Stage Door News

Toronto: Opera Canada reveals its 2020 Ruby Award honourees

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Opera Canada is proud to announce the four distinguished honourees who will receive Opera Canada Awards–The Rubies 2020 for their exemplary contributions to the industry:

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Music Director, Metropolitan Opera

Barbara Hannigan, soprano & conductor

Michael Schade, tenor

Edward Johnson, tenor; former General Manager, Metropolitan Opera

Selected by a committee comprising of leading opera professionals from across the country, our three honourees will be celebrated at a FREE digital gala award event premiering on November 23rd, 2020 on Youtube Premiere @ 8PM EST.

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

Learn more about our 2020 Opera Canada Awards honourees:

Yannick Nézet-Séguin was born in Montréal, began studying piano at age five and after attending a performance by Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal at age 10, made conducting his career path goal. He studied piano, chamber music, conducting, and composition at the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec, as well as choral conducting at Westminster Choir College. At 14, Nézet-Séguin began leading rehearsals of the Chœur polyphonique de Montréal and became their conductor in 1994, at age 19. That same year, he was invited to mentor with Carlo Maria Giulini, working extensively with the Italian maestro during his final year of public performances. The following year, he founded the Baroque ensemble, La Chapelle de Montréal and continued performing with this group until 2002.

From 1998 until 2002, Nézet-Séguin was chorus master and assistant conductor of L’Opéra de Montréal. In 2000, he was named artistic director and principal conductor of Orchestre Métropolitain and after extending his contract several times, that orchestra awarded him a lifetime contract in 2019. From 2008 until 2018, he served as conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and from 2008 until 2014, was principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2012, Nézet-Séguin became music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra where his contract there has since been extended through the 2025-2026 season. In 2018, he was named the music director of Metropolitan Opera, following annual appearances leading the company.

Nézet-Séguin records mainly for Deutsche Grammophon, but has also appeared on London Philharmonic’s label LPO, as well as ATMA Classique and EMI Classics. 

Soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan‘s initial musical education came from music teachers in her hometown of Waverley, Nova Scotia. At University of Toronto, she studied with Mary Morrison and then continued her studies at Banff Centre for the Arts, Steans Institute for Young Artists at the Ravinia Festival, Centre d’arts Orford Royal Conservatory of The Hague.

Hannigan is known for her performances of contemporary music. As of 2011, she had premiered approximately 75 contemporary compositions. She is particularly noted for her performances of György Ligeti‘s Mysteries of the Macabre (a concert version of a scene from his opera Le Grand Macabre) and in 2011, began to conduct as well as sing the work. 

In contemporary opera, she has sung in the premieres of Louis Andriessen‘s Writing to Vermeer, Gerald Barry’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and The Importance of Being Earnest, Jan van de Putte’s Wet Snow, Kris Defoort‘s House of the Sleeping Beauties, and George Benjamin‘s Written on Skin

Hannigan regularly performs in concert as both soprano and conductor, working with ensembles such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Münchner Philharmoniker, London Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic and The Cleveland Orchestra. 

Her recordings include Henri Dutilleux‘s Correspondances (Deutsche Grammophon), Louis Andriessen‘s Writing to Vermeer (Nonesuch) and Crazy Girl Crazy, her debut album as soprano and conductor with Ludwig Orchestra (Alpha Classics).

In 2016, Hannigan was made a Member of the Order of Canada, one of Canada’s highest civilian honours.

Canadian-German tenor Michael Schade was born in Geneva and raised in Germany and Canada. He studied at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto, and then at University of Western Ontario and Curtis Institute of Music.

Schade has performed at the world’s top opera companies including Canadian Opera Company, Vienna State Opera, Salzburg Festival, Metropolitan Opera, Washington Opera, Opéra National de Paris, San Francisco Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Los Angeles Opera. He is equally active on the recital stage, renowned for his interpretation of German lieder and is a regular guest Lied-festival Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg, Austria.

Widely recorded, Schade’s discography includes “Die schöne Müllerin” (CBC Records), Ralph Rackstraw in Sir Charles Mackerras’s H.M.S. Pinafore (Telarc), and Strauss’s Daphne (Decca). His recording of Bach’s “St Matthew Passion” (Teldec), conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, won a 2002 Grammy Award.

Since 2014, Schade has been the Artistic Director of Internaltionale Barocktage Stift Melk. He holds a professorship in historical performance practice in the faculty of Ancient Musik at MDW Wien. His awards include the title of Kammersänger bestowed by the Austrian government in 2007, and he was appointed an officer in the Order of Canada in 2016.

2020 Posthumous Ruby Honouree: 

Edward Johnson (1878-1959) was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario and died in Toronto. As a young man he went to Italy to study singing with Vincenzo Lombardi and started calling himself Edoardo Di Giovanni. His opera debut in Italy was in 1912 in Padua as Andrea Chenier. He was based in Italy until the end of the First World War. Johnson was the first Parsifal in Italy when Wagner’s final opera was performed in Italian at La Scala in 1914 under Arturo Toscanini.  

Returning to North America in 1919, he started performing as Edward Johnson first in Chicago and after 1922, for 13 seasons at Metropolitan Opera where he created the lead parts in The King’s Henchman and Peter Ibbetson by Deems Taylor and Merry Mount by Howard Hanson. He also sang the lead in the first performance at the Met of Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov. 

Johnson retired from singing in 1935 and had expected to remain completely retired, but Herbert Witherspoon, a famous bass who had just been appointed General Manager of the Met, suddenly died six weeks into his tenure. Johnson was offered the job and remained the Met’s General Manager for 15 years. These were the years that saw the debuts of legendary singers such as Kirsten Flagstad, Zinka Milanov and Jussi Bjoerling to name a few. He retired in 1950 and was succeeded by Rudolf Bing. 

Johnson retired to Toronto and was Chairman of the Board of the Royal Conservatory of Music until he died in 1959. The Edward Johnson Trust was the initial sponsor of the Guelph Spring Festival. The building at the University of Toronto which houses the Faculty of Music is of course named after him. A very distinguished and worthy recipient of the second posthumous Ruby award.

Celebrate with us and save the date for our first-ever digital Rubies gala event! Keep an eye on this space for further viewing instructions and join opera lovers from across Canada and the world on November 23rd, 2020 @ 8PM EST.

Do not miss any of the exciting details – sign up for our emails to find out who this year’s guest performers will be, and how to watch on November 23rd!

Photo: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Barabara Hannigan, Michael Schade, Edward Johnson.