‘The Rubies’: Announcing our 2019 Opera Canada Awards Honourees!

by | Jul 4, 2019 | Featured, News, Rubies Awards

Opera Canada is proud to announce the three distinguished honourees who will receive the 2019 Opera Canada Awards for their exemplary contributions to the industry:

Benjamin Butterfield, tenor and vocal pedagogue

Liz Upchurch, Head, Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio

John Estacio, composer

Selected by a committee comprising of leading opera professionals from across the country, our three honourees will be celebrated at a gala award evening on November 4, 2019 at First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto. To purchase tickets and for full event details click here.

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 2019 Opera Canada Awards honourees:

2019 Opera Canada Awards

Benjamin Butterfield. Photo: UVic Photo Services

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 Andrew Davis, 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 honor. 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. Photo: Chris Hutcheson

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. Photo: Wade Kelly

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.

Congratulations to our three honourees!

Title sponsor: 2019 Opera Canada Awards —’The Rubies’: BMO

Angie Bell

Angela Bell is Opera Canada’s Digital Media Specialist. She has held digital and PR roles with various businesses including the Walt Disney Company, Sullivan Entertainment and Toronto International Film Festival.



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