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7 reasons 2016 has been huge for conductor Jordan de Souza

Robert Rowat

Conductor Jordan de Souza may only be 28, but he has already been a presence on the classical music scene for a decade here in Canada, and now in Europe, too.

De Souza came to conducting by way of church music. Born in Toronto, he's a graduate of St. Michael's Choir School. He then studied organ performance at McGill University's Schulich School of Music and was still a teenager when he was hired as conductor at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal, a position he held until 2015.

While he's an accomplished harpsichordist and pianist, in addition to a choral and symphonic conductor, it's opera that has captured his attention now. (That is, when he's not glued to the TV cheering on the Toronto Raptors.) He's been working as a vocal coach for a number of years, and has lately been taking the podium for mainstage opera productions.

De Souza seems to move from success to success, with each year bringing new accolades and exploits. We recently caught up with him in Montreal to find out why 2016 has been his best year yet.

1. He moved to Europe

The relative abundance of work in major European cities is a big draw for classical musicians in North America, so when de Souza was appointed Studienleiter (head of music staff) at Komische Oper Berlin he seized the opportunity to relocate. "My wife Jana and I delight in our new home base of Berlin, a ripe cultural European capital, and will be there for the foreseeable future (until at least 2019)," he told us, adding, "fortunately there are plans to be back in North America for projects from time to time."

2. He made his mainstage debut at the Canadian Opera Company

In February, after playing continuo for the recitatives in the pit for the first nine performances, de Souza took the podium at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for the first time to lead two performances of the Canadian Opera Company's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. "Growing up in Toronto, the COC Orchestra was my first exposure to opera and live performance so it was a thrill to be able to present Figaro with them from my musical perspective." Onstage were Josef Wagner (Figaro), Russell Braun (Count), Jane Archibald (Susanna), Erin Wall (Countess) and Emily Fons (Cherubino.) "Another cast of preeminent Canadians from whom I learned a great deal," he reflects, "and a reminder that Mozart and Bach were tapped into something elemental."

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company's February 2016 production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro starring Erin Wall (left), Jane Archibald (centre) and Josef Wagner (right).

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company's February 2016 production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro starring (left to right) Erin Wall, Jane Archibald and Josef Wagner. (Michael Cooper)

3. Tapestry Opera invited him back for another world premiere

"I really believe in the work that Tapestry Opera is doing," says de Souza of Toronto's contemporary opera company. In May and June, he was music director for Rocking Horse Winner, an opera by Gareth Williams on a libretto by Anna Chatterton, presented by Tapestry Opera at Berkeley Street Theatre. It's the second production de Souza has directed with the company. "Finding a voice for contemporary opera is of paramount importance. Regietheater is attempting to inspire that with the traditional repertoire; Tapestry is attending to the idea that, in order to create a new story with depth that resonates with people today, entirely new works should be created and composers and librettists alive today should have the opportunity to grow (and grow through) thoughtful musico-dramatic live performances."

4. He was named Kapellmeister at the Komische Oper Berlin

Not long into his term as Studienleiter with the Komische Oper Berlin (see 1, above), de Souza was named the company's Kapellmeister. As Kapellmeister, he will be responsible for preparing a number of revivals, in addition to a new production and a symphony program. "KOB is a fantastic opera house and the chance to gain great experience in their orchestra pit is a privilege. I admire the orchestra, ensemble, and our fearless leader Barrie Kosky very much and am glad to see my role at KOB evolve."

5. He signed some major conducting contracts with the Vienna Symphony at the Bregenz Festival

The Vienna Symphony Orchestra has been the orchestra in residence at the Bregenz Festival since 1946 for its annual program of opera and symphonic concerts. De Souza will make his debut at the festival next summer (Bizet's Carmen) and has signed on for the 2018 festival, too. "Bregenz is a special place and a great summer home to the great Wiener Symphoniker (Vienna Symphony)," he says. "The festival is exceptionally well run and Carmen is one of those operas that can never come around too often! And there's lots of good ice cream, biking, and swimming."

The Bregenz Festival presents opera on a visually stunning floating stage.

The Bregenz Festival presents its opera productions on a visually stunning floating stage. (Karl Forster)

6. He's making his mainstage debut at l'Opéra de Montréal

This month, he's back in Montreal for his mainstage debut with Opéra de Montréal. "Montreal is my adopted home, having lived here from 2006-2015," de Souza reminds us. "I couldn't imagine a better way to return than to lead Mozart's supreme chef d'oeuvre, Don Giovanni, with a cast of consummate Canadian singers who are hungry to breathe new life into the piece!" Opéra de Montréal presents four performances of Don Giovanni, starting Nov. 12. The cast includes Gordon Bintner (Don Giovanni), Emily Dorn (Donna Anna), Jean-Michel Richer (Don Ottavio), Layla Claire (Donna Elvira) and Hélène Guilmette (Zerlina); the production is directed by David Lefkowich.

Conductor Jordan de Souza (left) looks on as director David Lefkowich addresses the cast of Opéra de Montréal's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Conductor Jordan de Souza (left) looks on at a rehearsal as director David Lefkowich addresses the cast of Opéra de Montréal's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. (Supplied by l'Opéra de Montréal)

7. He learned he's going to become a father

Married in 2015, de Souza and his wife, soprano Jana Miller, recently announced they're expecting a baby. The due date is Dec. 25. "Family is everything," says de Souza. "Our baby will be born in Berlin, a wonderful city for a young family!"

Jordan de Souza and Jana Miller pose for a selfie while on holiday in Venice in 2016.

Jordan de Souza and Jana Miller pose for a selfie while on holiday in Venice in August 2016. (Jana Miller/Instagram)

De Souza conducts four performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni with l'Opéra de Montréal beginning Saturday, Nov. 12. Details here.

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