By: Suzanne Boles, Special to Western Communications
Michael Cavanagh, part-time lecturer at Western’s Don Wright Faculty of Music, has been appointed artistic director of the Royal Swedish Opera.
The prolific Canadian opera director, who teaches Acting for Singers and directs a fully staged production each year at Western, starts his five-year appointment next summer.
“It’s an incredible new chapter, and quite honestly I never expected to get here,” Cavanagh said in an interview with CBC News. “I’m a storyteller, I’m a director, and I do some writing and I love to take on these classic operas and give them my own twist and also create new ones.”
Originally from Winnipeg, Cavanagh started his career singing but found himself drawn to directing. He praises the late Irving Guttman, known as the father of Western Canadian opera, for taking him under his wing as a protégé when he began directing on main stages.
While serving as artistic director of the Edmonton Opera, Cavanagh directed multiple productions there and throughout Canada, including at Vancouver Opera, Manitoba Opera, Opéra de Montréal, and Calgary Opera.
In total he has directed more than 150 productions at companies across Canada, Europe and the United States, including the Opera Philadelphia, Boston Lyric Opera, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Austin Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Minnesota Opera.
Renowned for his production of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte in 2019, Cavanagh also won recognition for John Adams’s Nixon in China in Vancouver, where it was staged to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. That production took him to Stockholm as a guest director in 2016. The Royal Swedish Opera then bought the production and invited him back in 2018 to direct Verdi’s Aida.
Birgitta Svendén, the current artistic director and CEO of the Royal Swedish Opera, will remain on the artistic end while Cavanagh takes on the administrative side of the job for the first year.
“I’m looking forward to being immersed in not just the Scandinavian and Swedish culture, but the whole European sensibility and how rich and vibrant and energized it is,” said Cavanagh, who is taking Swedish language courses. Learning Swedish is not a requirement for the job because English is everybody’s second language there, he said. “But the fact that I have made the commitment [means] I’m going to learn Swedish.”
Cavanagh’s wife, Jackalyn Short, is an accomplished singer, voice teacher and lecturer at the Don Wright Faculty of Music. The couple met during a production in Banff, Alta., more than 25 years ago and have lived in London for the last decade. Short will continue working at Western for now, said Cavanagh, and they will have a “two-city, two-country, two-continent lifestyle.”
If the possibility arises, he would love to come back to Western, maybe to teach a master class or help with a production, but can’t commit to anything right now given the scope of his demanding new job, Cavanagh said. He speaks fondly of the Don Wright Faculty of Music and its dean, Betty Anne Younker, as well as faculty professor Theodore Baerg and associate professor Sophie Roland, chair of music performance studies. “They’re terrific and they do a wonderful job. It’s one of the best programs in the country and I think the world of them.”
“This job offer is significant,” said Younker, who praised Cavanagh’s contributions at Western. “His work is impactful. The students gain a considerable amount from his experience, his creativity and his insights. Michael has become a recognized figure in the world of opera, now internationally as well. I call Michael a grounded, impeccable artist.”