Richard Margison is throwing a Gala in the Gardens

Richard Margison is throwing a Gala in the Gardens

Jenna Simeonov

On Saturday, August 8th at Abbey Gardens, Haliburton, Highlands Opera Studio present Gala in the Gardens, in honour of their exciting initiative of creating a new, attractive theatre space. Richard Margison, famed Canadian tenor and Artistic Director of Highlands Opera Studio, is putting on quite a show, featuring jazz artists, players from the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, and alumni singers from past HOS seasons.

This summer at Highlands, you can catch recitals, concerts, and performances of two operas: Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (Aug.30-Sep.3) and Tobin Stoke’s The Vinedressers (Aug. 19 & 21). I chatted with Margison about the Gala, his 2015 summer season, and about what it takes to support art in communities large and small.

For details and tickets, visit HOS’ website.

1. Can you tell us about The Commons: Highlands Opera Theatre? In what stage of development is it, and what are the next steps beyond this concert?

Gala in the Gardens is a concert to instil excitement in the region, embrace the community that has welcomed us, and further put Haliburton on the map. Abbey Gardens is our potential site for a new performing arts venue. The gardens began with the idea that ordinary people can make a huge environmental difference in their own communities. Already a vibrant regional arts and outdoor skills hub, Haliburton was on the cusp of becoming a hotspot for locally, sustainably-grown organic food. John Patterson, a retired businessman, had the idea of bringing a local gravel pit back to life as a garden. He’d seen Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C., and the Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K., the largest indoor rainforest in the world, both of which are rehabilitated open-air mines and world-class gardens.

A further addition to this sustainable green community is the exciting potential of creating a theatre on the premises. We’re in the formative stages now, but the dream is to build a performance space with seating for up to 700, and the ability to accommodate a professional orchestra and chorus. Initial discussions at the municipal, provincial and federal level were very supportive and key community members continue to explore and develop these ideas.

Christopher Dunham, Karine Boucher, and Sebastian Haboczki in Highlands Opera Studio’s production of Rita, 2014.

### 2. What will this new venue bring to a community like Haliburton, outside of larger arts-hub cities?

Haliburton already boasts a diverse arts and culture background so it seemed like a natural fit to me and Val Kuinka, General Director of HOS. Our vision has always been to enrich the music and fine arts programs in the area, build on existing music programs, and to provide opportunities that expand the development of music skills and talent in prospective students. Our experience here has been extremely positive and we feel embraced by this community.

3. What can audiences expect from your collaboration with Bill King, Selena Evangeline, Joseph Macerollo, and HOS alumni?

An evening of pure fun! We’ve gathered some amazing musical forces to celebrate, collaborate and support our vision of a new home. Inspired by the surrounding beauty of the Haliburton Highlands, HOS will feature a cross section of entertainment including the best of opera, pop, jazz, R&B, a tongue-in-cheek accordion/tuba duo, and brass fanfares, all hosted by acclaimed figure-skater and TV personality, Kurt Browning.

I will be joined by jazz piano legend, radio personality, and founder of the Beaches Jazz Festival, Bill King, along with Jazz/R&B sensation, vocalist Selena Evangeline, legendary accordionist Joseph Macerollo, members of the COC Orchestra Brass, and participants of the 2015 Highlands Opera Studio.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. on August 8, with a pre-reception at 6 p.m. that includes free beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres. Tickets can be purchased here, and more information is available at

HOS General Director Valerie Kuinka with tenor Robert Clark.

4. Why did you start Highlands Opera Studio? How has it developed over the past 8 seasons?

As a young singer I participated in various summer programs, including Opera Piccola in Victoria, B.C. I wanted to establish a similar program in the scenic Haliburton Highlands. I fell in love with the area and bought a place on Mountain Lake. While the Highlands Summer Festival existed, there was no opera component, and Val and I knew this was the place to introduce another aspect of the arts.

What started as a three-week professional training program for six young performers has now grown to six weeks with 24 participants. It is the only program of which I’m aware where it is absolutely free to those enrolled. Our performers have access to the best coaches, teachers, agents, and consultants that this business offers.

Justin Welsh and Sarah Vardy in Highlands Opera Studio’s production of Tosca, 2014.

5. The Vinedressers seems like a really organic work to perform in Haliburton. Why did you choose this piece?

Tobin Stokes’ opera seemed the perfect choice for us. It not only embraces the “green” feel of our surroundings, but it is also an Ontario-based story that has its roots in the first winery on Pelee Island. I collaborated with Tobin on his opera Rattenbury and loved his music. His ability to breathe life into Canadiana is wonderful, creative and tangible. His music is beautiful and I think Tobin is a shining light among Canadian composers. We look forward to introducing his work to our audience.



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