Tenor Richard Margison sings with folk hero Bruce Cockburn
Documentary reunites opera star and folk music

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23 January 2010 -

World famous Victoria tenor Richard Margison didn't always hum tunes from Il Trovatore or dream of performing at the Met.

As a young man he sang in Victoria's coffee houses and small smoky clubs, performed in his own rock band and preferred Gordon Lightfoot to Verdi or Puccini.

A film about those early days and the emerging talent, which took him to the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden, Barcelona and Sydney Opera House, will be featured at 5 p.m. tomorrow on Bravo television. The hour-long film, The Folk-Singing Opera Star, is directed by local filmmaker Michael Maitland.

"I did some research on Richard and found his story fascinating ... his birth mother came from a very musical family, and when she gave him up she insisted Richard be placed in another musical family. He comes from a tremendous multi-generational musical gene pool," said Maitland.

Viewers will learn about Margison's folk-singing roots, hear a musical collaboration with Bruce Cockburn taped at Margison's cottage and listen to interviews with his beloved voice coach Selena James.

"Richard is such a great guy," said Maitland. "He's constantly on the road and performing in leading opera houses, but so well grounded and easy going. What really comes through in the film are his insights into the creative process, what motivates him. He was born with this incredible gift, but also talks about the responsibility of embracing and sharing it."

Maitland admits he was "blown away" by the international star's thundering volume and explosive high notes. "Filming about 10 feet away from him at the Victoria Conservatory of Music was just incredible. What an impact. His power is phenomenal."

Reached at his home in Toronto this week Margison chuckled about that, and noted an opera singer trains his vocal chords like a marathoner trains his body. "We may not look like athletes, but the devotion and practice and training we go through is gruelling. And a performance is incredibly athletic.

"It takes years and years of discipline to build up a support system in your body ... later you spend a lot of time with languages and memorizing. It's a life journey of self discovery."

Margison is performing with Metropolitan, Vancouver and Cincinnati operas this year, and is also passing on his knowledge through an opera studio course at his cottage in the Haliburton Highlands ( on the southern tip of Algonquin Park.

He last performed with Pacific Opera Victoria in 1998, when he donated his performances as Riccardo for a summer run of Verdi's A Masked Ball.

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist. By Grania Litwin, Times Colonist January 23, 2010.

Airing on BRAVO on January 24, 2010 - You can purchase the DVD or Download here. More info at


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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.