Opera Lyra Ottawa (OLO) was founded by soprano Diana Gilchrist in 1984 to fill the void created when the National Arts Centre cancelled its annual opera festival in 1983. It has since developed a considerable reputation for its acclaimed mainstage productions, becoming one of the largest independent arts organizations in the National Capital Region.
OLO's first production, "The Impresario" by Mozart took place in February 1984 at the York Street Theatre in Ottawa's Byward Market. Produced, directed and performed by Gilchrist herself, OLO's first opera was the product of vision and teamwork. In the wake of the success of "The Impressario" Opera Lyra's first season was born. Performing no less than two performances (opera concerts or staged operas) each season, Opera Lyra began to achieve its goal of becoming Ottawa's premiere opera company.
Opera Lyra Ottawa's productions have evolved significantly from its first community-based production. Many notable Canadian artists have performed with Opera Lyra including tenor Richard Margison in La Bohème (1988), baritone Louis Quilico in Rigoletto (1994), sopranos Maria Pelligrini in Madama Butterfly (1996) and Liping Zhang in Madama Butterfly (2004), soprano Wendy Nielsen in Don Giovanni (2007) and Russell Braun in Eugene Onegin (2008). As one of Canada's leading regional companies, many Canadian artists consider OLO as a good opportunity to perform roles for the first time. Recent examples include Gaetan Laperriere in the title role of Falstaff (2006) and Laura Whalen as Violetta in La Traviata (2008).
In 1999, OLO expanded upon its programming when Tyrone Paterson, OLO's current Artistic Director, founded the Young Artists Training Programme. The program has grown in stature and structure and is now known as the OLO Opera Studio Program. It remains one of the few Canadian training programs for up-and-coming Canadian opera professionals during the early stage of their careers. The OLO Opera Studio offers a blend of professional instruction and practical experience for aspiring Canadian singers, stage directors, conductor/repetiteurs and stage managers. Many of the program's former members have moved on to appear in mainstage productions in Canada and abroad.
In 2002 Opera Lyra Ottawa was awarded the prestigious Lieutenant Governor Award for the Arts for its outstanding achievements in private sector support and increased community involvement.
Opera Lyra believes that education in the performing arts is vital to its community, and offers a variety of programs to introduce children and youths to the power and beauty of opera. These programs, which include student-only performances and productions complete with teacher resources, help to foster an appreciation for the art form and lasting memories for thousands of young people in the National Capital Region each year. The company's most recent achievement in its education outreach has been the addition of a student-only matinee for one mainstage opera each year, which was made possible through the support of local entrepreneur Michael Potter.
The company has a great deal to be proud of in its past accomplishments, and will continue to deliver high quality programming in the years to come. Under the guidance of General Director Elizabeth Howarth and Artistic Director Tyrone Paterson the magic of opera will continue to shine brightly in the Nation's Capital.
Opera Lyra Ottawa Quick Facts
1984 Opera Lyra Ottawa was established by soprano Diana Gilchrist after the demise of the National Arts Centre's (NAC's) summer opera productions in 1983. The first productions were Mozart's The Impresario and Telemann's Pimpinone.
1985 The company produced its first full-length opera Così fan tutte at Carleton University
1986 The company performs its first production in the NAC in the Theatre with The Barber of Seville
1987 Diana Gilchrist was succeeded as artistic director by Jeannette Aster.
1988 Opera Lyra Ottawa took its staged production of La Bohème to Kingston, Ont.
1990 Opera Lyra introduces the use of English and French Surtitles, following the lead of many opera houses around the world. For the first time, the company presented an opera in its original language. Madama Butterfly was sung in Italian. Since this production operas have been sung in their original languages.
1990 OLO began to give lectures for adults, school programs, and workshops for children. In this same year, the company formed the Opera Lyra Ottawa Boys' Choir, and later the OLO Chorus, led by Laurence Ewashko.
1993 After holding a concert in the NAC Opera in the winter of 2002, the company is ready to mount its first mainstage opera in the NAC Opera hall in March 2003 with the production of La Traviata.
1996 Although several concerts over the years had been broadcast from the Chateau Laurier by CBC, this season's first production, Faust, becomes the first company opera broadcast by CBC.
1998 Tyrone Paterson is appointed as General Director of Opera Lyra Ottawa
1998 The Merry Widow Project, hosted by Peter Jennings, is created as a benefit fundraiser of the NAC Orchestra and OLO. This concert evolved into the annual Black & White Opera Soiree.
2002 Opera Lyra Ottawa is awarded The Lieutenant Governor's Award for the Arts which honour Ontario-based arts organizations for maintaining artistic excellence while offering private sector and community support.
2003 Tyrone Paterson is appointed as Artistic Director of Opera Lyra Ottawa
2005 Elizabeth Howarth is appointed as General Director of Opera Lyra Ottawa
2005 OLO Young Artists Training Program (renamed to OLO Opera Studio in 2007) present Opera for Young Audiences at the NAC Fourth Stage with Hansel and Gretel.
2006 Young People's Opera Matinee of The Barber of Seville introduces mainstage opera to school children in NCR
2008 OLO Opera Studio begins school tours of the Opera for Young Audiences production of The Brothers Grimm
2009 OLO celebrates its 25th anniversary season