Shop Talk: Judith Yan: Opera can “lay the truth of humanity in front of us”

by | Sep 7, 2021 | Featured, Interviews, News

Readers, if you’re like the folks on our Opera Canada team, you have a running list of questions that you’d love to ask your favourite Canadian operatic artists. So, we’re asking. In our series of interviews, called Shop Talk, we’re checking in with Canada’s singers, directors, conductors, and more, to ask them some of our most pressing curiosities. Next up: Shop Talk with internationally acclaimed Canadian conductor, Judith Yan.

What’s an onstage memory that you’ll have forever?

“Mozart’s Idomeneo at Ulmer Theater, Ulm, Germany in 2005. We had a last minute replacement for the soprano who sang Ilia (whose name I apologize for not being to recall). She flew in the day before; we spent 30 minutes at the piano, the director blocked for another 30, and away we went.

After the performance, we remarked of how effortless it was, and that never once did we have to look at one other. It was like she conducted the performance she wanted to sing, and I sang the production I wanted to conduct. I remember leaving the opera house thinking, ‘If my world disappeared right this very minute, I wouldn’t mind in the least.’ It was the most complete musical experience I’ve ever had.”

Canadian conductor Judith Yan. Photo: David Howells

What would you consider a great opera for someone’s first time seeing one?

Madama Butterfly, an exceptional story featuring not only a wronged heroine, the blindness of colonialism, ostracism, but the surprise reveal of a child. It is always a surprise to me when Butterly is interpreted as a love story, in the true sense of the word ‘love’.  To me, it is a story of ultimate parental sacrifice, of unforgiving and entrenched caste systems, to a more subtle degree, the unfulfilled promises of immigration.

I feel instead of #cancelling this opera, might we consider Puccini as having laid the truth of humanity in front of us? As an Asian, as an immigrant, I can tell you this story is quite close to the truth.”

If you could do any other job in opera – singer, conductor, director, stage manager, designer, etc. – which would it be?

“I have always held excellent Artistic Directors and Administrators in the highest esteem, the ones with the sixth sense of what would sell, appeal, what wouldn’t sell at the time but would make an impact upon the minds and sentiments for years after. My colleagues and I all played the game, ‘if I was the AD, I would…’.  But after 8 years as the Artistic Director of a wonderful symphony orchestra, the job, albeit very fulfilling, was not nearly as easy as it looked. Failing that, wouldn’t it be great to be a Philanthropist? Nothing, besides being a conductor, would make me happier.”

Canadian conductor Judith Yan. Photo: Photograph by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Readers, which Canadian artists do you want to see featured in our Shop Talk interview series? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch at

Opera Canada depends on the generous contributions of its supporters to bring readers outstanding, in-depth coverage of opera in Canada and beyond. Please consider subscribing or donating today.

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.



No event found!