New Opera Faculty and Redesigned Program for 2020-21

headshots of Karen Slack and Ian Cusson

Headshots of 2020-21 Opera Program co-directors Karen Slack and Ian Cusson; photos courtesy of the artists

September 23, 2020, Banff, AB –Banff Centre will build upon its work in recent years changing conversations about opera. In 2020-21, Joel Ivany, director of opera at Banff Centre since 2014, will be joined this season by two co-directors: Métis and French-Canadian composer, Ian Cusson, and American soprano, Karen Slack, and celebrating Indigenous and Black composers and librettists.

We are at a pivotal moment in opera--a time when we are asking critical questions about how we make work, who we make it for and what voices and communities have historically been absent from that process. The great power of opera remains its capacity to move hearts and minds through all-encompassing storytelling. We are widening the circle, making space for new stories and voices from the diverse world in which we live, and in so doing, laying the foundation for the next 400 years of the artform.

Ian Cusson, co-director of opera

I am delighted to join both Joel and Ian on this journey of giving unheard voices and untold stories the platform they have long deserved. As we are navigating through this new normal of creating art virtually and  a racial awakening I feel honored to be able to educate a new generation of artists about the past and assist in the creation of what we desire to be Opera in the 21st Century.

Karen Slack, co-director of opera

Cusson will look at historical interactions with opera and imagine new ways to create music and collaborate within and across Indigenous cultures. Slack will guide participants through a wide-ranging repertoire that will focus on the contribution of Black composers to Classical music through study that will include Opera scenes, African American art song and the Spirituals. 

In this time of Truth and Reconciliation and Black Lives Matter, there is tremendous energy rising up for equity, inclusion, and diversity. COVID-19 is presenting us with questions about ‘what can we do with this moment?’ and ‘how can we re-emerge as something better?’

Joel Ivany, artistic director of opera

The program will also include a commission from Cusson and an BIPOC librettist, as well as a mentorship and development opportunity for an emerging BIPOC composer. 

Banff Centre has thoughtfully adapted its model for “Opera in the 21st Century” in 2020-21 to provide instruction and mentorship online. The re-imagined multi-season program will include 12 weeks of gatherings between November 23, 2020 and July 30, 2021. If health guidelines permit, the final gathering will take place on campus in Banff National Park.

Singers participating in “Opera in the 21st Century” in 2020-21 will receive ongoing coaching by leading faculty for the duration of the training program, and their learnings will be shared with audiences through virtual concerts. Additionally, singers will enhance their career readiness skills with workshops in areas such as entrepreneurship, proposal and grant writing, website management, social media strategy, and budgeting. Preparing singers for a successful and lasting career in opera remains our program’s mandate.

Up to 15 spaces will be available in the program for promising singers, composers, directors, and pianists working in the form of opera with program fees covered by 100% scholarship.

As Canada’s largest post-secondary arts and leadership institution, Banff Centre is committed to continuing to serve artists and leaders. Banff Centre is working to adapt to the restrictions on activities in support of the health of our communities, and to the changing needs of artists and leaders.  

Howard Jang, Vice President, Arts and Leadership

Karen Slack has been hailed by critics for possessing a lustrous voice of extraordinary beauty and artistry of great dramatic depth. Slack has most recently been seen as Serena in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera, world premiere of Terence Blanchard's  Fire Shut Up In My Bones at Opera Theater of St. Louis, Puccini’s Tosca with Opera Birmingham, as Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff with Arizona Opera. An made her Scottish Opera debut as Anna in Puccini’s Le villi.  She has also appeared with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera. A frequent recitalist and equally at home on the concert stage, Ms. Slack has performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and the Verdi Requiem with various orchestras throughout the US and most recently appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the world premiere of Hannibal Lokumbe’s Healing Tones conducted by Yannick Néget Séguin Abroad she has appeared with the Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway and with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in celebration of the 80th birthday of Mo.Yuri Temirkanov.  Slack is an Artistic Advisor for the Portland Opera and host of the Facebook live show, #KikiKonversations, where she speaks to opera and broadway artists, composers, and designers addressing various topics from social justice to the future of the performing arts. She is known as a supportive and open-hearted teacher/mentor and has given master classes at Oberlin College-Conservatory, among others. For more information:

Ian Cusson is a Canadian composer of art song, opera, and orchestral work. Of Métis and French Canadian descent, his work explores the Canadian Indigenous experience, including the history of the Métis people, the hybridity of mixed-racial identity, and the intersection of Western and Indigenous cultures. He studied composition with Jake Heggie and Samuel Dolin and piano with James Anagnoson at the Glenn Gould School. He is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including the Chalmers Professional Development Grant, the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Award, and several grants through the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council. Cusson was an inaugural Carrefour Composer in Residence with the National Arts Centre Orchestra from 2017-2019. He is currently the Composer-in-Residence for the Canadian Opera Company for 2019-2021. He is an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers. He lives in Toronto with his wife and four children.

The Opera in the 21st Century program is made possible through the generous support of the David Spencer Endowment Encouragement Fund.