Welcome to City Opera 

We are a professional chamber opera company. We produce opera from its rise in 1600 through to new opera alive in our own time. We commission new Canadian opera. We present concerts that animate our brand, widen our audience, and take our music to people where they live. 

At City Opera, we are building a repertoire. Building an audience. And building a company. Welcome to the rising future of opera.





starring Isaiah Bell

at City Opera Online




September 2021 at The Vancouver Playhouse

Libretto by
Madeleine Thien
  Music by
Alice Ping Yee Ho


A project supported by The Vancouver Foundation, The City of Vancouver, Edwina and Paul Heller Memorial Fund, Quan Family Fund, and Vancity Credit Union.


“We are proud to announce that a City Opera jury has chosen renowned Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho to write the music for our next new work:  CHINATOWN,” said City Opera president Ethel Whitty.

“This opera will tell the story of the history, people, and culture of one of our most important neighbourhoods,” added Whitty. “Its libretto has been written by Canadian author Madeleine Thien, winner of the Giller Prize and Governor-General’s Award for Do Not Say We Have Nothing.”

Alice is one of the most acclaimed composers writing in Canada today. She works in many musical genres (CHINATOWN will be her third opera), and has received such awards as the $25,000 Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prize (2019), Louis Applebaum Composers Award (2016), and Dora Mavor Moore Award (2013) for ‘Outstanding Original Opera’.  


CHINATOWN is planned for world premiere in September 2021, at the 668-seat Vancouver Playhouse. The evening will commence with a community dinner, and a memorial parade to The Vancouver Playhouse. This special event will honour the elders and community leaders who have made Chinatown possible, unique, and essential, all these years.

City Opera Vancouver gratefully acknowledges the generous support of The Vancouver Foundation, Vancity Credit Union, Paul and Edwina Heller Memorial Fund, City of Vancouver Office of Cultural Services, British Columbia Arts Council, Doretta Lee Memorial Fund at The Vancouver Foundation, the Quan Family Fund at The Vancouver Foundation, the Illahie Fund at Tides Canada / MakeWay! and numerous private advisors and donors in the creation and production of CHINATOWN.


CHINATOWN is a story of family and neighbourhood, racism and resistance, history and tomorrow. In two acts and two hours it examines six characters, two families, and a chorus of male ghosts, from the building of the CPR through to our own times. It deals with violence and despair, the Head Tax, the Exclusion Act, paper sons, and paper promise. It is a Western opera, but incorporates Chinese themes, sounds and sensibilities. And it is a love story.

The inspiration for CHINATOWN lies in our history, a great neighbourhood and its people, and its resistance against racism – both historical, and resurgent today.

Its inspiration lies in the work and words of librettist Madeleine Thien [Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Dogs at the Perimeter] and composer Alice Ping Yee Ho [The Monkiest King, The Lesson of Da Ji]. Inspiration also derives from the 160 meetings, consultations, and public workshops we have organized – so far -- since starting work in 2017.

Its inspiration lies in the fact that opera is boundless. It can tell any story, set in any time, to and about any peoples. An opera about Vancouver’s Chinatown is entirely new, innovative, and timely.

Our project will also be innovative in another way. It is a Western opera, but we will examine and test its fusion with Chinese song, language, instruments, and eloquence. We believe this will honour our shared heritage and future. Today, over 40% of Vancouver’s people are of Chinese descent. If we get it right, we will have expanded the definition of ‘opera’ -- and welcomed a great many people to its power.

Set in 1961, CHINATOWN pivots across decades. In November, December, and again in February we beta-tested its text at public workshops in Chinatown, located in the heart of Vancouver. Hundreds of people attended, and we learned a great deal. We provided simultaneous translation in Cantonese and Mandarin. As hoped, this attracted elders who would not otherwise have joined us, and who shared their stories. From our librettist, Madeleine Thien:

     “After the text workshops I realized … no one has the whole story; it’s a community of secrets. The old generation (old-timers in Chinatown parlance) have been largely forgotten by history; they themselves have kept their sorrow within. They blame themselves; later generations do not really want to identify with what the bachelors went through – memory has taken on layers of shame. The children of Chinatown are telling this story but most of the bachelors never had children, never had families. The men of the Hing Mee have no descendants.

     “I like that the generations are now separated by this divide – there’s literally a curtain between them between the acts; and I also like how Saihin quietly appears in Act II. If I can intensify this, I want the audience to experience the layers of history and experience tangled in a single moment – and it should startle them. They should realize that they can see layers of history which the characters themselves cannot see. Artistically I would like them to leave the theatre knowing they can’t encapsulate the story; they’ve been immersed in a world, a real world, not an exoticized, imagined oriental kingdom of an isolated neighbourhood.”

In music, we will experiment with orchestration, instrumentation, and blends of Western and Chinese sounds. We will test the balance, blend, and placement of the Chinese (dizi, erhu, guzheng, percussion) and Western (harp, violin, viola, cello) instruments. Composer Alice Ho has long experience writing for such eclectic assets, and with seamless fusion in sound and practise.

These great artists are making wonders. Please join us, and bring the people you love.



now concluded

The Festival has now concluded, with 28 online performances in as many days. Thank you for your support. It will remain online until September 2021.