Manitoba Opera

Remembering Michael Cavanagh

Remembering Michael Cavanagh

Manitoba Opera acknowledges with great sadness the passing on March 13th of Winnipeg-born and raised stage director, librettist, and dramaturg, Michael Cavanagh at the age of 62.

Michael’s association with Manitoba Opera began in 1974 when, as a 12-year-old, he appeared in the children’s chorus of our production of Tosca – a production that also included Michael’s father, Brian (d. 2005) in the adult chorus. In his twenties, Michael participated as an adult chorister in eight mainstage productions and appeared as RALPH RACKSTRAW (H.M.S. Pinafore) and as FREDERICK (The Pirates of Penzance) in Manitoba Opera’s Opera in the Schools touring productions. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Michael held numerous administrative and production positions with the company including special projects coordinator, assistant stage manager, stage manager, and production manager.

In the 1990s, Michael spent two seasons as Resident Assistant Director at Vancouver Opera under the mentorship of then Artistic Director, Irving Guttman.  Between 1998-2001, Michael served as Artistic Director of Edmonton Opera. Michael made his mainstage directorial debut with Manitoba Opera in 1996 with a production of La Cenerentola.  Over the next 20 years, Michael would go on to direct a total of 12 productions on our mainstage, the last one being Falstaff in the fall of 2016.

On the international stage, Michael directed hundreds of productions for companies across Canada and the U.S., including Opéra de Montréal, Opera Philadelphia, Boston Lyric Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Minnesota Opera. Of special note is Michael’s 2010 production of Nixon in China for Vancouver Opera, which led to remounts for San Francisco Opera (2012), Wide Open Opera in Dublin, Ireland (2014), and the Royal Swedish Opera (2016).  In 2018, Michael was invited back to Stockholm to stage Aida, and in 2021, Michael was appointed Director of Opera for the Royal Swedish Opera, a position he held until shortly before his passing.

As a librettist, Michael wrote and produced seven new chamber operas, including four in partnership with Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel (Gisela in Her Bathtub, City Workers in Love, The Bachelor Farmers of the Apocalypse, and The Master’s Stroke) and one created with composer and Manitoba Opera’s own Assistant Music Director and Chorus Master, Tadeusz Biernacki (Happy Campers). Michael’s two other original operas were created in collaboration with Edmonton- based composer, Jeffrey McCune (Zeus and the Pamplemousse, and The Y2K Black Death Oratorio).

We at Manitoba Opera extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to Michael’s wife Jackalyn and daughter Amelia, his mother Angela, his brother Carl, his sister Christine, as well as Michael’s countless friends and colleagues in Winnipeg, across Canada, the United States, and overseas.