Edward Ananian-Cooper
Photo: Alejandro Lorenzo

Edward Ananian-Cooper: the new chorus master

21 September 2022

Dutch National Opera has a new artistic director for its Chorus. Edward Ananian-Cooper is a young Australian who has extensive experience as a violist, pianist, singer and, of course, as a conductor. Engelbert Humperdinck’s Königskinder is his first production with DNO. Time to get to know Edward a little better.

Author: Bo van der Meulen

First of all, your surname is rather unusual. Edward: “My father’s name is Barry J. Cooper. When he went to the bank, he was one of six Barry J. Coopers, so he decided to officially add my mother’s name to his. That’s how I ended up with my double-barrelled surname.”

The Australian was exposed to music at an early age. “I started playing the violin when I was three. I took up the piano when I was six and I began singing at the age of eight. After secondary school, I felt that I needed to learn an actual profession. I got an engineering degree and worked in IT for some years, but my heart wasn’t in it. I missed music.”

“Because I’d stopped studying my instruments for a time, I had to find out whether I was able to get back to a professional level. That turned out to be quite hard. Also, when I played or sang in an ensemble, I used to get frustrated because I always thought I could do better. That’s when I decided to get a degree in choral and orchestral conducting from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.”

‘I believe in a chorus with free, individual voices.’


Edward eventually ended up as the chorus master of the Limoges Opera in France. What made you decide to apply in Amsterdam? “That’s down to my wife, who’s a singer. She saw the job ad and encouraged me to give it a go. I’d been following the opera house from a distance for some time, but I’d never actually seen a DNO production live. I loved the creative programming, the bold stagings and the extraordinarily high level of musical skill, not only at DNO but in the city of Amsterdam in general and throughout the Netherlands really.”



Edward was given a half-day, i.e. four hours, with the DNO Chorus for his audition. “I was sent sheet music to prepare and it was up to me what I wanted to do in those four hours. Four works were opera repertoire – choral pieces from Otello, Lohengrin, Carmen and Le nozze di Figaro, but there was also a piece of chamber music, the first part of Poulenc’s Un soir de neige. Quite a challenge for an opera chorus.”

“I kicked off the session by saying: let’s enjoy ourselves and work on every detail, every small note. At the end, I felt we could’ve gone on for much longer. Everyone was in the flow.”

“At the start, there was a little bit of talking, but soon enough all the chorus members had found their focus, without me having to assert myself. It was a natural process. I felt more positive energy after every choral piece and during the break, everyone was talking about how they thought it was going of course. After lunch, they all came back into the room with smiles on their faces. I thought to myself: I must have done something right.”

‘The more I contribute to creating a positive environment, the better it is for the music we make together.’


Talking and listening is important to Edward: as a chorus master, you need to be able to explain exactly what a piece is about. “I talk a lot about singing and I demonstrate where I can. To me, the secret to a great choral sound is the unified placement of the vowels, which creates openness. But most of all, I want to emphasise how important listening is. ‘Listen, listen, listen when you sing’, is my motto.”

“Another important factor is people feeling comfortable. The more I contribute to creating a positive environment, the better it is for the music we make together. For a chorus, it’s all about group spirit. I can’t just order around dozens of chorus members. They’re individuals who need to be comfortable in order to flourish. I’m not trying to impose a certain ideal sound either. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe in a chorus with free, individual voices.”

In his first season, Edward will take on a great variety of productions. “From large-scale works such as Verdi’s Messa da Requiem and Turandot with between 80 and 100 singers to Königskinder and bel canto with Maria Stuarda.”

When asked about his dreams, the newly appointed chorus master replies: “Just thinking outside the box, I’d love to perform a Schumann piece with the chorus: Das Paradies und die Peri or Szenen aus Goethes Faust. But I’ve been a fan of Verdi’s since I was a boy, and Rigoletto is on my bucket list.”