Highlands Opera Studio


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“Without a doubt, [Highlands Opera Studio attracts] the absolute highest standard of emerging operatic professional. I thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone and look forward to returning annually.”

– John Fisher, Director of Music Administration/Master Vocal Coach
Metropolitan Opera, NYC (Recently retired)


Richard Margison and Valerie Kuinka speak about the Highlands Opera Studio summer program, with glimpses of teaching and coaching segments, including international tenor and master voice teacher, Richard Margison O.C.,  John Fisher, Director of Music Administration, Metropolitan Opera/Master Vocal Coach; Anthony Manoli, Master Vocal Coach (Coach and Concert Collaborator with soprano, Radvanovsky). Video created by Brenden Friesen.

Highlands Opera Studio 2021 will take place online through Zoom, from Monday, July 5th to Friday, July 30th. Activities will take place 4-6 hours/day, Monday to Friday, divided between individual coaching sessions and group seminars.

The 20-25 emerging professionals accepted to the 2021 Professional Program will work closely with an equal number of Professional Consultants & Staff from around the world both individually and in a group context. (2021 Professional Consultants will be confirmed as available.)

Group seminars will take place approximately four times each week. These will involve all participants and focus on personal and professional reflection and growth, systemic racism in opera, emotional health, community, shared experiences, adaptability, and vision for the future. The priority will be on positivity, clarifying and realigning personal career goals, building skills, and looking toward making positive change through opera.

The areas covered in individual sessions will include the following:

  • Voice/Vocal Coaching
  • Dramatic/intent & audition deportment
  • Repertoire Study: Musical Style & Character Development
  • German Art Song: Diction & Cultural Context
  • Lyric Diction (all languages)
  • Repertoire/career consultation – auditions, coping with fach (voice) change
  • Career planning/strategies – coping with extended work stoppage
  • Life Coaching – time-management, supporting emotional health, etc.
  • Financial Management for performing artists – preparing your tax return

The areas covered in group discussion/seminars will include the following:

  • Systemic Racism in Opera: Realities & Strategies for Change – hosted by members of the Highlands Opera Racial Equity Advisory Council (HOREAC)
  • 'In Conversation with...' - multiple visiting Professional Consultants from all aspects of the industry (Artist Agents, General Directors, international Artists, etc.) offer insights into the current professional world from their perspective – always followed by an open Q&A
  • Life Coaching – Introduction + weekly break-out small group sessions
  • Financial Planning & Money Management for performing artists
  • How to Find an Agent/How to Approach a Potential Employer
  • Musical Style: eg. Approaching Bel Canto

Audition registration for the 2021 program is now CLOSED.


'Highlands Opera Studio's providing 4 weeks of free online sessions proved an invaluable resource to young professional artists who are emotionally, mentally, artistically and financially compromised due to the pandemic. Having daily sessions with esteemed coaches and artists helped keep us all motivated and engaged, and Q&A sessions with people in the industry such as Sondra Radvanovksy and Christine Goerke and top managers and opera house directors helped us stay optimistic and energized regarding the future of our art form. I felt my skills improve tremendously as I coached arias and art songs with the program’s international faculty, and reached a new level of artistry and adaptability that will serve me moving forward into our new operatic world. I also found renewal in the connective aspect of seeing my colleagues every day during the program, as well as improved holistic and financial wellness in our life coaching and financial seminars. I could not be more grateful to Highlands Opera for supporting young artists and providing this lifeline during these unprecedented times.'

'As the news started rolling out in March, Valerie and Richard kept us updated on their plans and as to how they would be moving forward with this year’s festival. I can happily report that their plan to move the training online was a success! For a 4 week period we engaged with coaches, voice teachers and opera agents for feedback in private sessions. We also welcomed singers, general directors and financial advisors for group conversation sessions. Hearing from these professionals and being able to ask them questions reassured me that despite the current global pandemic, everyone in our industry is moving forward with new projects and exploring alternative avenues for artistic programming, planning and community outreach.

For me this program was marked with excellent coaching sessions and lessons that made me return to a truer, healthier and more honest approach to my singing. At the end of the 4 week period, I found myself in a much stronger place in regards to the technical aspects of my singing. It is truly mind blowing that despite all the activities taking place online this program did not lose a drop of quality, if anything it allowed for more focused work considering that the participants and coaches spanned 9 time zones! I do hope that we find ourselves together and safely get to rehearse and collaborate in person but this experience has shown that with creativity and foresight HOS was able to overcome this problem and bring everyone together even remotely.'

'For years now, I have heard amazing things from colleagues about their experiences spending summers in Haliburton studying and performing with Highlands Opera Studio. The Faculty, the Staff and the program have always been set to a very high reputation and so I was extremely excited and honoured to be able to join them this summer as a participant. Due to Covid-19, Highlands Opera Studio quickly worked on finding the safest way to continue this [past] summer and made the decision to adapt the 2020 season into online training to keep all participants and staff safe and still supported during these challenging times for the arts, with a commitment to re-invite the participants back for the 2021 season. The Highlands Opera Studio experience was one of extremely high artistic quality and musical experience. We had 4 weeks filled with one-on-one lessons and coaching, as well as weekly group meetings, and. one of my favourites, the daily 'in conversations' with a wide array of guest consultants from all over the industry. These opportunities created the perfect platform to allow a direct and open space to connect and ask highly specific questions. Everyday throughout the program I left having learned something new, filled with inspiration towards my personal goals, and hope for the future of our art form and industry. Through HOS I was able to connect and work with some of the most amazing professionals who were extremely helpful in providing phenomenal feedback and sharing their vast knowledge of artistic skill.'

'Highlands Opera Studio has been one of the most positive and formative experiences I have had since I began studying opera. Valerie and Richard are able to connect participants with some of the best conductors, teachers, and coaches in the world, giving singers the ability to see incredible improvement over several weeks. Even though the pandemic prevented the participants from working with these mentors in person in 2020, we were still able to have an incredible experience as we were able to work with Highlands’ entire team, with some additional guest faculty, online which was extremely successful.
I am so thankful that I have been able to train at Highlands Opera Studio for the past two seasons. It has had a tremendous effect on my vocal technique, musicality, and performance skills. It is the perfect program to help aspiring professional singers transition into having an operatic career.'


Highlands Opera Studio was established in 2007 by internationally acclaimed Canadian tenor, Richard Margison, and former Metropolitan Opera stage director, Valerie Kuinka, as a professional training program and performing arts organization to help young, highly qualified, emerging professional singers make the transition from University-level training, to the professional world of opera, both on the national and international level.

Operating 2 1/2 hours north of the GTA in the town of Haliburton, in the heart of the Haliburton Highlands, HOS has grown from a 3-week summer session in 2007, to a 5-week intensive summer program, providing advanced professional training, highly specialized coaching, and international networking opportunities through visiting opera professionals (vocal teachers/coaches, conductors, directors, agents, etc.), along with performance experience through several concerts, public masterclasses, and 2 fully-staged operas.

Richard and Valerie have always felt that these young accomplished artists, who are selected through competitive audition from across Canada, should no longer be expected to pay for an advanced training summer program. Therefore, the program, including accommodation, is offered free of charge to Canadians. The cost to HOS of this sponsorship is approximately $15,000 per participant for the 5-6 week period. Every year approximately 20-25 participants are chosen (22 singers, and one collaborative pianist this year), which means fundraising is a big part of Richard's and Valerie's year round activities.

The program provides 6 hours of professional training a day, 6 days a week, including private coaching, masterclasses, auditions, seminars on related topics ('Finding an Agent', 'Financial Planning', etc.), and staging/music rehearsals. Accommodation and lunches are provided. Other meals are the responsibility of the participant.

Except for a modest one time administration fee of $400 [2021 administration fee waived], ALL SUCCESSFUL CANADIAN PARTICIPANTS ATTEND THE 5-WEEK PROGRAM FREE OF CHARGE. This covers ALL TUITION, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & AUDITION OPPORTUNITIES, ACCOMMODATION, & 2 MEALS PER DAY, 6 days a week.



(role study/small role/cover principal roles)
Age 19 – 23

(cast in principal role)
No age limit

(pre-approved private project, role study, competition/audition tour preparation, etc.)
No age limit



In Valerie's words:

"We have been embraced by the community of the Haliburton Highlands. Although our theatre is small (225 seats) and we present with piano only, we have witnessed audience members moved to tears by the sheer beauty and power of the human voice and the intimacy of the vocal and dramatic experience. Being situated where we are, we are bringing the art form, vocal excellence and awareness, and the young artists themselves, to a rural region well outside the GTA, providing a level of enrichment to the local residents that was previously unknown. However, with our reputation growing rapidly outside the region for providing not only the highest level of professional development for our participants, but also an unparalleled audience experience of intimate interactive opera at the highest level, we feel we are offering something truly unique, and exciting."

In Richard's words:

"Our long range goals include bringing more people to our performances, and to the beautiful region of Haliburton County. Although one of the primary vacation and summer leisure destinations in Ontario, many people are surprised to learn that Haliburton County is the most economically depressed county in Ontario. We want to help by building on our growing reputation as a place to experience the best young voices Canada has to offer in an intimate, interactive performance environment unlike anywhere else, and feature and promote the beauty and resources that the region has to offer."

The majority of our financial support comes from both the private and government sectors, with our biggest supporter being BMO Financial Group.

Highlands Opera Theatre (producers of Highlands Opera Studio) is a registered charity.