CHINATOWN: Artists’ bios

SPENCER BRITTEN / tenor / Saihin

Spencer Britten is a Chinese-Canadian artist “oozing with mirth and personality” (Opera Canada) from Vancouver, British Columbia. His accomplishments in Opera & Musical Theatre have led him to performances internationally with companies including Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Royal Opera Versailles, Bregenzer Festspiele, The Glimmerglass Festival, Opéra de Montréal, The Atlanta Opera, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  Spencer also appeared in the critically acclaimed Messiah/Complex with Against the Grain Theatre, representing the queer and asian communities in this all-Canadian take on Handel’s Messiah. Upcoming engagements include work with Opera Atelier, Vancouver Opera, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, & Orchestra Classique de Montréal.

VANIA CHAN / soprano / Wenli

Vania Lizbeth Chan is a versatile artist, active in the fields of vocal performance and academia (M.M., Manhattan School of Music, PhD, York University). A lyric coloratura soprano, Vania’s voice has been described as “gently shimmering” (Opera News, NY) and “lovely and agile” (@KarasReviews). She has performed in Canada, and internationally, making her Carnegie Hall debut as a 1st prize winner in the Barry Alexander International Competition (NY). Vania recently completed a European tour of Claude Vivier’s music with Soundstreams. Later in 2022, she will perform the role of Eurydice in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with Toronto Operetta Theatre, and join the Toronto Consort for their Praetorious Christmas Vespers concert. Vania is excited to premiere the role of Wenli in City Opera Vancouver’s production of Chinatown. 

DESDEMONA CHIANG / stage director

Desdemona Chiang is a Taiwan-born American director and writer based in Seattle, WA and Ashland, OR. She works in a variety of genres, including new plays, Shakespeare, and musicals. Chiang is known for her visceral, no-nonsense approach to theatre, with her distinct point of view as an immigrant and Asian American woman, and an interest in using storytelling to spark social discourse. Her directing credits include The 5th Avenue Theatre (Seattle, WA), Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis), Alley Theatre (Houston), Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, OR), South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa, CA), Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Studio Theatre (Washington DC), Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, CT), Seattle Children’s Theatre, and ACT Theatre (Seattle).

Most recently, Chiang was awarded the Sundance Institute | The Asian American Foundation Fellowship. Her TV pilot Made in USA was developed with the Sundance Episodic Intensive Lab, The Orchard Project, the Writers Lab, and a winner of the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Lab. Her stage adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter received its world premiere in the summer of 2022.

Her awards include Princess Grace Award, Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, SDC Sir John Gielgud Directing Fellowship, and a Drama League TV/Film Fellowship. She holds an MFA in directing from the University of Washington.

MARY CHUN / conductor and music director

"... One cannot resist the charm, energy and allégresse that was displayed on the podium by Mary Chun." — Le Figaro, Paris 

Mary Chun collaborates internationally with composers, artists and directors creating new music across multiple platforms including opera, world music, musical theater, dance and experimental music. Prominent artists she has worked with include composers John Adams, Tan Dun, Libby Larsen and stage director Peter Sellars. Equally in demand for historic repertoire she has conducted operas and musicals across 3 continents and is the Principal Conductor for the San Francisco-based new music ensemble Earplay. She conducted the world premiere performances of John Adam’s earthquake romance “I was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky” in Montreal, Paris and Hamburg and in 2014 Mary was named Music Director/ Supervisor for Seven Ages Productions, China’s leading musical theater company that presents Broadway and West End smash hits in Mandarin translation to Chinese audiences. 

Upcoming projects include music directing 3 world premiere lyric productions: an opera based on the extraordinary life of Helen Keller, Touch, with libretto and music by Carla Lucero; Dolores, based on the work of the Mexican-American labor activist who co-founded the United Farm Workers Union in the USA along with Cesar Chavez, music by Nick Benavides and libretto by Marella Martin Koch; and an operetta By Georges! about the famed French Creole violinist/composer/ conductor Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, court musician to Queen Marie-Antoinette with music by Vince Burwell and libretto by James Sasser.

ALICE PING YEE HO / composer

One of the most acclaimed composers writing in Canada today, Hong Kong-born Alice Ping Yee Ho has written in many musical genres and received numerous national and international awards, including the 2022 Nova Scotia Symphony’s Maria Anna Mozart Award, 2022 Barlow General Commissioning Award, 2019 Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prize, 2016 Louis Applebaum Composers Award, 2014 Prince Edward Island Symphony Composers Competition, 2014 Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Friendship Orchestral Composition Competition, 2013 Dora Mavor Moore Award “Outstanding Original Opera” for her opera The Lesson of Da Ji, 2013 Boston Metro Opera International Composition Competition, K.M. Hunter Artist Award, Luxembourg Sinfonietta International Composition Prize, and International League of Women Composers Competition.

Often featured at national and international new music festivals such as ISCM World Music Days, Ottawa Chamberfest, Denmark’s CRUSH New Music Festival, and Asian Music Week in Japan, etc. Her works have also been performed by the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Esprit Orchestra, the Florida Orchestra, China National Symphony, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, Polish Radio Choir, Estonia's Ellerhein Girls' Choir, the Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Victoria, Nova Scotia, Hamilton, Kitchener Waterloo, and Windsor Symphonies, the Luxembourg Sinfonietta, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, New Music Concerts, Penderecki String Quartet, TorQ percussion quartet, Duo Concertante, violist Rivka Golani, pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, percussionists Sumire Yoshihara, Evelyn Glennie, and Beverley Johnston,  flutist Robert Aitken, Patrick Gallois, and Susan Hoeppner.

A twice JUNO Award Nominee (2015 and 2018), she has an impressive discography released on the Centrediscs, Naxos, Marquis Classics, Blue Griffin, Electra, Leaf Music, and Phoenix labels. New releases include “A Woman’s Voice” featuring her music written for female voices and piano on Leaf Music, and “Blaze”, a solo piano album featuring renowned Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico.


ERICA IRIS HUANG / mezzo / Hoisan Singer

Praised for her stage presence of warmth and character, DORA Award wining mezzo-soprano Erica Iris captivates audiences with her sensitivity and vocal timbres, critically acclaimed in her performances of opera, concert oratorio, and contemporary repertoire. Winner of the 2011 Eckhardt-Gramatté Music Competition, she was awarded a recital tour across Canada showcasing contemporary Canadian works that was graciously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts.

With her love of new music and storytelling, she has performed numerous works with Tapestry Opera, including Naomi’s Road (2013), Rocking Horse Winner (2016), Oksana G. (2017), and The Overcoat (2018). Erica is also passionate about music education and its outreach, fulfilling many school tours in Ontario with The Aldeburgh Connection, Canadian Opera Company Ensemble, and performing across British Columbia with the Vancouver Opera In Schools program.

Operatic roles performed include La Reine (Hamlet), Mistress Quickly (Falstaff), Olga (Eugene Onegin), Concepción (L’heure espagnole), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), and Komponist (Ariadne auf Naxos). Erica made her stage debuts with the Canadian Opera Company as the Second Maid in Elektra (2019), Mrs. Petrovich in The Overcoat with Vancouver Opera (2018), and Bloody Mary in Calgary Opera’s South Pacific (2017). Erica is in her eleventh consecutive season with the Canadian Opera Company Chorus, and sings for dogs she joyfully pampers and grooms, privately in her downtown loft with her two poodle assistants, Biko & Kiba.  

DEREK KWAN / tenor / Eugene

Derek Kwan is an actor, singer, and theatre creator working at the intersection of various forms including opera, clown, and puppetry, based in Toronto. His performing career has taken him across Canada and the globe, from London, England, to performances in Czech Republic, Mexico, Japan, China, and beyond. Derek was nominated for 4 Dora Mavor Moore Awards for his work in theatre and received the Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in Mr. Shi and His Lover. He is also the Artistic Director of Common Boots Theatre, and the Interim Co-Executive Director of Red Nose Remedy.  關顯揚

MATTHEW LI / bass / Xon Pon

Hailing from Ottawa, bass Matthew Li is currently pursuing a Master of Music in Voice Performance at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University. His roles include Colline in La Bohème, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, Masetto and Il Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, and Henry Davis in Street Scene. An alumnus of the Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of Song Program, he has studied art song with pianist Warren Jones and tenor Anthony Dean-Griffey.

An ardent choral singer, Li has also appeared as a soloist and chorister with Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, Elora Singers, and The Toronto Consort. Concert highlights include the role of Jesus in Schütz’s Johannes-Passion and the bass solos in Mozart’s Requiem, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Charpentier’s Messe des Morts, Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis, Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, and Fauré’s Requiem. Matthew is a Member of the Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal. City Opera thanks Atelier for its kind consent to release Matthew for our production of CHINATOWN.

EMMA PARKINSON / mezzo / Anna

Canadian-Asian mezzo-soprano Emma Parkinson has performed across Canada and internationally, she has been hailed as "an outstanding voice" (La Scena Musicale).

An alumnus of the Atelier lyrique of Opéra de Montréal, Emma performed Orlofsky in Opéra de Montréal’s production of Die Fledermaus and in Rusalka.  She made her European operatic debut in Germany as Mercedes in Carmen with Seefestspiele Berlin and performed a concert with Les Chorégies d’Orange in France.  Emma debuted with Vancouver Opera as Jade Boucher in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, in the same year making her debut with Pacific Opera Victoria in the Canadian premiere of Rattenbury.  Emma performed the title role of Carmen and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with Burnaby Lyric Opera.  Other highlights include solo performances with the Alberta Baroque Ensemble, Vancouver Bach Choir, Kingston Symphony Orchestra, Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestre Métropolitain, under the baton of Yannick Nézét-Seguin. A three-time laureate of the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques, Emma performed a concert tour of six cities in China, and she is a winner of the Prix Jeune Espoir Lyrique Canadien.

MADELEINE THIEN / librettist

One of Canada’s most acclaimed writers, Madeleine Thien was born in Vancouver. She is the author of the story collection Simple Recipes (2001), and three novels, Certainty (2006)Dogs at the Perimeter (2011), shortlisted for Berlin’s International Literature Prize and winner of the Frankfurt Book Fair’s 2015 Liberaturpreis; and Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016). Her books and stories are published in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, and have been translated into 25 languages. 

Her short fiction appears in The New Yorker, The New Anthology of Canadian Literature, The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, The Broadview Introduction to Literature, Literature: A Pocket Anthology and elsewhere. Her work has been awarded the City of Vancouver Book Award, Amazon First Novel Award, a Canadian Authors Association Award, Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and The Ovid Festival Prize, and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Kiriyama Prize for Fiction, and The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award

She has taught literature and fiction in Canada, China, Germany, Nigeria, the United States, Zimbabwe, Singapore, and Japan. With novelists Tsitsi Dangaremba and Ignatius Mabasa, she co-edited A Family Portrait, new fiction from Zimbabwe. Since 2010, she has been part of the international faculty in the MFA program at City University of Hong Kong. Along with novelist and photographer Rawi Hage, she was the inaugural Shadbolt Research Fellow at Simon Fraser University, which supported the publication and presentation of their new artistic work, Arrival

Her newest book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, about musicians studying Western classical music at the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s, and about the legacy of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, was published in 2016. It won the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the 2016 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction, and an Edward Stanford Prize; and was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and The Folio Prize 2017. The novel was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2016 and longlisted for a Carnegie Medal.

PAUL YEE / translator

Paul Yee, born in Saskatchewan of café operators, grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown of the 1960s. He did volunteer projects there in the 1980s, and worked as an archivist while doing an M.A. in Canadian history. He is a published author of over twenty works. His non-fiction includes Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver; his fiction includes children’s books (picture books to Young Adult) as well as stories for adults (A Superior Man, 2015). His work has been adapted for stage and animated film. Since 1988, he has lived in Toronto. CHINATOWN is his first opera.