New General Director hired to revitalize Opera Lyra Ottawa

Opera Lyra’s Garden Party fundraiser, hosted by the Italian Ambassador to Canada, also marked the first appearance of Opera Lyra’s newly hired General Director, John Peter Jeffries. Mr. Jeffries, with his reputation for helping companies struggling with financial difficulties, will bring a new vision and leadership to Opera Lyra after a series of setbacks last year.

John Peter “Jeep” Jeffries

John Peter “Jeep” Jeffries, Opera Lyra’s new General Director.

Mr. Jeffries, Jeep to his friends, brings with him more than three decades of experience working internationally with various Opera companies.

Considering the job a golden opportunity, Mr. Jeffries comes off of a successful three-year term as the Executive Director of the Tulsa Opera and prior to that, he held the position of Executive Director of Opera Grand Rapids where he not only helped them overcome an accumulated deficit but led the charge for the construction and move into a new and permanent facility.

“Opera Lyra deserves a significant place in Canadian Opera and will have one again. That’s the big challenge, putting the company back on its financial feet while we maintain the artistic quality and continue to put great art on stage.” — J.P. Jeffries

Mr Jeffries was chosen after an international search and is expected to use his extensive experience and leadership skills to revitalize Opera Lyra Ottawa going into its 28th year. If all goes as planned, Opera Lyra can perhaps expect many moments of the type Mr Jeffries describes as one of the most stand-out moments in his career, from his time working with the Canadian Opera Company.

“An American director name Nic Muni created a production of Jenûfa, and it was one of those rare moments where the emotional journey we took the audience on was so powerful that as the curtain came to the deck every night, there was a moment of stunned silence. Just two beats of stunned silence and then people were on their feet screaming and cheering. It doesn’t happen often, it doesn’t happen nearly enough, but when it happens, it makes all the other challenges worthwhile.” — J.P. Jeffries

Mr. Jeffries with Italian Ambassador, Andrea Meloni, and his wife, Mrs. Paola Meloni

The Opera Lyra Garden Party

Brian Wehrle, Laura Whelan, Judith Ginsburg (pianist), and Arminè Kassabian provided an operatic concert.

Mr. Jeffries’ first function as General Director was in attending Opera Lyra’s annual Garden Party fundraiser. The Garden Party is hosted every year by Italian Ambassador to Canada, Mr. Andrea Meloni and his wife Mrs. Paola Meloni, who are both firmly committed to the success of wonderful opera in Ottawa.

Where in 2011, it was ponchos, umbrellas, and rain clouds, Opera Lyra couldn’t have asked for better weather on July 10th of this year where nary a cloud marred the sky, allowing for guests to truly enjoy the beautiful garden of Mr. Meloni’s Gatineua QC, residence. As in previous years, Earlene’s House of Fashion displayed some of their latest fashions, with models in lovely gowns parading around the grounds.

After a reception of wining, dining, great company, and high fashion, Malcolm McCulluch, Chairperson of Opera Lyra’s Board of Directors, took to the stage where he officially introduced Mr. Jeffries, and welcomed him to his new position as General Director.

Presented by Earlene’s House of Fashion

The main event of the evening was a concert of select opera favourites, hosted by Opera Lyra’s Artistic Director, Tyrone Paterson. Mr. Paterson introduced singers, Arminè Kassabian, Laura Whelan, and Brian Wehrle, and gave background prior to each of ten wonderful songs from a diverse selection of operas such as Turandot, Don Giovanni, and Il bariere di Siviglia. Each song in the concert elevated the whole higher and higher until the up-tempo finale, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Bohème

Brian Wehrle performs for the crowd.

Opera Lyra’s Garden Party sets the stage and leads into their upcoming production of Puccini’s La Bohèmea tale of love and life for Bohemians in Paris in the 1830s. Le Bohème is a staple of Italian opera and has become the fourth most frequently performed opera worldwide since its first performance in 1896.

Modern musical fans will likely know La Bohème as the direct inspiration behind Jonathon Larson’s 1996 smash Broadway musical, Rent. Among many other similarities between the two, Rent’s Roger and Mimi are modern day successors to La Bohème’s lovers Rodolfo and Mimi, with both couples even sharing a similar meeting that revolves around the lighting of Mimi’s candle.

Tyrone Paterson, Opera Lyra’s Artistic Director

La Bohème starts a four day run on September 8th at the NAC’s Southam Hall (see our Event Calendar for specific dates) and Opera Lyra Artistic Director, Tyrone Paterson, is excited to be bringing it to an Ottawa stage:

“It’s an exciting cast, a beautiful, young cast, a new production, never before seen here in Ottawa. Everything’s in place for it to be absolutely a beautiful, beautiful show.” — Tyrone Paterson

Following what is sure to be a successful fall production, Opera Lyra will present La Traviata as a concert in March. The full opera will be performed, but in concert form, with the performers and orchestra on stage, but not in costume. Even with two high quality productions planned, Mr. Paterson isn’t ignoring the challenges ahead for Opera Lyra.

“The main challenge for us is to get the support drummed up again for [Opera Lyra Ottawa] and to get as many people aware of the opera company and [the work we're doing.]” — Tyrone Paterson

If the music we were treated to during the Garden Party is any indication, both La Traviata and La Bohème will be well worth attending - and if you’ve never experienced opera before, what better first go could you want than La Bohème.

Following is a selection of photos from the 2012 Opera Lyra Garden Party (click to enlarge):

All photos were taken by Production Ottawa photographer, David Pasho.
Allan Mackey

About Allan Mackey

Allan Mackey is editor-in-chief of Production Ottawa, which, really, is too fancy a title. He also acts as show producer for Should You See It, making sure you get your answer in just about two minutes every time. He writes stuff and occasionally turns that stuff into movies. Keep being awesome!

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