Rubies 2021: Introducing the Opera Canada Awards honourees

by | Oct 20, 2021 | Featured, News, Rubies Awards

Opera Canada is proud to announce this year’s four distinguished honourees who will be recipients of the 2021 Opera Canada Awards–The Rubies for their outstanding contributions to the industry:

Paul Frey, tenor

Sonja Frisell, director

Allan Monk, baritone

Erin Wall, soprano

Our four honourees have been selected by a committee of leading opera professionals from across the country and will be celebrated at a LIVE, gala award event on:

Monday November 15, 2021

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St W, Toronto, ON 

6 p.m. cocktails & hors d’oeuvres; 7 p.m. event; 8 p.m. dessert

For full details click here

Originally introduced in 2000, the Opera Canada Awards⁠—aka ‘The Rubies’ (named after Opera Canada founding editor, Ruby Mercer)—have served to celebrate great contributions to Canadian opera. Each year we highlight the talent and accomplishments of Canadian artists, builders, administrators and philanthropists who have made significant contributions to the world of opera.

Learn more about the 2021 Rubies honourees:

The Rubies 2021 Frey

Rubies 2021 honouree Paul Frey as Rodolfo in La bohème, Paris, 1990s. Photo courtesy: Nancy Silcox

Tenor Paul Frey was born in Heidelberg, ON. He grew up in a Mennonite family in St Jacobs, ON, and early on, sang in the Glad Tidings quartet as well as the Schneider Male Chorus in Kitchener-Waterloo. He left school at age 14 and eventually took over his father’s trucking business, but was inspired to pursue a singing career after listening to a Mario Lanza record while sidelined with a hockey injury at age 21. Encouraged to take voice lessons by Paul Berg, director of the Schneider Male Chorus, Frey studied with Douglas Campbell and Victor Martens. In 1972, he sold his trucking business and began studying with Louis Quilico at the University of Toronto Opera School as the first recipient of the Edward Johnson Scholarship.

The late opera coach, Stuart Hamilton, recognized Frey’s potential and engaged him to sing Werther opposite Maureen Forrester’s Charlotte for Toronto’s Opera in Concert in 1976. Other roles Frey sang earlier in his Canadian career included Rodolfo in La Bohème and Alfredo in La traviata for the Canadian Opera Company, and Tamino at the National Arts Centre.

In 1978, after a Canada Council-sponsored European audition tour, Frey was engaged by Stadttheater Basel in Switzerland. Within his first few months there, he sang the lead roles in Werther, Fidelio and The Bartered Bride

In 1986, Frey jumped in for ailing star tenor Peter Hofmann as Lohengrin in Mannheim, Germany. Wolfgang Wagner, then head of the Bayreuth Festival, attended that performance and quickly engaged Frey to sing at the acclaimed Wagnerian festival. He debuted as Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1987, reprising the role there in 1988.  

Following his Bayreuth debut, Frey began to work at most of Europe’s major opera houses. Wagnerian roles dominated his career: Lohengrin, Parsifal, Erik and Walther. Other roles in his repertoire included the title role in Britten’s Peter Grimes, Aeneas in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Titus in La clemenza di Tito and Corrado in Verdi’s Il corsaro

Frey made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1987 as Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos and debuted at Covent Garden in 1988 as Lohengrin. He took his Max in Der Freischütz to Paris in 1988,  and opened the Munich summer opera festival in Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae the same year.  

Back in Canada, Frey was Erik The Flying Dutchman under Charles Dutoit in Montréal (1989) and Siegmund in Die Walküre with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He moved home to his Mennonite community to farm in 2002, and in that same year was awarded an honourary D. Litt from Wilfrid Laurier University. 

Rubies 2021 Honouree Frisell

Rubies 2021 honouree Sonja Frisell with Luciano Pavarotti. Photo courtesy: Sonja Frisell

Canadian-English director Sonja Frisell is widely regarded as one of the foremost opera stage directors working today. Regularly engaged by the most important European and North American opera companies, Frisell has mounted productions for the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón, Venice’s Teatro La Fenice, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera and Turin’s Teatro Regio. In the USA and Canada, Frisell has worked at Houston Grand Opera, Washington Opera, Seattle Opera, Arizona Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Dallas Opera, Greater Miami Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Opéra de Montréal, National Arts Centre’s Festival Ottawa, Calgary Opera, Edmonton Opera, Tulsa Opera and Manitoba Opera.

From the mid 1950s through 2019, Frisell directed most of the world’s greatest opera ‘A-List’ artists, while also working with young, emerging singers around the world, including Canada. Between 1992 and 2003 Frisell directed new productions of La fille du regiment and Lucia di Lammermoor for Calgary Opera—both role debuts for fellow Ruby honouree, Canadian soprano Tracy Dahl, as well as new productions of Eugene Onegin for Calgary and Arizona Opera, and Salome for Arizona Opera. She returned to La Scala for Rossini’s L’occasione fa il ladro in 2002 marking a 50-year association with that fabled company. 

Some of Frisell’s other significant productions include Don Carlo in Chicago and Washington, La Gioconda and La Cenerentola in Milan, Un ballo in maschera in Bologna and Chicago, as well as Maometto II and Khovanshchina in San Francisco.

A protégé of famed directors Carl Ebert and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Frisell also worked closely with legendary directors Giorgio Strehler and Franco Zeffirelli at Teatro alla Scala, where she trained at Piccolo Scala under Strehler. She then served as La Scala’s Director of Production for 17 years, directing many revivals as well as new stagings for the company. A fervent student of linguistics, she speaks 8 languages fluently.             

Frisell received an Emmy Award in 1990 for the television broadcast of her Metropolitan Opera Aida, the same production that made its MET Opera Live in HD debut in the fall of 2009 starring Violetta Urmana, Dolora Zajick (also seen in the original Emmy-winning broadcast), Johan Botha, Giancarlo Guelfi, Roberto Scandiuzzi, all conducted by Daniele Gatti. Frisell’s MET Aida was in Metropolitan Opera’s repertory for an amazing 32 seasons—playing its final performances in 2019-2020.

Sonja Frisell currently lives in Portugal with her husband Peter Schröder  who was Herbert von Karajan’s personal sound engineer at both Deutsche Grammophon and Unitel.

Rubies 2021 Monk

Rubies 2021 honouree Allan Monk as Ortel in San Francisco Opera’s 1971 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Photo courtesy: Fred Monk

Baritone Allan Monk was born in Mission, BC. He grew up in Burnaby, BC and after moving to Calgary at age 15, began voice studies with Elgar Higgin. He spent summers studying music and drama at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Early performances were with the Calgary Theatre Singers, where he sang lead musical theatre roles in Carousel, Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun and Guys and Dolls. Monk’s voice attracted notice in the US at Boris Goldovsky’s summer workshops, which he attended in 1963, 1964 and 1966.

Early operatic success came in the US, in roles like Figaro in The Barber of Seville at San Francisco Western Opera Theatre (1967). He spent 1969-74 with San Francisco Opera singing principal roles with its touring company and small roles on their main stage. 1973 was a breakthrough year for Monk in San Francisco when he sang Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Donner in Das Rheingold, the High Priest in L’Africaine and the Teacher in von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady.

During the 1970s, Monk also performed frequently in Canada. For Festival Canada (latterly, Festival Ottawa) he sang the title role in The Marriage of Figaro (1971), Guglielmo in Così fan tutte (1972, 1973 and 1979), the title role in Don Giovanni (1973 and 1974), Tomsky in The Queen of Spades (1976 and 1979), and Dr. Malatesta in Don Pasquale (1977).

In 1973, Monk originated the role of Abelard for the Canadian Opera Company (COC) in Charles Wilson’s Heloise and Abelard. He continued to perform regularly with the COC, singing the title roles in Wozzeck, Macbeth and Rigoletto. In 1974, he sang Escamillo in Carmen for the COC, Southern Alberta Opera (now Calgary Opera) and Edmonton Opera.

In March 1976, Monk moved to Teaneck, NJ, and began performing with the Metropolitan Opera, making his debut in March that year as Schaunard in La Bohème. Other Met roles included the Father in Hansel and Gretel, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, Wolfram in Tannhäuser, Rodrigo in Don Carlo and Ford in Falstaff.

In 1980, Monk made his European debut singing the title role in Wozzeck in Lisbon. Later roles included Scarpia in Tosca at Calgary Opera (1998) and Opera Ontario (1998) and Amonasro in Calgary Opera’s 2000 Aida.

In 1997, Monk was Visiting Professor at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Returning to Calgary, he opened a private singing studio and continued to give occasional master classes. In 1985 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. 

Rubies 2021 Wall

Rubies 2021 honouree Erin Wall in the title role of Santa Fe Opera’s 2016 Vanessa with Zach Borichevsky as Anatol. Photo: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

Born in Calgary, Alberta to American parents, Canadian/American soprano Erin Wall studied at the Vancouver Academy of Music, Western Washington University, Rice University and Music Academy of the West and was a finalist at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2003.

Following graduation from Lyric Opera of Chicago’s (LOC) Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, she was engaged for three seasons with the company where she made her professional opera debut as the First Nursemaid in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene in 2001. At LOC’s 2004 season-opening night, she made a significant impression when she jumped in for an ailing Karita Mattila as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.  

Wall’s other leading roles in Chicago included Marguerite in Faust (2003); Freia in Das Rheingold (2004, 2005); Gerhilde in Die Walküre (2002, 2005); Pamina in The Magic Flute (2005); Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte (2007); Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail (2009); Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010); Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann (2011) and Elettra in Idomeneo (2018).

Wall had an especially long and fruitful association with Santa Fe Opera where she demonstrated her affinity for the glorious high soprano roles of Richard Strauss including Arabella and Daphne. Arabella was also a calling card at the Metropolitan Opera where she additionally appeared as Donna Anna and Helena. In 2016 she sang the title role in Barber’s Vanessa at Santa Fe.

Canadian opera audiences heard her in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. She made her Canadian Opera Company debut in 2012 as Antonia, returning for Clémence in Saariaho’s L’amour de loin, the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Arabella and finally, a glorious role debut as Chrysothemis in Elektra in 2019. She originated the role of Cecilia in Bramwell Tovey’s The Inventor at Calgary Opera in 2011, sang Marguerite and Violetta (La traviata) in Vancouver and another Strauss heroine, Countess Madeleine, in Pacific Opera Victoria’s 2010 Capriccio

Wall recorded widely. In the realm of opera, her 2020 Chandos recording of the title role in Massenet’s Thaïs won a Juno award in 2021, and her moving portrayal of Ellen Orford in the same label’s Peter Grimes was just named Gramophone Magazine’s best opera recording for 2021. She was closely connected to the music of Mahler, having sung his Symphony #8 throughout the world including Rotterdam, Melbourne, Toronto, Ottawa, Washington and Birmingham.

Wall died at age 44 on October 8, 2020 from complications caused by metastatic breast cancer.

Celebrate with us at our LIVE Rubies 2021 gala event on Monday November 15, 2021. Click here for tickets and full event information.

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