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Up-and-coming opera tenor Josh Lovell was a late bloomer

Josh Lovell arrived in Victoria last week to prepare for his first local appearance since 2019, a gala fundraiser for the Victoria Symphony.

In the opera world, when a student is given the opportunity to complete their residency at Lyric Opera of Chicago, the second-largest opera house in the United States behind New York’s Metropolitan Opera, there is no better option available. The wise move is to accept the offer — immediately.

But what if — and it’s a big if — that same student is given a second opportunity, within a similar time frame, to sign a professional contract with the iconic Vienna State Opera, where Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Herbert von Karajan all worked when they were alive?

This is the crossroads where Victoria-raised tenor Josh Lovell, 32, found himself standing six years ago, at the outset of his career. His solution? To schedule a meeting with representatives from Vienna and broker a deal. The bold move by the upstart twenty-something, who was studying to receive his master’s degree from the University of Michigan at the time, was the first of many bravura performances by one of Canada’s operatic stars-in-waiting.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be in Chicago for two years.’ And [reps from Vienna] went, ‘OK, yeah, we can work with that. We’ll just delay everything by one more year.’ And that’s kind of how the story went,” Lovell said with a laugh, acknowledging his chutzpah.

“So I went back to Chicago and said, ‘Guys, I’m really sorry. So this is how this is gonna go…’ and they went, ‘OK, that’s great. Congratulations. Perfect. We’ll just adjust something.’ “

The rollercoaster of activity in recent years is remarkable for a late bloomer such as Lovell, who was not raised on classical music and did not see his first opera until he was 17 years old. He learned quickly, however, and at 18 was on stage with the Victoria Symphony as a featured soloist for Symphony Splash.

It has been a matter of learning on the fly in the 14 years since, he said.

“I had no idea what the expectations were for the world of opera. Not everyone realizes that you have to really go out there, especially as Canadians. I think the biggest problem is that there’s a lot of Canadian singers who don’t really ever get out of the country and they don’t see the rest of the world because the rest of the world when it comes to opera is just so much bigger.”

The Vienna-based Lovell has since appeared at some of the top opera houses in the world, including La Scala in Italy, and will perform this year in Germany, Argentina and France. But Lovell never downplays the role Victoria had on his career. He credits celebrated tenor Benjamin Butterfield, his former teacher at the University of Victoria, with helping him believe a career in music could be a possibility.

“He said, ‘You are going to do OK, you’re going to have a great career. But you need to work so incredibly hard.’ And he was right. I knew I was going places, but I didn’t know that it was going to be like this.”

Lovell arrived in Victoria last week to prepare for his first Victoria appearance since 2019, a gala fundraiser for the Victoria Symphony set for Friday at the Empress Hotel. The gala is matched with an online auction, to raise funds for the orchestra and its associated young artist programs.

He’s happy to be catching up with family and some of his mentors, including Butterfield and Timothy Vernon from Pacific Opera, while he’s here. The Pacific Christian product is nothing if not proud of his roots.

“It was a really crazy adventure going to the United States and then going to Europe, but I always love coming back here,” he said. “Really, there’s nothing like it. There’s a lot of beautiful places in the world. But Victoria is a really, really unique place.”

Victoria carries some national and international weight, in terms of its contributions to the field of opera. In addition to the Butterfield family (which includes Benjamin’s brothers, composer Christopher and singer/conductor Peter), the city is known for being the hometown of Richard Margison, one of Canada’s top tenors. Though many in the opera world draw comparisons between Lovell and Margison, based solely on their shared birthplace, he’s closer in tone and delivery to Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez.

“Being always compared to someone, I think that’s it’s a tough thing. I remember when Luciano Pavarotti died, all the papers were saying ‘Who’s the next Pavarotti? Who’s the next Pavarotti?’ And there’s not going to be one. There’s only one of those. I just hope that I can have a career that is lucky enough to be counted.”

For more information in the Victoria Symphony gala, visit

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