Manitoba Opera endowment fund awarded $1.75 million – Winnipeg Free Press

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Manitoba Opera received its largest financial donation to date, a $1 million contribution from Gail Asper to the local institution’s endowment campaign.

At the morning reception at Centennial Concert Hall on Oct. 11, Asper — the local philanthropist who sang in nine of the opera company’s productions as a chorus member — called the donation “very personal,” mentioning her late mother, Babs, whom she called a strong supporter of local arts and culture.

“A thriving arts sector is at the heart of any city, and Winnipeg is fortunate to have a professional opera company,” said Asper, who led the development of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and serves as president and administrator of the Asper Foundation. “I mean, Ottawa hasn’t had a thriving opera company for many, many years, so I’ve always been very grateful that we have that.”

The $1 million contribution to the endowment campaign was announced by Manitoba Opera General Manager and CEO Larry Desrochers, along with three financial donations of $250,000 each from Phil and Ilse Ens, Tannis Richardson and BMO Financial Group, which is a corporate sponsor for the upcoming season. The overall goal of the campaign, titled The Power of Voice, is $10 million; to date, $3,146,564 has been raised.

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The money will lead to the long-term sustainability of the business, said Larry Desrochers.

Not far from the podium was a giant novelty check detailing the day’s pledges.

This money will lead to the long-term sustainability of the business, Desrochers said, as it will accrue interest and grow through investments, paying the organization $500,000 a year once the goal is met.

When you consider the opera house’s annual operating budget, which currently sits at just over $2.5 million, it becomes clear how important those endowment funds are, Desrochers said. All “donations” made to the endowment fund will also be matched through federal programs and the Winnipeg Foundation.

He called it a “predictable revenue stream” which, for an arts organization emerging from the darkest financial period of its 50-year history, is particularly valuable.

“It’s hugely important, but the planning for this happened long before the pandemic hit,” Desrochers said. “The pandemic has created a setback in the progress of the campaign, obviously, but it’s extremely important to create some sustainability so that the organization can weather the ups and downs that are going to come our way.”

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“We seem to have opera stars hiding in every corner of this province,” said Gail Asper.

A minor fall occurred on Tuesday morning when Monica Huisman, who was scheduled to sing at the reception, called in sick before the event. This put Desrochers in a temporary bind, until he looked out the window and saw executive assistant Kyle Briscoe.

More than an office worker, Briscoe is no slouch singer, having recently earned a degree in vocal performance from the University of Manitoba. Briscoe quickly prepared a solo to entertain the guests, choosing Una Fortiva Lagrima (a furtive tear) of The elisir of love by Gaetano Donizetti.

Briscoe, a tenor, called it a “song of hope” shortly before starting his performance, accompanied by Laura Loewen on piano.

Desrochers joked that Briscoe would sing at all future staff luncheons, while Asper was particularly impressed with his performance, saying developing artists like him is exactly what the endowment fund will support.

“We seem to have opera stars lurking all over this province,” said Asper, who wore a scarf decorated with musical notes.

Asper praised the benefits of endowment funds and encouraged others to consider supporting the fund.

“I hope my donation will inspire others to join the campaign. I hope everyone who also loves opera will make a pledge, which can be paid out over several years,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be $1 million or $250,000,” she said. “A thousand gifts of $1,000 becomes $1 million – my calculations may be wrong – but then it could be $2 million. It doesn’t have to be those big, big gifts. Every gift really matters,” she said.

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Ben Waldman
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