6 famous canadians

A short while ago, Opera Canada asked our followers: which famous Canadians would make great opera roles? Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Charlie Parker, Anna Nicole – they’ve all got operas. And sure, we’ve got James Rolfe’s Beatrice Chancy and Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, but who’s next? We received some excellent suggestions from you, our readers, and below 6 Canadians who really need an opera written about them:


Chris Hadfield

The Canadian astronaut is perfectly poised for an operatic debut. Chris Hadfield‘s story is big and epic: a man from Sarnia, Ontario, who becomes the first Canadian to walk in outer space – and when he gets up there, he sings. I picture Hadfield as a friendly tenor, the kind of voice that can sing big, soaring phrases about the vast expanse of space – and also bring it down for an interstellar serenade, with an acoustic guitar in hand and the entire planet Earth visible out the window. The Hadfield opera – space opera, even – could be an economical piece to produce, too; it could easily be a one-tenor cast with a single space-station set. (Bonus: a pre-recorded chorus of flight controllers coming from far-away Houston.)

David Suzuki

After the Order of Canada, multiple Jubilee Medals from Queen Elizabeth II, over two dozen honourary degrees, and five decades of documentary broadcasting and environmental activism, David Suzuki has the sort of historical importance that marks a great opera protagonist. Suzuki’s opera could easily be a sweeping commentary on climate change, political inaction, and one soft baritone’s lifelong mission to protect the planet and reduce carbon footprints. Or instead, the David Suzuki opera could be all about nostalgia, an operatic version of The Nature of Things that feels like a super-duper Canadian Cunning Little Vixen.

Alanis Obomsawin

She’s a filmmaker, artist, singer, and activist of the Abenaki First Nations, and Alanis Obomsawin’s opera is a unique close-up on Canada’s social history – namely, the relationship between Canadian governments and Indigenous peoples. Obomsawin’s life alone is operatic, carving out an extraordinary, award-winning career as an Indigenous woman in film. And her work uncovers story after opera-sized story: discrimination against First Nations children, police raids of reserves, adolescent suicide, homelessness, and racially-charged land disputes. With her mellow mezzo, Obomsawin is either the centre of a biographical opera, or she’s the way into all the stories she’s told through her art. It’s a layered look at Canadian history: a filmmaker inspired by social justice, and her intimate look at some of the singular stories that add up to Canada’s fraught history with its Indigenous people.

Justin Trudeau

Yes, Trudeau seems like the obvious choice. Nixon gets an opera, so why not Justin, right? In all honestly, I want to see the opera where Justin Trudeau is the Captain Vere-like tenor supporting the central story of Les Trudeaus. I picture it as a collection of scenes, spanning several decades: we get Pierre, “Trudeaumania”, and the time he impressed John Lennon; we’d get Margaret Trudeau and the time she split from Pierre and then went partying at El Mocambo with The Rolling Stones; maybe some glimpses of Justin doing desk planks, wearing brownface, and speaking moistly; and definitely a basso profundo appearance of one Fidel Castro.

Nerene Virgin

I can’t decide if I want the opera about Nerene Virgin herself – the Canadian journalist, actress, and educator – or if I’m just enamoured with the idea of basically turning some of my childhood Canadian TV staples into little miniature operas. You might know Virgin as Jodie from the gem that was Today’s Special, or as one of the hosts of Polka Dot Door, or maybe from her appearance on The Littlest Hobo. I love the idea of following Virgin’s life as a teacher, a broadcaster focused on children’s programming, a journalist, Black History advocate, and politician who dealt with media racism that was as predictable as it was gross – all of this interspersed with her on TV. Duets for days with one mannequin named Jeff.

Céline Dion

Meta-opera, anyone? Yes, let us absolutely write an opera about the Canadian singer who started her career as a teenager, met her would-be manager and husband when she was just 12 years old, became one of the world’s living divas, finally snagging herself a standing spot in Las Vegas. Céline is everything opera needs: small-town girl with extraordinary drive and talent, a weird cloud of curiosity/fascination about her personal life, a bit out-there in interviews, her signature chest-fist thing, and an ability to take herself seriously that cannot be overstated. Opera heroine, anyone? (Also, I suppose you could write in a little character cameo for one Andrea Bocelli…)


Readers, what are your picks for Canadians who really need an opera? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch at outreach@operacanada.ca!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Nerene’s family is smiling reading this article! Her mom was a trained singer; opera of course! Her sister Tish can still be seen on a video as a backup singer performing on “Soul Train”! Nerene and Tish sang together with the Tiaras. And her extended family; Great grandfather Thomas and his brother William – founding members of the Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers! Cousin Gilbert and Uncle Bill sang on Broadway and travelled the world performing. Brother-in-law, Smitty is in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Nephew Amani has a Grammy Award. Etc. Quite the family heritage. They deserved a good smile. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for filling in this history Alan. Nerene’s connection to the Canadian Jubilee Singers is especially interesting as they were part of the “Where is Black Opera in Canada” feature that appeared in our recent 60th anniversary issue which included an early photo of the group!

  2. Have you heard of the Today’s Special double episode called “Opera”? It was Nerene’s favorite of all the stories. It was written by Clive Endersby. And a very “special” guest star, Riki Turofsky was on one of the Today’s Special shows!
    I must get a copy of the 60th article. We have been researching the Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers for the past 10 years.

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