Manitoba Opera

50th Anniversary Stories: The Kozub Sisters

May 30, 2023

Tusia Kozub, Karin Woods, and Koren Kaminski are three sisters whose involvement with Manitoba Opera spans decades. On some performance nights, you might have seen Tusia working as assistant stage manager, stage left, Koren as the assistant stage manager holding down stage right, and Karin on stage singing in the chorus.  

For the sisters, working with Manitoba Opera was often a family affair. Koren and Tusia would scour the city for props, fortunately, Tusia had a station wagon! For one production, they even ended up using their father’s steamer trunk in the opening scene. Koren, who was sitting with their parents on Opening Night, recalls their mom loudly exclaiming “Father’s trunk!” when the curtain went up. 

The sisters grew up in a deeply musical family, with parents who loved singing, were devoted to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, and emphasized the value of musical education for all five of their children. “We were really exposed to music in a way many other kids were not,” Koren says.  

Honour Roll members (l to r) sisters Tusia Kozub, Koren Kaminski, and Karin Woods seen here with Judith Chambers, Chair, Board of Trustees and Larry Desrochers, General Director & CEO at the 50th Season Anniversary Honour Roll reception and concert February 25, 2023.


The family ran a grocery store – aptly named Kozy Korner – at the corner of Osborne and Jubilee and lived in the back. Customers would sometimes comment on how much they liked hearing the kids singing or practicing piano (or cello or violin or viola).  

Music even made its way into the siblings’ playtime, Koren remembers. “We used to have this game: You knocked out the rhythm of a song on the wall and the others had to guess what song you were knocking out.” 

All five siblings took music lessons and participated in various Winnipeg orchestras and choirs (including the memorably named Good Deed Choir.) They competed together in the Winnipeg Music Festival in the 1950s, entering the “family class” in both instrumental and vocal categories. One year, Koren relates, they performed “Land of the Silver Birch,” and a friend who worked at Tredwell’s Music Centre told her there were lineups outside the store the following day to get the sheet music for that song. 

Tusia was the first of the sisters to work for Manitoba Opera. “I guess they were asking around for someone who could work as an assistant stage manager and read music, and somebody spoke to Robert Irwin, who was a professor at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Music and a very well-known musician and educator,” she recalls.  

“And this was the greatest compliment I ever received. Robert told them, ‘You should phone Tusia Kozub. She could read music through a brick wall.’” 

After Tusia started backstage, she brought Koren along. Tusia recalls juggling a lot of small, but crucial tasks, like making sure no one made it on stage chewing gum or wearing a big shiny watch or eyeglasses. Koren remembers high-pressure performance nights cut with laughing and jokes such as when singers pranked each other with a fresh fish instead of a fake one for a scene on closing night of La Bohème.  

Karin, meanwhile, had been singing with the Festival Opera Group (FOG) at the time Manitoba Opera was being formed. Although she had no plans to audition, unbeknownst to her, the FOG director’s daughter had sent in an audition form for Karin. An audition for Artistic Director Irving Guttman promptly led to her being in the chorus for the first staged production of Madama Butterfly. The FOG members formed the nucleus of the MO Chorus for those first few seasons.

“I ended up staying about 20 years, on and off,” Karin relates. “You’re part of a little community, and you have to blend with each other and make a beautiful sound. When you’re singing those big Verdi choruses―it’s the most wonderful feeling.” 

For Karin, her favourite opera was always the one she was singing in.  

Karin also worked with the Manitoba Opera Guild and came up with the fundraising idea of running a boutique, while also holding down a full-time job as an assistant branch manager at the Bank of Montreal, and later as a department head at Great-West Life. She remembers getting up at 5:45 a.m. after performance nights to get her daughter to daycare before work and admits to feeling “a little bit exhausted.”  

Tusia’s day jobs were musical. Along with gigs as a singer and work in theatre as a pianist and musical director, she teamed with two other Kozub siblings, Annis and Ilena, recording jingles for local radio and TV for 15 years. They also did two CBC recordings and live shows as a vocal jazz trio. 

Koren was working as a lawyer and raising a young family.  As Koren says: “We were very busy. Looking back, I’m not sure how we fitted it all in.” 

The sisters’ shared commitment to Manitoba Opera was partly rooted in the music. As Tusia suggests, “I know why a handful of Winnipeggers started the Manitoba Opera and why all those volunteers – chorus, supers, Guild members- gave so much of their time and energy to the Opera.  It was simply the love of the art form. This new, wonderful arts organization – how could you not want to be part of that if you loved opera? 

“As for me, the very best part of working for Manitoba Opera was standing backstage left, just a few feet away from the wonderful WSO and some of the best singers I will ever hear, playing and singing some of the greatest music ever written.” 

Music may have been the impetus for the sisters’ association with Manitoba Opera, but as Karin suggests, there was also a sense of shared dedication, hard work, and fun that made their colleagues and fellow musicians feel like extended family.  

“I was six months pregnant during a production of The Flying Dutchman, an opera that involves performers knitting onstage,” she explains. “Unbeknownst to me, after all the rehearsals and performances, they took all the pieces that everyone had knit and put them together into a blanket for my future child’s crib.”  

As Karin says: “It was more than singing. It was also camaraderie and friendship.” 


Banner Photo: (l to r) Tusia Kozub, Karl Schaible, Hair/Wig Designer, Lary Benson, Alice Wiebe, Makeup Designer, and Koren Kaminski backstage. 

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