City Opera Commissions

Chinatown (2021)

On 18 December 2018, we announced our next commission:  CHINATOWN, with libretto by Madeleine Thien.

It tells the story of the history, people, and culture of one of our most important neighbourhoods. It could not be more timely.

Vancouver-born and raised, Madeleine Thien is best known for her historical novel DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING (2016), winner of the Giller Prize and the Governor-General’s Award. It has been translated into 17 languages. CHINATOWN will be her first opera.

Said Thien, “I’m honoured to have this chance to immerse in the intricate and complex life of Vancouver’s Chinatown. For over a century, this neighbourhood has been the centre of gravity for the imaginings, stories, experiences, heartbreaks and hopes of Vancouver’s Chinese community. Many people – from divergent and overlapping histories and languages – call this neighbourhood home; for me, Strathcona and Chinatown are at the core of my own childhood and teenaged years.

“I’m deeply moved to be part of this project. I look forward to learning all that I can, and to working on an opera that might create, in unanticipated ways, a profound experience of our shared history and future.”

City Opera Vancouver, established in 2006, is a professional chamber opera company that specializes in new and unusual work, featuring Canadian themes and artists. CHINATOWN is City Opera’s fifth commission, and world premiere, in nine years.

City Opera Vancouver is conducting a wide series of workshops and community consultations in creation of CHINATOWN. To date, over 60 meetings have been held with the elders, leaders, historians and people of Chinatown. Many more will follow over the next three years.

The composer will be chosen, in a Juried process, after the first draft libretto is complete.

CHINATOWN is planned for world premiere in September 2021 at The Vancouver Playhouse.



The Vancouver Foundation has awarded City Opera Vancouver a three-year creation and production grant for its new opera, CHINATOWN.

This complements an award previously granted by the City, through its Creative City Strategies programme, on 13 November 2018.


Missing (2017)

We engaged the dazzling indigenous playwright Marie Clements, and the Juno-award winning composer Brian Current, to create our third commission, Missing. Set in the Downtown Eastside and along the Highway of Tears, it tells a story everyone knows, about a woman no one remembers. We presented public text-only workshops in Spring 2016 at the Native Education College and the DTES Carnegie Centre, with public piano-vocal workshops in February 2017 in Victoria and Vancouver. Missing was first made possible by an extraordinary creation grant of $127,000 awarded by The Vancouver Foundation in September 2015.

The first performance, on 1 November 2017, was private, and by invitation to the families only. The public performances ran on 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 November 2017 at the York Theatre. Immediately thereafter, it was given six performances at Pacific Opera Victoria. From the beginning this chamber opera was designed for small forces, portability, and touring. In 2019, Missing toured to Victoria, Prince George, and Regina, in a tour led by our partners at Pacific Opera Victoria. At February 2020, Missing has received 22 performances.

Read more about Missing


The Lost Operas of Mozart (2016)

In his early twenties, Mozart started three operas he never completed. Two are Italian comedies, and the third is a German Romance. Each was a tantalizing hint of what might have been. Each was the voice of Mozart himself.

In October 2016, City Opera Vancouver offered a Canadian event premiere: three forgotten operas in one evening of wonderful theatre, delightful music, and original exploration.

This commission and re-construction was a Canadian first. In two acts and three hours, The Lost Operas of Mozart delighted, informed and enchanted. Stage direction and production concept was by Alan Corbishley, original script by Maria Reva, and the work set in our own time at the Gates of Limbo.

All of this was based on the original scholarship of Raphaël De Vos, John Drummond, Jane Oakshott, and Richard Rastall. We thank them all for permission kindly granted to use and adapt these materials.

We introduced Bramwell Tovey as The Impresario, joined by singers Robyn Driedger-Klassen, Elaina Moreau, Rose-Ellen Nichols, Frédérik Robert, Samuel Chan, Alan MacDonald, and Michael MacKinnon. Ines Ortner, costume and set design. John Webber, lighting design. Charles Barber, conductor.

The Mozart programme book may be read here:


Pauline (2014)

We commissioned Margaret Atwood's first opera, Pauline. It is set at Vancouver in March 1913, in the last week in the life of the celebrated Canadian artist Pauline Johnson. This new chamber opera, with the kind assistance of numerous public and private donors -- and special thanks to the late Abraham Rogatnick and Kitty Heller -- was given in workshop in September, October and November 2013.

Pauline was directed by Norman Armour, premiered on 23 May 2014 with music by Tobin Stokes, and sold out all five nights at the York Theatre. On 16 October 2015 we presented Pauline at Le Grand Théâtre de Québec, as part of the international literary festival Québec en toutes lettres.

Read more about Pauline


Fallujah (2012)

With a grant of $250,000 USD from the Los Angeles-based Annenberg Foundation / Explore, we created a new chamber opera set at Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. This project was inspired by the life and work of Sgt. Christian Ellis (USMC, ret'd). A profoundly anti-war piece, its  music is by Canadian Tobin Stokes, its libretto by Iraqi-American Heather Raffo, and its sub-text PTSD. Our director was John Wright.

Fallujah is in two acts, with 9 singers onstage, 11 players in the pit, and was finished in June 2012. The project was granted an additional $100,000 USD from the Foundation in order to produce a film of the process and outcome. Its multi-platform launch was inaugurated by a major Associated Press story on 2 July 2012, and by the Annenberg Foundation and its website thereafter. After further revision by Tobin and Heather, Fallujah received its American premiere at Long Beach Opera in March 2016. It was produced at New York City Opera in November 2016. A KCET film documentary about our opera won a Los Angeles Emmy Award in 2017.

Read more about Fallujah