General & Co-Artistic Director
Julie Jordan Gunn
Having worked within the realm of alternative multi-disciplinary theatre to grand opera for over 25 years, Canadian director Valerie Kuinka brings a wealth of experience and unique creativity to her work. The list of highly accomplished artists with whom she has collaborated is extensive: Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Roberto Alagna, Richard Margison, Jose Cura, Nathan Gunn, Matthew Polenzani, Veronica Tennant, Rex Harrington, Quartetto Gelato, Alannah Myles, Frank Moore, and Shauna Rolston, to name but a few.
2021 marks the 15th season of The Highlands Opera Studio, a summer ensemble and professional training program for highly accomplished emerging operatic artists, in which she acts as General & Co-Artistic Director along with her husband, Artistic Director and operatic tenor, Richard Margison.
A stage director at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for four seasons (2004–08), Valerie was on the stage directing team of Romeo et Juliette (2005–06) and its revival (2007–08) as well as the revivals of Samson et Dalilah (2004–05, 2005–06), Idomeneo (2006–07) and Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci (2006–07).
In 1996, Valerie established her own Toronto-based multi-disciplinary theatre company, COLLABORATIONS, and during its nine-year existence wrote, produced, directed, and often performed in 14 productions. “Kuinka has established no small reputation for creating exciting seamless theatrical collage” – Geoff Chapman (Toronto Star, 2003); “It was Kuinka’s instinct for elision that held everything together.” – William Littler (Toronto Star, 2004)
Valerie has also directed productions for Edmonton Opera, Manitoba Opera, Opera de Quebec, Pacific Opera Victoria, Opera Hamilton, Opera Lyra Ottawa, Quartetto Gelato, International Vocal Arts Festival (Tel-Aviv), The Banff Centre, The Glenn Gould School (Toronto), Opera Mississauga, The Canadian Childrens’ Opera Chorus (Toronto), and has assisted at the New York City Opera and the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp.
“In so many ways, that it is hard to know where to begin or end, Kuinka laid bare, framed and illustrated the essence of this drama with exquisite skill and technical savvy... With video and her own consummate inventiveness Kuinka created a fresh, new and vibrantly alive Trovatore.” – Hugh Fraser (Hamilton Spectator, 2012)
Beginning her career as a classical violist, Valerie has been (and continues to be) active as a chamber, orchestral, studio, and performance artist for over thirty years. She was a member of the orchestras of the Canadian Opera Company (since 1986) and the National Ballet of Canada (since 1984), playing every position from section to principal before her retirement from the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in June 2005.
In recent years, Valerie has been devoting most of her time to working with emerging operatic artists as a dramatic/musicianship coach and career consultant and to building and running Highlands Opera Studio. Often working in tandem with her husband, Richard Margison, she is a regular guest coach and masterclass teacher with L'Atelier Lyrique (L'Opera de Montreal), and other national and international vocal institutions.
Hailed for his ringing top notes and spine-tingling power, Canadian tenor, Richard Margison, is one of the most critically acclaimed opera singers Canada has ever produced. An Officer of the Order of Canada, the recipient of three honorary doctorates (McMaster University, University of Victoria, and University of British Columbia), two life-time achievement awards (Giulio Gari Foundation, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation), and the Royal Conservatory of Music's highest honour, the Honorary Fellowship, Richard has performed regularly as a principal artist over the past 2 1/2 decades in all of the worlds leading opera houses at home and abroad, including fifteen consecutive years at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Vienna Staatsoper, San Francisco Opera, Opera Australia (Sydney Opera House), the Liceu (Barcelona), La Monnaie (Brussels), Opera de Montreal, Opera de Quebec, Vancouver Opera, Calgary Opera, Manitoba Opera, Edmonton Opera, and the Canadian Opera Company, where he most recently performed the role of Herod in Salome.
In recent years Richard has been devoting more time to his passion for teaching, helping the next generation of artists within his industry, and giving back to the community at large. He is sought after across Canada and internationally as a master class and private professor of voice, and, although still performing professionally, continues to offer his services for a variety of charitable organizations.
Since 2013, Richard has been enjoying performing regularly across Canada with his daughter, Lauren Margison, also a singer, in their duo act, "Back to Back". Richard and Lauren turn their combined talents to classical arias, art song, Neapolitan love songs, jazz, pop, and a little Gordon Lightfoot.
Recent seasons included performances of Electra (Aegisthus), with Michigan Opera Theatre, as well as being featured as the title role of 'Abraham' in the world premiere of an important new, multi-cultural and multi-denominational oratorio written and conducted by Canadian composer and music theatre legend, David Warrack, and performed at Metropolitan United Church in Toronto. Other performances included Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tania Miller.
In recent years Richard has been celebrating his Canadian roots with performances across the country including Herod in Salome (Canadian Opera Company), Turiddu and Canio in Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci (Edmonton Opera), and his signature roles of Calaf, in Puccini's Turandot (Opera Lyra Ottawa), Manrico in Verdi's Il Trovatore (L'Opera de Quebec), Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca (Manitoba Opera), and Bacchus in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos (Canadian Opera Company). Concert appearances included Mahler's, 'Das Lied von der Erde', with the Victoria Symphony, Mahler's Symphony No. 8, with the Toronto Symphony, and a 15-concert solo recital tour of British Columbia with acclaimed pianist, Kinza Tyrell. Richard was proud to have had his debut performance in the new Four Seasons' Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto with the National Ballet of Canada, performing Mahler's, 'Das Lied von der Erde' with the company.
Highlights from previous seasons include performances as Bacchus in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Teatro Campoamor in Oviedo, Spain, the reprise of his celebrated role as O'Brien in Lorin Maazel's 1984 in Valencia, Spain, Radamès in Verdi's Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, as Pollione in Bellini's Norma with the Vancouver Opera, and in a series of concerts for Arizona Opera. A highlight of his 2009-2010 season was his trip to China for the opening of the new Guangzhou Opera House where Richard appeared in one of his most celebrated roles, Calaf, in Puccini's Turandot, conducted by Lorin Maazel: "As a rare, true lyrico spinto, a lyric tenor with the capacity to [sing] the heavier dramatic roles, Margison is the heir to Placido Domingo...Margison colors his voice with an ease and spontaneity that almost seems conversational, and he rides over the big Turandot orchestra, with its extra complement of exotic-sounding percussion, with ease and beauty." (Financial Times, May 2010)
Other highlights include Richard's debut as Aegisthus in Strauss's Elektra with the Seattle Opera and the New York Philharmonic, his debut at Milan's famed La Scala as O'Brien in Lorin Maazel's 1984, a role he originated at the ROH Covent Garden in 2005, recently released on DVD. Renowned for his interpretations of Verdi, Puccini, Strauss and Beethoven, recent seasons have featured performances of Un Ballo in Maschera (l'Opéra de Montréal, Hamburg, the ROH Covent Garden), Turandot (New York, Barcelona, Toronto), Aida (New York, Cincinnati, l'Opéra de Montréal, Chicago, Orviedo), Ariadne auf Naxos (Madrid, London, Hamburg, New York), Fidelio (Seattle, Vancouver), Il Trovatore (New York, Toronto, Berlin, San Francisco), La Gioconda (Barcelona) and Don Carlo (New York).
A much sought after concert artist, Richard has garnered such praise as "…it is an important experience to hear Margison live, simply to come into contact with the physical presence of the voice. It has both brass and beauty, and its power is so forceful and concentrated that you have to remind yourself that its source is a human throat…" (Globe and Mail). He has appeared with the Royal Philharmonic in London, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and at the Ravinia Festival. He has also performed with Bryn Terfel at his opera gala at the Faenol Festival in Wales.
Richard's discography includes an all-Verdi recording on CBC Records and the highly acclaimed recording of Beethoven's Fidelio with Christine Brewer on Chandos. He has also recorded Lanza (Warner Music), made for the film on the life of Mario Lanza, in which he sings the title role. Other recordings include Verdi's Don Carlo with the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Bernard Haitink (Philips) and Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi (Deutsche Grammophon). He made three recordings with the late Richard Bradshaw and the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra: a solo album of French and Italian Arias (CBC Records), Rarities by Rossini and Verdi, with Gary Relyea (CBC Records) and Aria, une sélection de Radio-Canada with Anita Krause, Wendy Nielson and Gary Relyea (CBC Records). Richard is also a featured artist on the Millennium Opera Gala recording released by CBC Records.
Richard's DVD recordings include his highly acclaimed appearance as Bacchus in the Metropolitan Opera production of Ariadne auf Naxos with Deborah Voigt and Natalie Dessay (Virgin Classics), his roles as Cavaradossi in Tosca and as O'Brien in Lorin Maazel's 1984 (both on Decca), and as Enzo in Ponchielli's La Gioconda (TDK).
FOLK-SINGING OPERA STAR
Richard's rise to the top of the opera world did not follow the traditional path – his career began in the coffee houses and clubs of Victoria, BC, where he performed with his own rock band for ten years. Since making his debut in 1980 with Pacific Opera Victoria, he has gone on to take the opera world by storm while not neglecting his roots, enthusiastically performing songs by Gordon Lightfoot or Stan Rogers whenever possible. In January 2010, Bravo! presented a documentary (Harbinger Films) on Richard called the 'Folk-Singing Opera Star'. Now available on DVD, the documentary features him in a musical collaboration with Bruce Cockburn, in major performances and in discussion about his life and career. www.thefolksingingoperastar.com
HIGHLANDS OPERA STUDIO
In the summer of 2007, Richard Margison and Opera Director, Valerie Kuinka, founded the Highlands Opera Studio, a very advanced professional training program for emerging operatic professionals, which provides training of the highest level for 20 to 25 talented singers and 1 collaborative pianist, between the ages of 19 and 35, chosen through competitive audition from across Canada with the main objective to provide these singers with the necessary skills to embark on a career in opera. Richard and Valerie feel that these extremely talented young people should no longer be expected to pay for a summer program, and, therefore, offer the 5 – 6 week program at no charge for those accepted. Looking forward to its 13th season in August 2019, the program includes vocal master classes, individual voice lessons, movement classes, professional development and networking opportunities, stagecraft coaching and staging rehearsals for 2-3 fully staged productions. The faculty includes renowned opera professionals from Canada and around the world.
HONOURS AND BENEFIT WORK
Although Richard is in great demand on the great opera stages of the world, he gives generously of his time to support a number of causes. He has generously given of his talent at benefits in Chicago, for the Metropolitan Opera, Leukaemia Research (Ontario), LOFT Community housing (Toronto), the Children's Opera Chorus (Toronto), the Royal Conservatory of Music, and many others.
He has been particularly active in his former home province of British Columbia, where he has raised more than two million dollars through benefit concerts including Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria, the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Opera and the Rotary Club.
Richard Margison was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001 not only in honour of his contribution to musical life in Canada but in recognition of his accomplishments on the international stage. In 2002 Richard received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. Richard received and Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Conservatory of Music as well as being inducted into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame. In October of 2007, Richard was awarded an Opera Canada Ruby Award. In October 2009 he received Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the The Giulio Gari Foundation and The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation. In 2012 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his service to Canada. Richard also holds Honorary Doctorates from the University of Victoria (DMus), University of British Columbia (D.Litt) and McMaster University (D.Litt).
An Ontario resident for twenty-six years, Richard splits his time between his homes in Stouffville and Minden with his wife, opera director, Valerie Kuinka, and his daughter, Lauren Margison.
Melissa is a native of London, Ont. and a graduate of the University of Western Ontario with degrees in music, education, and a diploma from the Western Conservatory of Music.
A resident of Haliburton for more than 30 years, Melissa is well known for her tireless involvement in the arts. An accomplished pianist, organist, flautist and music director, she was named "Highlander of the Year" in 1998 and “Artist of Distinction” in 2007. Melissa feels privileged to be the Administrator of the Highlands Opera Studio, working with Richard Margison and his wife Val Kuinka. A full-time teacher at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, Melissa also teaches private music students. When Melissa is not busy with Highlands Opera Studio and Highlands Summer Festival, she conducts a total of 6 choirs in Haliburton, Lindsay and Bancroft.