Patrick Hansen: Director of Opera Studies, Schulich School of Music

Patrick Hansen, directing a 2008 Opera McGill rehearsal. “I see productions as the end result of a process.”  / Photo: Adam Scotti
Patrick Hansen, directing an Opera McGill rehearsal in 2008. “I see productions as the end result of a process.” / Photo: Adam Scotti

Patrick Hansen’s six-word opus was recently chosen by the people at DAR and the Campus Community Committee as one of the best recent entries (see Six-Word sidebar below).

By Jim Hynes

Before he came to McGill in 2007, Patrick Hansen worked behind the scenes as the Director of Artistic Administration at the Florida Grand Opera, one of the biggest and oldest opera companies in the U.S. And although being “stuck behind a desk,” as he says, was one of the reasons he went looking for other opportunities, teaching the business side of opera is one of the things he wanted to bring to his new position as the Director of Opera McGill.

“I had never done strictly a desk job,” Hansen said of his time in Florida, “so a few months later I knew that I might have acted too quickly in taking that job. I was giving up conducting, and I was giving up being a collaborative pianist and a coach, and I missed it immensely.”

Hansen, a native of Iowa, soon found his passion for music and teaching rekindled at McGill. But the lessons he learned dealing with budgets and contracts and scouting talent all over the world also made him realize that there was more to a career in opera than having a great voice. And he quickly identified that as something tangible he could bring to his new position.

“As far as the knowledge of the business and making students aware of how to leave McGill to get a job…I thought we could prepare our students better,” Hansen said. “A Bachelor of Music degree in Voice is a wonderful thing. But you really can’t just go out and knock on a door and say ‘hey look, I’ve got a degree, give me a job.’” There’s a whole other aspect to moving forward in a career as a singer. So that’s something I’m actually rather proud of. We have a number of recent grads that are doing quite well, people like Aidan Ferguson” (a mezzo-soprano who graduated last May who will be making her professional debut with L’Opera de Montreal in a few weeks.).

Hansen’s other area of focus when he took over the reins at Opera McGill was in how the Opera McGill course itself was structured.

“Basically I changed the schedule,” he said. “The productions used to be the main focus of the course. But I see productions as the end result of a process, so I changed things to focus on the process and on training the different components of the craft of singing opera. That’s why I’ve broken it down. We focus on acting, on how to audition, we focus on the repertoire part. And then the production rehearsals happen, oddly enough, almost extracurricular. If you are in the baroque opera in November, it’s like being a football player in football season: you go to your classes during the day and your practice at night. So that’s been a complete overhaul.”

That kind of change isn’t really surprising from the man whose musical mission, the Reporter said in 2007, was “to build upon Opera McGill’s already stellar reputation by dragging it – if not kicking and screaming, then certainly slapping, punching and fainting – into the 21st century.”

“We’re still working on the technology part of that,” Hansen says of modernising the Opera. “We are still trying to move forward with the website by making it more interactive. We have some great masterclasses here and I think it would be fantastic if we could connect them to other institutions in North America. And the School of Music itself is actually working very hard to move into high-definition videocasting on the web. And one of the things they’re looking at is the opera, because it’s so colourful. It would be perfect.”

Opera McGill is currently preparing its first production of the year, an updated version of Handel’s Agrippina, which is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its premier in Venice. For more information Opera McGill visit:

Think big in six little words

Name: Patrick Hansen

Position: Associate Professor, Director of Opera Studies

Duties: Stage Director for Opera McGill productions; Vocal Coach Instructor; Administrating, casting, scheduling Opera McGill productions, classes and masterclasses.

Most rewarding part of the job: Working one-on-one with young singers while they are growing as musicians and singing actors!

Six-word story: Erase your Chalkboard. Write the Future.

Genesis of the story: The Tao De Ching’s idea that to become full, you must first let yourself be empty. Young student singers sometimes arrive on campus with pre-conceived ideas in their heads about what classical music means, what an opera singer looks like, etc.  It’s important to stay open and flexible to new ideas.  I find the best way to learn, or for that matter to teach, the creative process is to first erase what’s going on in the head – hard to do in today’s ultra-connective, social networking world.