Stage Door News

Toronto: Opera Canada announces the recipients of the 2019 Opera Canada Awards

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Opera Canada Publications announces the three distinguished honourees who will receive the 2019 Opera Canada Awards. They will be celebrated at a gala award evening on November 4, 2019 at FirstCanadian Place in downtown Toronto.

The 2019 Opera Canada Award honourees are:

Benjamin Butterfield, tenor and vocal pedagogue

Liz Upchurch, Head, Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio

John Estacio, composer

In 2000, Opera Canada magazine introduced the Opera Canada Awards, nicknamed ‘The Rubies,’ in honour of its founding Editor, Ruby Mercer. This gala evening celebrates the talent and accomplishments of Canadians who have made a significant contribution to the opera world as artists, builders, administrators and philanthropists.

The Opera Canada Awards Committee is comprised of both representatives of Opera Canada Publications and leading opera professionals from across Canada. Members of the 2019 committee are: Wendy Nielsen, soprano; Head of Voice, University of Toronto; Head Vocal Consultant, Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio. Ian Rye, CEO Pacific Opera Victoria; Richard Turp, writer and lecturer on opera; Artistic Director, Les Concerts Lachine; David Giles (ex-officio), Chair, Board of Directors, Opera Canada Publications; Gianmarco Segato (ex-officio), Editorial Director, Opera Canada Publications.

There are a number of ‘Rubies’ sponsorship opportunities available, ranging from $250 to $5,000, including acknowledgement in the gala program book, in Opera Canada magazine and online at,. To book or for more information, contact Robert Morassutti, 416-928-1525,

Individual gala tickets are $350 per person. Contact Kathryn Laceby, 416-625-7501, for more information or visit

Honouree biographies:

Benjamin Butterfield is known for his performances throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He has performed with many of the world’s leading conductors including Sir AndrewDavis, James Conlon, Nicholas McGegan, Charles Dutoit, Leonard Slatkin, Bramwell Tovey, Seiji Ozawa, Bernard Labadie, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Jeffrey Thomas, Trevor Pinnock, Bruno Weil and Marc Minkowski.

Most recently as an interpreter of opera, he portrayed the role of Mime in Das Rheingold with Pacific Opera and was stage director for Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at the Amalfi Coast Music Festival. Other operatic roles include Grimoaldo in Handel’s Rodelinda and Jupiter in Semele with Pacific Opera Victoria, Frère Massée in Messiaen’s St. François d’Assise with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony, Tamino in The Magic Flute with the Toronto Symphony and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni with Calgary Opera.

In the fall of 2018, Butterfield was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the country’s highest academic honour. Professor, Head of Voice, and Co-Head of Performance for the School of Music at the University of Victoria, he was the 2015 recipient of the UVic. Craigdarroch Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression. He has also served as guest faculty for Opera Nuova, the Amalfi Coast Music Festival in Italy, the Victoria Conservatory Summer Vocal Academy, Vancouver International Song Institute, Yellow Barn, and Opera on the Avalon.

Liz Upchurch is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, where she won several prizes as solo pianist and accompanist. As a music director, vocal coach and repetiteur she has worked in 21st-century and traditional opera, music theatre, and theatre. She has also covered a wide range of working techniques with singers, actors and instrumentalists in community and educational projects.

For many years she worked with young artists at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh, England, where she played for masterclasses with artists such as Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Suzanne Danco, William Pleeth and Dame Joan Sutherland. Ms. Upchurch has also worked at the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg festival in Germany and the National Theatre in London. She held a faculty position in the 20th-century opera and song program at the Banff Centre for the Arts and was repetiteur and chorus director at Edmonton Opera.

As a pianist she has performed all over Europe and has been broadcast with the BBC, Norwegian Radio and CBC. Ms. Upchurch also appeared as a judge on Bravo’s hit series, Bathroom Divas: So you want to be an opera singer! She recently celebrated her 20th anniversary as Head of Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio training program for singers and collaborative pianists.

John Estacio is one of Canada’s most frequently performed and broadcast composers, a JUNO nominee and recipient of the 2017 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award. In 2017, Canada Post commemorated Estacio’s first opera, Filumena with a stamp as part of the Canadian Opera stamp collection.

In September 1992, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra appointed Estacio as their first Composer in Residence, a residency that eventually lasted 8 seasons (1992-2000). In 2000, Estacio started a residency with the Calgary Philharmonic and Calgary Opera and during that tenure, created the opera Filumena with librettist John Murrell which premiered in Feb. 2003. Filumena was subsequently performed twice at Banff (2003, 2005), National Arts Centre, and Edmonton Opera (both 2005) and revived by Calgary Opera in 2017. It was filmed for television and broadcast on the CBC in Mar. 2006 and on PBS in Jan. 2012. His second opera, Frobisher, premiered in Calgary and Banff in 2007 and Lillian Alling, at Vancouver Opera in 2010.

Estacio’s orchestral compositions have been performed by all of the major orchestras in Canada, as well as numerous others in the USA including Houston Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Rochester Philharmonic. “I Lost My Talk,” based on the poem by Rita Joe, was composed to commemorate the 75th birthday of the Right Honourable Joe Clark and received performances throughout Canada in 2017 as did his “Trumpet Concerto” which was commissioned by nineteen Canadian orchestras.

Opera Canada magazine has been connecting the vibrant world of opera in Canada since 1960 with high quality professional arts journalism, in-depth interviews with its creators, artists and decision-makers as well as beautifully-illustrated features and reviews about productions from across the nation and internationally.

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