The University of British Columbia Opera Ensemble was founded in 1995, with the appointment of Canadian lyric coloratura Nancy Hermiston as Head of the Voice and Opera Divisions. Beginning with a core of seven performers, Ms. Hermiston has built the program to a 90-member company, now performing three main productions at UBC every season, six Opera Tea Concerts, and several engagements with local community partners, including Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bard on the Beach, Okanagan and Kamloops Symphonies, Vancouver Bach Choir, and many more. The Ensemble's mission is to educate and promote gifted, young opera singers, preparing them for international careers.
Past main season productions have included Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Zauberflöte, Die Gärtnerin aus Liebe, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi, La Bohème, Dido and Aeneas, The Merry Widow, The Bartered Bride, Manon, Eugene Onegin, Florence Lady with the Lamp, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Cendrillon, Albert Herring, Rusalka, Robert Ward's The Crucible, and the Western Canadian Premiere of Harry Somer's Louis Riel. The Ensemble performed with Canadian Heldentenor Ben Heppner in a special concert at the Chan Centre of the Performing Arts, broadcast on CBC Radio. They also produced the world premiere of the new Canadian opera The Dream Healer, by West Vancouver composer, Lloyd Burritt based on Timothy Findley’s novel Pilgrim. The production starred Judith forst, John Avey, Roelof Oostwoud (UBC Professor of Voice), and Simone Osborne (UBC Opera Alumna & Winner of the 2008 Metropolitan Opera Competition).
The Opera Ensemble tours regularly to the Czech Republic, Germany, Ontario, and throughout British Columbia. Since 1998, the Ensemble has performed at the Usti nad Labem City Theatre, and The Teplice Opera House, as well as in neighbouring cities in the Czech Republic. Ms. Hermiston was invited to the Czech republic in September of 2001 to direct the European premiere of The Crucible, accompanied by select UBC students who appeared in the production. Frequently they perform for dignitaries of the Canadian Embassy in Prague. Past productions include: Die Gärtnerin aus Liebe, Xerses, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, The Cunning Little Vixen, Faust, Manon, Die Fledermaus, Carmen, La Bohème, Don Giovanni, Giulio Cesare, Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte, Le nozze di Figaro, and Rusalka. The Ensemble has had the privilege of performing Die Gärtnerin aus Liebe, Così fan tutte, and Die Zauberflöte, in Prague's Estates Theatre where Mozart premiered his Don Giovanni.
In May 2009 the Ensemble travelled to Beijing and Chengdu, China for their first appearance in that country. They returned to China, performing opera excerpts in Shanghai and Chengdu (2010), and a concert production of Giulio Cesare (2011) in Shanghai.
From 2006-2008, the Ensemble has travelled to Prince George to present fully-staged productions with conductor Leslie Dala and the Prince George Symphony, performing Die Zauberflöte, La Bohème, and Hansel and Gretel.
The Opera Ensemble is also very involved with professional companies in Vancouver. In 2003, the Ensemble formed a cooperative effort with the Vancouver Opera on Naomi’s Road, a piece about the Japanese internment in BC. In subsequent seasons, UBC students have acted as understudies for Vancouver Opera in Schools' productions, including: Die Zauberflöte, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Jack Pine and Hansel and Gretel.
The Ensemble performs regularly with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and conductor Bramwell Tovey. Performances have included Dido and Aeneas at the Chan Centre, Die Fledermaus, The Merry Widow, The Best of Broadway, Pops Concert, Serenade to Music, Final Fantasy and An Evening of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Members of the Ensemble, along with Christopher Gaze, joined the VSO for Tea and Trumpets concerts of Die Fledermaus (2009), Franz Lehár's Land of Smiles (2010), Excerpts of Opera and Operetta (2011), and The Merry Widow (upcoming April, 2012). Additionally, sixteen students from the Ensemble perform each year as chorus and soloists of the Symphony's Christmas concert series that tours the Lower Mainland.
Following sold out performances of A Merry Old Evening of Opera at Bard on the Beach in the summer of 2006 and 2007, the Ensemble returned with performances of Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, La Bohème and Le Nozze di Figaro from 2008-2011. All were presented by conductor Leslie Dala with members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and narrated by Christopher Gaze.
The West Ben Arts Festival in Ontario has invited the Ensemble to perform since the summer of 2003. Productions include: The Merry Widow, Die Zauberflöte, HMS Pinafore, Gondoliers, Die Fledermaus, Così fan tutte, and Albert Herring. For the past three years, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has joined the productions after first performing Bach's Magnificat and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music with the Ensemble.
Nancy Hermiston along with Vancouver composer Paula Rosen, started the UBC Children’s Opera Ensemble with an inaugural production of Hans Krása’s Brundibár. The work was produced as part of an evening at the Chan Centre celebrating children’s choirs. In 2009, they presented Paula Rosen's new work Optica Delusions at Kitsilano Secondary School Auditorium.
UBC Opera's main fundraising event of the year is the annual Opera Ball, held on the stage of the Chan Centre with dinner, an evening of song with the Ensemble, and concluding with a dance till midnight with the fantastic Dal Richards and his big band. The funds raised from this annual event assist in covering costs for future productions, Ensemble tours (provincial, national, and internationl), masterclasses, and support for Ensemble students to study abroad.
Most recently, the UBC Opera Program has been recognized with the 2011-2012 Alfred Scow Award. This annual award is given to an undergraduate program or department that has had a significant positive impact on student life and student development at UBC. The Alfred Scow Award is one of several Student Development Awards presented by the Office of the Vice President Students each spring, and, in addition to student development, the award focuses on vision, integrity, and dedication to social justice. A special thanks to those that participated in the nomination process: Iain Taylor (Project Director, UBC Botanical Gardens), Alan Macdonald (M.Mus Candidate), Julia Kot (B.Mus'11 & M.Mus Candidate), and Evanna Chiew (3rd year B.Mus). All wrote detailed statements outlining their various experiences with the UBC Opera Program which was accompanied by an in-depth descrption of the program's advancement over the years written by Nancy Hermiston (Head of the Voice & Opera Divisions).
Director: Nancy Hermiston