Opera For All: Opera Mariposa Takes To The Stage To Promote Inclusion And Giving

Opera Mariposa's Jacqueline Ko, with elaborate white and black makeup, crouches during a performance

Opera Mariposa's Jacqueline Ko performs in Dido and Aeneas (Stephanie Ko)

By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability

Canada's only opera company run entirely by persons with disabilities, Opera Mariposa --which is Spanish for butterfly--uses opera to promote inclusion and support charities working for change.

Until June 1st, you can join them online for music, videos, shopping and prizes in support of the ME|FM Society of BC. Over $3,500.00 in prizes is available, including a post-pandemic vacation.

Spencer van Vloten talked with Jacqueline, Stephanie, and Robin of Opera Mariposa about how they got started, their biggest inspiration, and most memorable performances.


Spencer: How did you get started in opera, and where did the idea for Opera Mariposa come from? Jacqueline: I started taking voice lessons when I was ten, and my first singing teacher was an opera singer. We discovered I had a singing range that was naturally suited to operatic repertoire - I got introduced to some great music, found out how much fun it was to sing high notes, and I was hooked! Opera Mariposa itself came about because of a few different factors. I made my operatic role debut when I was sixteen. Around that time I also started working backstage with other companies, as well as producing indie shows with Robin and Stephanie.

I found I really enjoyed the creative aspects of bringing a show to life; at the same time though, I discovered the opera world has a lot of barriers for a disabled and chronically ill performer like me.

I discovered the opera world has a lot of barriers for a disabled and chronically ill performer like me

I mean, I was very lucky to receive all the opportunities I did, and the directors and companies I worked with were terrific. It's more that the traditional opera ecosystem isn't really set up with a variety of access needs in mind.

For example, rehearsal schedules can be very dense, with some productions rehearsing nearly all day, every day. That just isn't doable for me, so I'd have to be incredibly selective about what projects I even auditioned for. Basically, we wanted to keep creating more shows, but we also wanted to make a space that was more accessible from the ground up. We launched Opera Mariposa when I was twenty, and we’ve never looked back.

Spencer: What type of disabilities do the performers you work with have? Stephanie: Opera Mariposa works with both disabled and non-disabled artists - our philosophy is that opera is for everyone.

We happen to be entirely disability-led and run, but that came about organically; we didn't quite realize it, until one day, someone said to us, "Do you know, you're the only entirely disability-run opera company in Canada?"

I guess it's basically a case of, "If you build it, they will come" - in this instance, if you welcome a variety of access needs, then you'll bring in other people who share those values.

Stephanie Ko of Opera Mariposa smiles for the camera while wearing a green dress

Stephanie Ko is Opera Mariposa's general manager (Diamond's Edge Photography)

We've worked with people who identify in many ways: as disabled, chronically ill, neurodiverse, low vision, mobility aid users and more.