Canadian Opera Company 2015/16 Season Guess Part Two

Is that your final answer?

With the COC teasing us with photos of the conductors, artists, and directors appearing in the 2015/16 I can safely lock in my 2015/16 season.


Fall: La Traviata & Arabella

Winter: Seigfried & Figaro

Spring: Maometto II & Carmen

And with a little help of John Gilks from OperaRamblings:

The 2016/17 season (a stretch)

Fall: Ariodante & Norma

Winter: Gotterdamerung

Louis Reil fits in somewhere, and a Puccini because they are not going two seasons without that. Maybe Turandot (Bieito production please Mr. Neef). It would also leave room for the Lulu co-pro or Nightingale revival.

2017/18 Season!

Hadrian, Anna Bolena, Parsifal, or would that be separate from the season?

Always fun to hypothesize!


Canadian Opera Company’s 2015/2016 Season Guesses!

The Canadian Opera Company’s 2015/201 season announcement is just over 3 weeks away so it is time for the annual (educated) guessing of what is in store for GTA audiences!

Starring Anita Rachvelishvili and David Pomeroy (most likely)

Anita confirmed Carmen last April and her recent instagram photo with the COC media team is further proof. Hopefully it is a new production as the COC current production is rather colourful but meh. However, to save money, I can see them using the old production with a top tier cast, much like Madama Butterfly this season. Was told the opera will be performed in the 2016 portion of the season.

Maometto II
Starring Elizabeth DeShong, Luca Pisaroni, Bruce Sledge

A Sante Fe co production and a new critical edition by Hans Schellevis that restores the opera as close to the orginal 1820 version as possible. Directed by David Alden, the production was confirmed as “next season” in May to me while in New York City. I can see this being paired with Carmen in the spring.

Starring Chrsitine Goerke

It may be the world’s worst kept “secret” but Goerke is here in Toronto to stay, with Gotterdamerung scheduled for the 2016/17 season (and hopefully a Parsifal in 2017/18). Not sure of casting, but maybe Reuter will return as the Wanderer.

Le Nozze di Figaro

Not a guarantee but Alexander Neef mentioned in the fall’s Prelude magazine that they were completing the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy of operas. Cosi and Don Giovanni were new productions so I expect the same for Figaro, as the current production is dated. No cast has been mentioned, but I can see this being paired with Seigfried in the winter and Russel Braun being attached. I can’t see the COC not having an “early music” offering, and since Ariodante isn’t scheduled until October 2016, bet on Figaro.

Starring Sandra Radvanovsky and not Jamie Barton ūüė¶

Not a guarantee either, but the current San Francisco production of Norma is a LOC/COC co-production and Radvanovsky year’s ago mentioned that Norma would be coming “soon”. She has a busy schedule next year with the MET, introducing her Devereux to New York audiences in the fall before taking on the monumental task of all three Tudor Queens in the spring, so if Norma is happening next season, I would slate it in for opening the COC season. From recent conversations in Chicago, it sounds like the cast is set and ready to go for next year but having two bel canto works in one season isn’t normal COC fare.

La Traviata/Arabella
Starring Erin Wall

I have the least amount of information about these two operas. Traviata is a LOC co-production and is fairly traditional with some steampunk costumes. The Arabella (which I have been told to ‘bet on’ being included) is a Sante Fe co-production that starred Erin Wall, and I know she is slated to sing it in Toronto at some point. Technically both could take place, with Arabella replacing either Norma or Maometto II, but i would bet on the Traviata simply because having no Puccini or Verdi in a season doesn’t fit the current COC model. It would be a steal for Toronto audiences if Michael Volle was in Arabella or Quinn Kelsey in Traviata.


Comment below with your guesses!

Madama Butterfly Review – The Canadian Opera Company

Madama Butterfly. COC 2014, Michael Cooper

Madama Butterfly. COC 2014, Michael Cooper

Last performed in 2009, Puccini‚Äôs Madama Butterfly is one of the ‚ÄėABC‚Äô operas that puts bums in seats. ¬†Sadly there were rows of empty seats at last night‚Äôs opening performance, but I am sure that once word of the incredible singing heard tonight gets out, the remaining tickets will be purchased quickly.

Patricia Racette has been singing Cio-Cio San for quite some time now and one would assume that she would be moving on from the role. Indeed she gave her first performance of Salome at Ravinia earlier this summer and I found myself coming back to that performance time and time again. Her Butterfly is not your average 15-year-old geisha. Here, Racette presents a mature yet graceful girl who appears, through her crazed consumption of Pinkerton’s return, to know that it is all a façade.

While her upper register cannot sustain or reach smoothly into a pianissimo, she passionately mixes a dramatic and lyrical sound into a devastating performance.  Her Un bel di reached Wagnerian heights.  Further kudos go to her stamina for singing straight through acts II and III.

Stefano Secco was a robust Pinkerton with a clarion sound that’s ring did not diminish in his upper register. Pinkerton can be a thankless role that focuses less on lyrical phrasing and more on declamatory passages, the duet that ends act I aside. Secco paced himself and delivered a fine performance throughout. It was a shame then, to see that his acting did not match his vocal prowess. There was very little chemistry between the two lovers during the duet. Racette did the most out of the hand holding but it is difficult to be romantic when standing 5 feet apart.

“Elizabeth DeShong will be remembered as one of the legendary Suzukis of our time”

I have heard Elizabeth DeShong and Dwayne Croft ¬†as Suzuki and Sharpless on 3 separate occasions and I cannot think of 2 better singers for these roles. ¬†Croft is a strong, lyrical singer whose Sharpless clearly understands the moral ramifications of Pinkerton’s actions but stands aside. ¬†His reading of Pinkerton’s letter in act II was an emotional highlight. ¬†DeShong will be remembered as one of the legendary¬†Suzukis of our time. ¬†A resonant low voice that blooms into a flexible upper register, Suzuki is no more servant; she is ever-present of her mistress’ dire situation.

Madama Butterfly. COC 2014, Michael Cooper

Madama Butterfly. COC 2014, Michael Cooper

Julius Ahn’s Goro proved strong voiced, but lacked sleaze in a rather scheming role as the marriage broker. ¬†I was reminded too much of ‘Charlie Brown” in Tarantino’s¬†Kill Bill. ¬†Robert Gleadow, Clarence Frazer, and Karine Boucher sang well in their small roles as the Bonze, Prince Yamadori, and Kate Pinkerton respectively.

Patrick Lange, making his COC debut, deftly conducted the orchestra in a swift pace that drove the music to its tumultuous end. ¬†He drew a warm sound from his musicians sharply contrasted with brassy and accurate staccato, especially during Cio-Cio San’s renunciation. ¬†Special mention to the horns¬†who really brought out the oriental coloring of Puccini’s score. ¬†The orchestra gave Lange a loud ovation after the performance; expect to see him again. ¬†Sandra Horst and the COC chorus once again demonstrated that their singing and humming skills are the best in the business.

If this production has any faults, it is in its rather dated production. ¬†Director Brian Macdonald and set and costume designer Susan Benson set out to create a minimalist space to provide clear focus on the opera’s characters. ¬†While attractive in the 1990s, the production has lost much of its gleam, covered in pastel corals and oranges and a carpet that looks like it belongs in an old office building. ¬†How ironic that Pinkerton mentions to Goro that his newly leased house could blow away at any moment! ¬† Further, the lack of stylized movements from the¬†actors stood out against¬†the space they were provided. ¬†Lighting by Michael Whitfield created gorgeous transitions between night and day, particularly in between acts II and III.

Madama Butterfly continues until October 31st, with alternate casts.

Final Thoughts

  • I cannot wait to hear Elizabeth DeShong partner with Luca Pisaroni in a new critical edition of a rare opera in the next few seasons.
  • Almost all productions of Butterfly are now done in a minimalist style. ¬†Can you imagine a Teen Mom Butterfly, a trailer park Butterfly, or perhaps even an insane Butterfly whose child doesn’t actually exist? ¬†Where are those productions!?

And So It Begins: The 2014/15 Season

And so it begins! ¬†I have sporadically blogged over the last two years and haven’t been able to stick to it. ¬†I find searching for the balance between a ‘professional’ writing style and writing a simple fun blog rather difficult. However, over the summer at Caramoor, I happened to share a cab with a professional critic and it inspired me to write again. ¬†We had a wonderful evening discussing a range of operatic topics; including the MET’s recent decision to cancel all transmissions¬†of John Adams’¬†The Death of Klinghoffer¬†and the growing antisemitism in Europe to¬†the strikes that disrupted performances at the¬†Aix-en-Provence festival. ¬†Unbelievable that this was one of the first times I had been able to discuss opera at the opera!

Dylan Hayden/2014

Dylan Hayden/2014

Currently, this season features 41 performances in Canada, the US, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway. ¬†I thought last year’s 50 in the US and Canada was a breeze but even my new critic friend thought I was crazy! ¬†Beginning tonight with the Canadian Opera Company’s first performance of Madama Butterfly and with the rest ranging in style from Handel’s¬†Alcina¬†to the premiere of Dusapin’s¬†Penthesilea,¬†below is a list of highlights I look forward to sharing with you all.

Michigan Opera – Elektra: October 18 – 26, 2014

Christine Goerke. ‘Nuff said

Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Guillaume Tell: December 5, 2014

Headlined by Angela Meade and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Torino led by¬†Gianandrea Noseda, audiences in North America have the treat of hearing the rarely performed opera with one of bel-canto’s best. ¬†After hearing Meade’s¬†Lucrezia Borgia¬†at Caramoor, I cannot wait to see her performances as Matilde. ¬†As her technique grows, so does her acting ability, which has plagued her early on her career. ¬†The tour also visits New York City, Chicago and the University of Michigan.

Canadian Opera Company РDon Giovanni: January 24 РFebraury 21, 2015                                                                 Die Walkure: January 31 РFebruary 22, 2015

Dylan Hayden, Canadian Opera Company, 2012

Dylan Hayden, Canadian Opera Company, 2012

Tchernaikov’s much traveled production of Don Giovanni finally arrives in Toronto with an almost all Canadian cast featuring¬†Russel Braun, Kyle Ketelson, Jane Archibald and Michael Schade, ¬†Tchneraikov has them as one big giant family and I am curious to see how the hired double to play the deceased Commendatore at the end of the opera plays out. ¬†Don G is paired with Egoyan’s critically divided¬† Die Walkure but with a cast featuring Christine Goerke, Heidi Melton and Johan Reuter, who cares?

Berlin Staatsoper – Parsifal: March 28 – April 18, 2015

Part of the Easter Festtage, who knows what Tchernaikov will do to Parsifal, but I am excited to find out.  Throw in Rene Pape as Gurnemanz and you have one of the most anticipated operas of the season.

Baden Baden Festpielhaus РLa damnation de Faust: March 29 & April 5, 2015                                                           Der Rosenkavalier: March 27 РApril 6, 2015

I am seeing these two operas on back to back nights and this is about as luxurious of a casting you can get.  Joyce Didonato in the Faust and Anja Harteros, Peter Rose, Magdalena Kozena, Anna Prohaska and Lawerence Brownlee in Rosenkavalier!  Also very excited to meet up with old and new friends, as everyone appears to be descending on Baden-Baden that weekend!

Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Verdi Requiem: May 21-23, 2015

Conductor Laureate Andrew Davis first stood on the TSO podium in 1974 and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting a series of concerts to celebrate his 40th anniversary: Pictures at an Exhibition, Yo-Yo Ma and the Verdi Requiem.  Amber Wagner, who made a surprise debut as Ariadne a few years ago at the COC, Jaime Barton, Frank Lopardo and Eric Owens join the TSO and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in bringing us this tremendous work.  Expect chills.

Honorable Mentions 

New works for me this year include¬†Written On Skin, The Sunken Garden, Penthesilea, and the Danish Maskerade. ¬†Boris Godunov and a Sandra Radvanovsky¬†Aida¬†are equally exciting. ¬†Let me know what has you most excited for this wonderful 2014/15 season! ¬†Add me on Twitter if you don’t mind all the hockey tweets in between all the opera ūüôā

Dylan Hayden, Metropolitan Opera, 2014

Dylan Hayden, Metropolitan Opera, 2014

Hercules – Canadian Opera Company Review

Handel’s 1774 oratorio based on Sophocles’ play “The Women of Trachis” ends with choral jubilation and happiness. What happens during the Canadian Opera Company’s production directed by Peter Sellars is anything but. While traditionalists may see Hercules as a story of love and jealousy, its sources stem from Sophocles’ military background as a general. Here, love falls to the wayside for the awful truth of the psychological toll sustained by veterans of war.


From Act III of Hercules Photo: Dan Rest/LOC 2011

The conquering general Hercules knows who he is on the battlefield but is lost once he returns home. The war hero brings back Iole, the daughter of the king he slay, whom Hercule’s wife Dejanira suspects to be his concubine. Locked within his own mind, Hercules can’t escape his past and refuses to explain his behaviors. Their aide Lychas, warns of the pains of jealousy while their son Hyllus becomes enamoured with Iole. Dejanira rubs the blood of a centaur on a coat to reaffirm Hercules’ love of her, but he is poisoned and dies at her hand.

Sellars and his team – set designer George Tsypin, costume designer Dunya Ramicova, and lighting designer James Ingalls – place Hercules in a minimalist plain of rubble surrounded by ruined Classic columns. Lit in calming blues, greens, and yellows, the physical devastation of war comes into startling clarity when bathed in blood red. Contrasting Greek dress with army fatigues and a Guantanamo jump suit, explains that what we at home think and see of war is not the same as being a participant.

The opera should be called Dejanira. As Hercule’s wife, Alice Coote gives a masterclass as a singing actress. Dejanira moves from elation, doubt, jealousy, rage, and remorse throughout her significant arias and Coote sings these not just gloriously, but with an emotional connection seen through her whole body. She created a character that you could love and pity at the same time.

Eric Owens as the title character doesn’t have much to do vocally in the first act, but a nuanced acting performance that was as menacing as his lower register lead to an anguished “I rage, I rage with more than Stygian pains” in act III. Kudos to Owen’s skills as an actor, as it became difficult to watch a heroic man become trapped within himself.

David Daniels as Lychas, has lost some of the beauty in his voice, but his phrasing is sublime and his reenactment of Hercules’ suffering was chilling. It was a shame that many of his arias were lost to cuts. Under the interpretation of Richard Croft, Hyllus is a boy slowly forced to become a man and fill his father’s shoes. He received one of the night’s biggest ovations during his aria “Let not fame the tidings spread”, isolated on stage after watching his father die. His ornamentation and runs were only matched by Alice Coote’s “Where shall I fly?”.


Photo: Dan Rest/LOC 2011

The biggest breakthrough of the night came from Lucy Crowe’s beautiful interpretation of Iole. Her angelic presence was matched with a crystalline upper register. She too was a triumphant actress, and was forced to sing her opening aria with a canvas bag over her head as a prisoner of war. Her gutteral lower notes and the languish on her face shook the idealisms of war.

Under the baton of Baroque specialist Harry Bicket, the COC orchestra once again demonstrated their success as a smaller period orchestra, something many major orchestras in North America struggle to do stylistically. They followed the singers with crisp recitatives and a few interesting musical stresses that matched Sellar’s interpretation on stage.

This is not just a brilliant updating of an old work. It is an important conversation point about the issues of veterans, which many happily sweep under the rug. When this production premiered in Chicago, Peter Sellars noted that 1/3 of the homeless in the city were war veterans. What happens when these men and women return home and cannot find the emotions they turned off for combat?

Run, don’t walk to buy any remaining tickets for this important production. Sellar’s Hercules peels the layers of the psychological traumas of war and it can’t come at a more important time.

Un Ballo in Maschera Review – Canadian Opera Company

There is an overall joviality in the music of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera: rousing choruses, blistering vocal passages and a bouncing score. Add a stellar cast and a smartly updated staging, and the Canadian Opera Company once again has a hit on their hands.


Tenor Dimitri Pittas makes his role debut as the governor Riccardo, played as a John Kennedy-esque political figure. Last seen in La Boheme, Pittas lacks the true Italianate squillo to his voice, but he tackles the role with the aplomb and gusto necessary for the demanding role. A charismatic, charming actor, he had the audience on stage and in their seats eating out of the palm of his hand. His high notes were tight at times and he sound uncomfortable, especially in the the act 2 duet Oh, quel scave brivido, but he covered his mistakes well.

As Amelia, Adrianne Piezconka once again demonstrated why she is the leading dramatic soprano of her generation. With a gleaming upper register and warm lower passages, Piezconka drew the most from her surroundings. Delivering a dramatic Ma dall’arida stelo divulsa as she ponders her death is shadowed by her poignant and heartbreaking Morro, ma prima in grazia. With a focused, lush pianissimo intensified by the the presence of her son, a character who is not seen in most productions. Having him 5 feet away but unable to hold him intensified the moment.

Making his COC debut, Roland Wood gave an impassioned reading of a man struck with the grief of losing his wife and best friend to one another. His performance in act 3 stood out as a highlight of the evening. His grief was matched with a well rounded, warm upper register with ringing high notes. Simone Osborne as the page Oscar, played as a campaign manager, showed her strong acting chops and bell like upper register, but lacked in volume. Elena Manistina lacked dramatic conviction as Ulrica, though this could easily be contributed to the role being very one-dimensional. Her menacing lower register added gravitas to the palm reading scene, that was matched by a brilliant flashbomb and dark red hues lit in time with the staccato sforzando of the opening chords.


Cases can be made for and against modern staging concepts. The polarizing effect it can have on an audience can be jarring, and never before has this more so been the case. The amount of booing and jeering directed towards the production team, originally directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito with Samantha Seymour directing the revival, was unprecedented and completely unwarranted. Updating the setting from the 1690s to the Kennedy era makes fascinating sense. Ballo truly revolves around the mandated social hierarchies and interactions in society, and nothing in this day and age is more scrutinized than a politician.

Set in a goudy hotel ballroom, the audience are invited guests to the party as rows of seats extend past the orchestra and into the auditorium. Riccardo and his constituents waving to the audience at the end of act 1 scene 1 felt like a political convention. With race and class separation still fresh, the European-esque lower class meet in the ballroom after hours, scurrying under the footsteps of ‘better men’. Most effective was Renato’s confrontation with Amelia at the end of the second act. The chorus sits in elevated rows of seats like a movie theatre, eating up the breakdown of the upper class.

The size of the stage takes away from some of the emotional impact but one can’t help but be entranced by the ballroom’s transformation to a graveyard: chairs strewn across the stage become tombstones, columns become pillars of ivy, and the chandeliers lower and sway as if they were the tops of trees. It didn’t always work, I was confused as to why the body of Ulrica was hung from the rafters in act 2, but then she reappeared alive at the end of the opera, but nothing took away from the libretto. In fact, the addition of Amelia’s son and the Jackie Kennedy wife for Riccardo furthered it. I found the scene of Riccardo’s wife sweeping her husbands misgivings under the rug by preparing the letter that would send Amelia and Renato back to England poignant and relevant to today’s society.

Many times, a modern production goes for shock value, for example Baystaatsoper’s Die frau ohne schatten ended with giant lit images of King Kong and Marilyn Monroe, that added absolutely nothing to the production. Here however, it works, which is why I was so surprised by the torrid of booing, especially since the majority of the audience lived through the Kennedy assassination. How could they not find the relevance, and why would you leave and dismiss it after the first act? Further, audiences need to respect thier musicians. I counted a full 10 seconds of applause before each act ended. Stephen Lord brilliantly led the COC orchestra in a dramatic and expressive reading of the score but was constantly interupted by the smacking of hands. The setting of silence after the final chords are as much a part of the music, especially after such a dramatic ending!

Un ballo in maschera runs until February 22nd and I highly encourage you to enjoy this brilliant production!

Viva Verdi!

Today marks Verdi’s 199th birthday! ¬†To celebrate, find below an amusing Verdi anecdote and the farewell performance of Leontyne Price in Aida.

A Great Critic visited Verdi as he was putting the finishing touches on Il Travatore.
“What do you think of this?” Verdi asked him, playing the Anvil Chorus.
“Trash,” announced the Great Critic, for he loved only the finest things.
“Now try this,” said Verdi, offering the Miserere.
“What rubbish!” the Great Critic observed, for his nuanced sensibility could accept only the most profound art.
“One last test,” said Verdi. He presented the tenor’s aria, ‘Di quella pira’.
“It’s beastly,” noted the Great Critic, for anything less than nobility made him shudder.
Verdi rose from the piano and embraced the Great Critic in momentous joy.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the Great Critic.
“My dear friend,” Verdi told him, “I have been writing a popular opera – an opera for the public, not for purists and classicists and solemn judges, like you. If you liked this music, no one else would. But your distaste assures me of success. In three months, Il Trovatore will be sung, whistled, and played all over Italy!”