Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Alexander Gray 1929-1998

Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Alexander Gray 1929-1998

Article excerpt

THE FOOTHILLS OF THE ROCKIES WERE ALIVE WITH the sound of music when Quebec-born baritone and opera soloist Alexander Gray decided to make his home in Calgary in 1971. At the relatively new University of Calgary, the ebullient Chicago-born composer Richard Johnston was creating a musical centre where talented musicians could compose and perform, as he put it, "in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies." Up the road in the Rockies themselves, the Banff Festival of the Arts was emerging as a small event with great expectations.

Gray, who had been one of Johnston's students at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto during the 1950s, was 42 years old and at the height of his musical powers when he arrived in Calgary. He had been singing lead roles with the Canadian Opera Company for 16 years--Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Marcello in La Boheme and Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, to name a few--and had just completed a two-year stint as principal baritone with the Kiel State Opera in Germany. With his wife Joyce Hill, formerly a dancer with the National Ballet, and their three sons, Gray came to Calgary at Johnston's invitation to take up a temporary, Canada Council-funded position as resident musician at U of C.

Gray gave his first Calgary recital a few weeks after his arrival. Local reviewers were ecstatic. "The only apt description could be spellbinding," wrote Bill Musselwhite in the Calgary Herald. "If any University of Calgary official lets Alexander Gray leave the university, he deserves to be certified incompetent." As it turned out, Gray didn't leave. He remained at the university for the next 23 years, teaching in the faculty of music. He also spent a dozen years as head of the opera division at what was then the Banff School of Fine Arts--today the Banff Centre--teaching and staging musicals, and he maintained a full date book of guest singing engagements with opera companies across North America and abroad.

Additionally, in May 1972 he became the founding artistic director of Calgary Opera, then called the Southern Alberta Opera Association. Gray was appointed in May, a month after the Association was incorporated by a group of Calgary businessmen and music-lovers. Gray's first production for the fledgling company, La Boheme, was staged in March 1973.

Gray used his talent in many ways. …

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