in from well wishers all over the world—Luciano Pavarotti, Jessye Norman, Placido Domingo, Jon Vickers, Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Pierrette Alarie, and Léopold Simoneau. For the debut performance, Opéra de Québec unveiled an avant-garde process that involved using surtitles in French. A first not only in Québec but in all francophone countries worldwide.
Since those early days under the direction of tenor and conductor Guy Bélanger, Opéra de Québec has made a concerted effort to foster and promote Quebec talent and has given many local singers their first true opportunity to stand out as professionals. Singers such as Sonia Racine, Lyne Fortin, Hélène Fortin, Agathe Martel, Odette Beaupré, Monique Pagé, Louis Langelier, Jean-François Lapointe, and Claude Robin-Pelletier, to name but a few. These upcoming stars were also able to benefit from the experience of veteran performers from Quebec and all over the world, such as Colette Boky, Joseph Rouleau, Robert Savoie, Claude Corbeil, Gaétan Laperrière, Bernard Turgeon, Yves Cantin, Pierre Charbonneau, Theodore Baerg, Brett Polegato, Jean Stilwell, Peter Strummer, Maria d’Aragnès, John Cheek, Stephen Powell, Leslie Richards, Jianyi Zhang, Audrey Stottler, John Fanning, Richard Fredricks, Kevin Glavin, Joanne Kolomyjec, Brenda Harris, Russell Braun, and many more.
A host of other big names have been associated with bringing Opéra de Québec productions to the stage, including Pierrette Alarie, Irving Guttman, Antonello Madau Diaz, Albert Millaire, Peter Symcox, Bernard Uzan, Brian MacDonald, Brian Deedrick, Serge Denoncourt, Jacques Leblanc, John Pascoe, and Louise Marleau.
The arrival of Bernard Labadie and Grégoire Legendre at the helm at the start of the 1994–1995 season marked a new era. The duo went on to expand the repertory and bring the staging methodology up to date, in a spirit of openness and respect for tradition.
With the arrival of information technology, Opéra de Québec, aware of the importance of engaging the younger generation in lyric arts, decided to make a contribution to the educational development of young people through a series of one-of-a kind activities. The first of these was an initiative to allow high schoolers in years I though V to attend general rehearsals. As a result more than 40,000 young people in the region have been introduced to opera since spring 1999. Next, the “Draw me an Opera” competition (2000 to 2004) was a novel way for elementary-school students in the Quebec City area to not only take an interest in opera but also be part of a production team and help make scenery and costumes based on their drawings. Competition winners helped stage four Opéra de Québec productions in four seasons: Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (June 2000), Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel (October 2001), Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (March 2003) and Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (March 2004).
Bernard Labadie was artistic and musical director until the end of the 2002–2003 season when Grégoire Legendre added artistic direction to his role as general manager. It was under Legendre’s leadership that the world premier of Starmania, the Opera by Luc Plamondon and Michel Berger, took place in spring 2008. Later, Robert Lepage staged a double bill with Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartok and Erwartung by Schönberg for the first time in Quebec City. In November 2009, Opéra de Québec was presented with the Ville de Québec prize at the Excellence Awards for Arts and Culture ceremony for hosting Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, The World Opera Competition in 2008. The award is given in recognition of the hard work and achievements of a professional cultural organization.
In 2011, Grégoire Legendre launched the first Festival d’opéra de Québec with a program spanning two full weeks. The Festival gave local audiences a chance to witness the Canadian premier of A Magic Flute, Peter Brook’s adaptation of the opera by Mozart, and the Québec premier of The Nightingale and Other Fables based on the opera by Stravinsky, staged by Robert Lepage. Other high-profile events were held in addition to these two exciting productions. The Festival d’opéra de Québec won the Quebec City Concert of the Year award for The Nightingale and Other Fables.
The Festival has been held ever since, featuring major productions also seen at prestigious venues including the Metropolitan Opera of New York, such as The Tempest by Thomas Adès, La damnation de Faust by Berlioz, and L’Amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho, all staged by Robert Lepage.