The 2013/14 season is more adventurous than last season with companies large and small staging unusual works alongside the more familiar. At the time of writing not all companies have announced their seasons, but judging from those that have there is much to look forward to.

on operaThe Canadian Opera Company begins the 2013/14 season with four familiar works, but ends the season with three rarities. The opener is a new production of Puccini’s La Bohème running October 3 to 30. This co-production with Houston Grand Opera and the San Francisco Opera is directed by John Caird, who is perhaps most famous as the co-director of the original English version of Les Misérables. Grazia Doronzio and Joyce El-Khoury will alternate in the role of Mimì, while David Lomelí and Eric Margiore will alternate as Rodolfo. Famed Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi will lead the orchestra.

In repertory with La Bohème will be Peter Grimes (1945) by Benjamin Britten (1913–76) to mark the centenary of the composer’s birth. Running October 5 to 26, it will be the opera’s third staging at the COC and its first since 2003. Ben Heppner stars as the vilified fisherman with Ileana Montalbetti as Ellen Orford, the one woman in the village who stands by him. Denni Sayers recreates Neil Armfield’s direction of this coproduction between Australian Opera and the Houston Grand Opera. Johannes Debus conducts.

The winter season begins with a new production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, running January 18 to February 21, directed by filmmaker Atom Egoyan, acclaimed for his previous COC productions of Salome in 1996 and Die Walküre in 2004. Layla Claire will sing Fiordiligi with Wallis Giunta as Dorabella, Paul Appleby as Ferrando, Robert Gleadow as Guglielmo and Johannes Debus conducting. Running in repertory with the Mozart from February 2 to 22, is Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera not seen at the COC since 2002. The production from the Berlin Staatsoper is directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito and conducted by Stephen Lord. It stars Adrianne Pieczonka as Amelia with Dimitri Pittas as Riccardo and Elena Manistina as Ulrica.

After presenting these four well-known operas, the COC then embarks on a spring season with a remarkable series of three COC premieres in a row. There have been several seasons in the past that included three COC premieres, but the last time three were presented in a row was in 1989 with Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. This time the series will be Handel’s Hercules (1745) from April 5 to 30, Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux (1837) from April 25 to May 21 and Massenet’s Don Quichotte (1910) from May 9 to 24.

Hercules, originally written as an oratorio has recently found success fully staged as an opera. The COC/Lyric Opera of Chicago coproduction will be directed by Peter Sellars, who directed last season’s Tristan und Isolde, and conducted by baroque expert Harry Bicket. Eric Owens sings the role of Hercules, Alice Coote is his jealous wife Dejanira and countertenor David Daniels is Hercules’ faithful servant Lichas.

Roberto Devereux is the third part of Donizetti’s so-called “three queens trilogy” made famous as such by Beverly Sills. The COC presented the first part, Anna Bolena (1830), back in 1984 and the second part, Maria Stuarda (1835) in 2010. As part of a unified production from Dallas Opera, Devereux has the same production design as Maria Stuarda and the same director, Stephen Lawless. Sondra Radvanovsky will sing Elisabetta, Russell Braun will be Nottingham and Giuseppi Filianoti will be Elizabetta’s lover Devereux. Corrado Rovaris will conduct.

Don Quichotte will end the drought in operas by Massenet at the COC since its Werther of 1992. The fantastic production from Seattle Opera directed by Linda Brovsky will feature the renowned Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte with Quinn Kelsey as his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza and Ekaterina Gubanova as his beloved Dulcinée. Johannes Debus conducts.

Both productions at Opera Atelier this season are revivals. In the fall from October 26 to November 2 is Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio first mounted by OA in 2008. In the spring is Lully’s Persée first mounted by OA in 2000 and revived in 2004. OA co-founders Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg are hot off the success of their production of Mozart’s Lucio Silla (1772) at this year’s Salzburg Festival which has led them to be invited to mount the work at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. Abduction will feature Lawrence Wiliford as Belmonte and Adam Fisher as his servant Pedrillo who will try to rescue Belmonte’s beloved Konstanze (Ambur Braid) and Carla Huhtanen her servant Blondie (Blondchen) from the ever-watchful Osmin (Gustav Andreassen).

In Persée, Christopher Enns will make his OA debut as an haute-contre in the title role. Mireille Asselin will be his beloved Andromède, Peggy Kriha Dye her rival Mérope and Olivier Laquerre will sing snake-haired monster Méduse. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra for both productions. After its Toronto run OA will take Persée to Versailles from May 23 to 25 where it has not been seen since it inaugurated the Royal Opera House there in 1770.

Toronto Operetta Theatre has a lively season on offer. It begins on November 3 with The Rowdy Señorita, a concert of excerpts from the quintessential Spanish zarzuela, La Revoltosa (1897) by Ruperto Chapí (1851–1909). The señorita of the title is Mari-Pepa, who garners married women’s wrath by flirting with their husbands. The TOT’s holiday operetta is Franz Lehár’s ever-popular The Land of Smiles (1923) running from December 27, 2013, to January 5, 2014. This will be the TOT’s third presentation of the work and its first since the 2002/03 season.

The TOT’s last presentation is the Canadian premiere of The Cousin from Nowhere (Der Vetter aus Dingsda) from 1921 by Eduard Künneke (1885–1953). Sometimes translated as The Cousin from Batavia, this is one of the most delightful of all 20th-century operettas. While Lehár in Vienna was consciously moving operetta towards opera, composers in Berlin like Künneke, Benatzky and Lincke were incorporating the new dance rhythms of the foxtrot and quickstep into their work and thus were moving operetta towards musical comedy. Anyone who likes the popular music of the 1920s played by Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester is sure to enjoy The Cousin from Nowhere.

For additional fully staged operas, there are many intriguing choices. September 10 and 11, the Nanning Cantonese Opera Troupe performs The Painted Skin written by Chinese composer Zhuang Hui Xuan. The story is based on a Qing Dynasty tale of a young scholar who gives sanctuary to a beautiful young woman in distress, not realizing that she is, in reality, a ghost. First performed in 2010, The Painted Skin is part of the resurgence in traditional Chinese opera that includes new works written in the classical style. The opera will be performed in the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre at York University’s Keele campus.

In 2013/14, Opera Hamilton is staging Verdi’s Falstaff from October 19 to 26 and Bizet’s Carmen from April 19 to 26. John Fanning will sing the title role in the Verdi in a production including James Westman and Lyne Fortin. Italian-American mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson, who received a rave review in the New York Times for her Carmen at Glimmerglass, will sing the title role with American tenor Richard Troxell as Don José.

Those with a taste for early music can look forward to performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas from January 17 to 19 by the Schola Cantorum and Theatre of Early Music co-directed by Jeanne Lamon and Daniel Taylor with choreography by Bill Coleman. Performances take place at the Trinity College Chapel at the University of Toronto.

Those with a taste for new music can look forward to Tapestry Opera’s program of “Tapestry Briefs,” September 19 to 22, for glimpses of scenes developed in Tapestry’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory. Michael Mori directs Krisztina Szabó, Peter McGillivray, Carla Huhtanen and Keith Klassen. Musical directors are Gregory Oh and Jennifer Tung. Soundstreams’ presentation of the world premiere of Airline Icarus by Brian Current to a libretto by Anton Piatigorsky will run June 3 to 8, 2014. The cast includes Krisztina Szabó and Alexander Dobson and will be directed by Tim Albery.

As usual, operas in concert will lend further variety to the Toronto opera scene. Voicebox: Opera in Concert celebrates its 40th anniversary season with the Canadian premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana (1953) on November 24, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) on February 2 and Verdi’s oddly neglected Stiffelio (1850) on March 23. The Toronto Consort continues its series of operas by Venetian composer Francesco Cavalli (1602–76) with his Giasone (1649) from April 4 to 6. And Opera by Request will present Puccini’s La Bohème in Toronto on September 28 and Massenet’s Manon in Waterloo on October 5. 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at

onopera feng yi ting  5  photo by julia lynnThis summer there is not quite as much opera on offer in town as there has been in past seasons. Out of town, however, there is a burgeoning of opera productions and opera-related concerts.

June: In Toronto Luminato ( has included opera in each of its past six seasons. This year the focus is on the Canadian premiere of Feng Yi Ting by Chinese composer Guo Wenjing. The opera had its world premiere at the Spoleto Festival in May 2012 and is notable because the three organizations that commissioned the opera (Spoleto, the Lincoln Center Festival and the Chinese organization Currents Art & Music) chose Toronto’s own Atom Egoyan as the stage director.

The opera, only 55 minutes long, explores the tale told in the 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms of Diao Chan, one of the fabled Four Beauties of ancient China, whose seductive charms ignite an empire-threatening rivalry between a ruthless warlord and her lover, the brave general Lu Bu. It focuses on the pivotal moment when Diao (Shen Tiemei) and her lover (countertenor Jiang Qihu) meet in the Feng Yi Ting (“Phoenix Pavilion”), where she urges him to eliminate his nemesis. One of China’s most respected contemporary composers, Guo fuses Chinese and Western classical styles to create a score that sounds at once both ancient and modern. The opera is sung in Mandarin with English and Mandarin surtitles and runs for only three performances from June 20 to 22. For ticket holders Egoyan leads a pre-performance talk about the creation of Feng Yi Ting each evening at 7:10pm at the MacMillan Theatre.

The only other large-scale opera-related production in Toronto this summer is the latest opera/theatre hybrid created by Austrian playwright Michael Sturminger called The Giacomo Variations. Torontonians may recall that Luminato presented Sturminger’s Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer in 2010 starring John Malkovich as the killer whose victims, rather than speak, sang selected arias from Baroque operas. The Giacomo Variations also stars Malkovich, this time as the famous adventurer Giacomo Casanova (1725–98), whose memoirs, Histoires de ma vie, were so scandalous they were not published in full until 1960. In Sturminger’s piece the dying Casanova looks back on his life where his conquests and opponents are characterized by selected arias from the Mozart/Da Ponte operas accompanied by Orchester Wiener Akademie and conducted by Martin Haselböck. This time Show One, not Luminato, presents the work which runs June 7 to 9 at the Elgin Theatre.

For operas in concert in June, one must look to the Toronto Summer Opera Workshop productions led by vocal coach Luke Housner ( Concert performances with surtitles are the culmination of intensive 10- to 14-day workshops whose purpose is to expose young singers to the rigours of learning roles. The TSOW performs Mozart’s Don Giovanni from June 4 to 6 and Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel from June 12 to 14, both held at St. Simon-the-Apostle Anglican Church.

July-August: For staged operas with piano accompaniment in Toronto in July and August, Summer Opera Lyric Theatre is always reliable. This year SOLT ( is presenting Handel’s Alcina (1735) in Italian on July 26, 28, 31 and August 3. Running with it in repertory is Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830), also in Italian, on July 27, 31, August 2 and 4 and Puccini’s familiar La Bohème sung in English on July 27, 30, August 1 and 3. All performances take place at the intimate Robert Gill Theatre on the University of Toronto campus.

For opera outside Toronto, one need only look at the increasing number of summer music festivals. The operatic highlight of the 26th annual Brott Music Festival in Hamilton ( is a concert performance with the National Academy Orchestra of Verdi’s Aida on August 1 at Mohawk College’s McIntyre Performing Arts Centre. Sharon Azrieli Perez sings the title role with David Pomeroy as Radames and Emilia Boteva as Amneris. Other opera-related concerts include “Last Night at the Proms Meets Gilbert & Sullivan” on July 27 with David Curry singing all the comic male roles and Brian Jackson conducting the NAO.

This year the Elora Festival ( also includes opera in concert. On July 27 it presents Handel’s Acis and Galatea with the Elora Festival Singers and musicians of the Toronto Masque Theatre conducted by Noel Edison. On August 3 it presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado with Jim White as Ko-Ko, Allison Angelo as Yum-Yum, Thomas Goerz as Pooh Bah, Jean Stilwell as Katisha, David Curry as Nanki-Poo and Michael Cressman as the Mikado. Edison conducts the Elora Festival Orchestra and Singers. Opera-lovers should also note that to celebrate Verdi’s bicentenary, the Elora Festival opens on July 12 with Verdi’s Requiem with COC favourites Yannick-Muriel Noah, Anita Krause, David Pomeroy and Robert Pomakov as the soloists.

A bit farther from Toronto is the Highlands Opera Studio in Haliburton ( where Richard Margison is the artistic director. On August 6, 8 and 16 it offers a program of “Operatic Highlights.” On August 11 there is a concert “Richard Margison & Friends” where the famed tenor and some of his closest friends come together to raise funds to support the HOS. The summer culminates in fully staged performances of Verdi’s La Traviata on August 23, 25, 27 and 29. Ambur Braid and Luiza Zhuleva will trade off in the roles of Violetta and Annina, Adam Luther sings Alfredo and Geoffrey Sirett sings Germont. Valerie Kuinka directs and Miloš Replický conducts.

on opera bicycle-operaTo the west, the ever-expanding Stratford Summer Music ( is presenting the unusual group known as The Bicycle Opera Project, July 26 to 28. The group ( was formed to bring Canadian music to people who might otherwise have little opportunity to hear it and to work to close the distance between audiences and opera singers through performances in intimate spaces. It focuses on operatic repertoire that deals with contemporary issues. At Stratford’s Revel Caffè it will perform two programs. The first will include scenes from the operas Rosa by James Rolfe, Slip by Juliet Palmer and Cake by Monica Pearce. The second program features excerpts from Little Miss All Canadian by Lemit Beecher, The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G. by Aaron Gervais and Trahisons liquides (in French) by Stacey Brown. The performers are soprano Larissa Koniuk, mezzo Michelle Simmons, baritone Geoffrey Sirett and tenor Will Reid with music director Wesley Shen at the piano, Katherine Watson on flute and Leslie Ting on violin. Michael Mori is the stage director. Outside Stratford, The Bicycle Opera Project will make stops in Toronto, Hamilton, Elora, Fergus, Kitchener, Waterloo, Bayfield and London.

To the northeast of Toronto the Westben Arts Festival ( in Campbellford is mounting a fully staged production of Bizet’s Carmen on July 5, 6 and 7. The UBC Opera Ensemble is directed by Nancy Hermiston, and Leslie Dala conducts the Westben Festival Orchestra. On July 21 Richard Margison and John Fanning, with accompanist Brian Finley, offer “Sunday Afternoon at the Opera,” a celebration of Wagner and Verdi in honour of the composers’ bicentenaries. On July 25, 26, 27 and 28 well-known singers Virginia Hatfield, Brett Polegato and James Levesque take a break from opera to explore musicals from The Wizard of Oz to Les Misérables.

If you’re looking for major rarities and would rather stay in Canada, simply head to Quebec. The Montreal Baroque Festival ( runs June 21 to 24. In concordance with this year’s theme “Nouveaux Mondes,” on June 21 Ensemble Caprice and Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal present the Canadian premiere of Vivaldi’s opera Motezuma [sic] from 1733. The opera focuses on the last hours of the Aztec king Moctezuma II (died 1520) as he languishes in captivity under the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. This being an opera, librettist Girolamo Alvise Giusti had no trouble in inventing a love story involving Fernando’s (i.e. Hernán’s) brother Ramiro and Mo(c)tezuma’s daughter Teutile. The score, thought lost, was discovered in 2002 in Berlin, though part of Act 1 and most of Act 3 are missing. Various baroque music experts have created reconstructions of the missing portions, the first concert performance since the 18th century occurring in 2005 in a version by Federico Maria Sardelli. For the MBF, Ensemble Caprice’s conductor Matthias Maute has created his own reconstruction.

Besides this, La Compagnie Baroque Mont-Royal will present a concert called “L’Opéra de Frédérick II” on June 24 which will explore the type of opera that the Prussian king encouraged to flower at court after his ascension in 1740. Fans of ballet should also note that Les Jardins Chorégraphiques and Les Boréades de Montréal have teamed up to present a famous ballet more often recorded than seen — Les Élémens of 1737 by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666–1747), which depicts no less than the creation of the world out of chaos. The performance takes place June 24.

Not far from Montreal is the site of the Festival de Lanaudière ( The highlight of the festival is a concert performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin (1850) on August 11 with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Orchestre Métropolitain and Choeur de l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montreal. Brandon Jovanovich sings the title role, Heidi Melton is Elsa, Andrew Foster-Williams is Telramund and renowned soprano Deborah Voigt makes her role debut as Ortrud.

Since 2013 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Verdi, the festival is offering a starry “Gala Verdi” on August 3 with Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducting the Orchestre du Festival et du Choeur St-Laurent. Soprano Marjorie Owens, mezzo Jamie Barton, tenor Russell Thomas and baritone Quinn Kelsey are the soloists. The concert will feature arias, duets, ensembles, choruses and overtures from 13 of Verdi’s operas from Nabucco to Falstaff.

Enjoy the summer! 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at

1808-operaApril has become a month so replete with opera that May, which used to be rather quiet, is beginning to fill up with opera as well. The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Salome continues to May 22 and its production of Lucia di Lammermoor to May 24. They are joined on May 8 by the final opera of the 2012/13 season, Dialogues des Carmélites. What is usual among the other offerings this month is the high concentration of 20th- and 21st-century operas.

Dialogues des Carmélites (1957) by Francis Poulenc has not been seen at the COC since 1997. The opera is based on the true story of the 16 Carmelite nuns of Compiègne who were martyred during the Reign of Terror on July 17, 1794. The upcoming production is notable for its high concentration of Canadian talent. The cast unites such stars as Isabel Bayrakdarian as Blanche de la Force, Judith Forst as Madame de Croissy, Adrianne Pieczonka as Madame Lidoine, Hélène Guilmette as Soeur Constance, Frédéric Antoun as the Chevalier de la Force and Jean-François Lapointe as the Marquis de la Force. Except for the role of Mère Marie sung by Russian mezzo Irina Mishura, all the remaining roles are sung by such well-known Canadian singers as Doug MacNaughton, Megan Latham, Rihab Chaieb, Michael Colvin and Peter Barrett.

The production is directed by Canadian Robert Carsen who created it for De Nederlandse Opera in 1997 and is designed by Canadian Michael Levine, who designed the COC’s Ring cycle. The physical staging is minimalist, relying on a few significant props and the use of light to set the many different scenes. Carsen’s staging, however, uses more than 100 supernumeraries to evoke the constant threat of the French Revolution that Blanche does not escape by taking the veil. The opera runs May 8 to 25 with Johannes Debus conducting the COC Orchestra.

Among the new operas is the welcome return of Laura’s Cow: The Legend of Laura Secord composed by Errol Gay to a libretto by Michael Patrick Albano. The 75-minute opera written for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, premiered in 2012 during Luminato as part of the commemoration of the War of 1812. It was specifically written to include all levels of the 200-voice CCOC from oldest to youngest, with the addition of three professional adult singers. Emily Brown Gibson and Mary Christidis alternate in the role of Laura Secord, Andrew Love sings the roles of Caller, Balladeer and Lt. FitzGibbon as he did last year; and Tessa Laengert sings the delightful role of the Cow. Having reviewed the opera last year for The WholeNote blog, I can testify that it is an ideal opera for the whole family. Laura’s Cow runs from May 3 to May 5 at the Enwave Theatre. Michael Patrick Albano directs and Ann Cooper Gay conducts the 14-member orchestra.

From May 10 to 12, Toronto Masque Theatre presents the world premiere of The Lesson of Da Ji by Alice Ping Yee Ho to a libretto by Marjorie Chan. The one-act opera plays on a doublebill called “The Lessons of Love” with John Blow’s 1683 opera Venus and Adonis and thus provides a view of the masque from past and present, West and East.

The story is inspired by real events in the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 bc). In the version by Ho and Chan, Da Ji, the king’s concubine, takes music lessons from the young nobleman Bo Yi to play the guqin, a type of zither. The king becomes jealous and exacts a grisly revenge on Bo Yi.

The singers include Vania Chan, Charlotte Corwin, Benjamin Covey, Alexander Dobson, Derek Kwan, Marion Newman, Xin Wang and Timothy Wong; the dancers are Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and traditional Peking Opera dancer William Lau. Derek Boyes directs and Larry Beckwith conducts the TMT ensemble. Ho’s composition blends period baroque instruments (recorders, violins, viola da gamba, lute and harpsichord) and Chinese instruments (guqin, pipa, guzheng, erhu, gongs and drums).

On May 14 and 15, the COSI Connection will present the world premiere of The Wings of the Dove by Canadian composer Andrew Ager based on the 1902 novel by Henry James. The story concerns Kate Croy and Merton Densher who are engaged but too poor to marry. The entrance of the rich but terminally ill Milly Theale complicates and completely alters the couple’s relationship.

Toronto audiences will remember Ager as the composer of the opera Frankenstein, first performed by TrypTych Productions in January 2010. When Ottawa’s Thirteeen Strings premiered the Interlude from the opera in 2011, the Ottawa Citizen declared, “It’s gorgeous, if intensely wistful. Ager’s writing is subtly layered, its emotions being persistent and powerful without ever venturing into a hint of melodrama.”  “COSI” stands for the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy that commissioned the work. Ager’s opera will launch the COSI Connection which intends to bring back to Canada the fruit of the labour and training Canadians have received at the centre in Sulmona, Italy.

The staged production at the Heliconian Hall in Yorkville will feature soprano Leigh-Ann Allen, baritone Bradley Christensen, soprano Clodagh Earls, mezzo Stephanie Kallay and baritone Dimitri Katotakis. Michael Patrick Albano is the stage director and the composer will provide the piano accompaniment. After the produc-tion in Toronto, the opera will be produced in July at COSI in Italy, with full orchestra, choir and soloists.

Opera by Request has several operas-in-concert on offer in May. There is Janáček’s Jenůfa on May 5, Mozart’s Così fan tutte on May 24 and Puccini’s La Bohème on May 27. The rarest of the offerings, however, is Douglas Moore’s 1956 opera The Ballad of Baby Doe on May 11. The plot is based on the true story of the “Silver King” Horace Tabor (1830–1899), who built the opera house in Central City, Colorado, his wife, Augusta, and the woman, Elizabeth “Baby Doe” McCourt, with whom Tabor had an affair before divorcing his wife. Lisa Faieta sings the title role, Keith O’Brien is Horace Tabor, Eugenia Dermentzis is Augusta and Tracy Reynolds is Baby Doe’s mother. All the Opera by Request performances this month take place at the College Street United Church and are accompanied by William Shookhoff at the piano. OBR takes a new step withBaby Doein that the performance will not be in concert but semi-staged, with Lisa Faieta as the director.

Those seeking out 20th-century operas from Spain need look no further than the double bill by Opera Five of Goyescas (1915) by Enrique Granados and El retablo de maese Pedro (1923) by Manuel de Falla. The singers include mezzo Catharin Carew, soprano Emily Ding, soprano Rachel Krehm, baritone Giovanni Spanu and tenor Conrad Siebert. Maika’i Nash is the music director and pianist.Aria Umezawa directs. Performances on May 1 and 2 take place at Gallery 345.

From May 2 to May 5, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents Offenbach’sLa Vie Parisienne(1866) as its season finale. Last staged in 1992, the new production stars Elizabeth DeGrazia as the Swedish baroness with Stuart Graham as her wayward husband. Adam Fisher and Stefan Fehr play Parisian rogues ready to show the two foreigners a good time and Lauren Segal is the glamorous comedienne, Métella, ready to gamble for love. Christopher Mayell sings the role of the billionaire Brazilian whose masked ball concludes the madcap proceedings. Larry Beckwith conducts TOT Orchestra and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs. 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at

On OperaApril, as has become usual, offers the most concentrated number of opera productions of any month in the year. Every April we can always count on large-scale productions from the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier and the spring production from Toronto Operetta Theatre, while smaller companies and operas in concert serve the important function of adding variety and breadth. If we artificially extend the month to May 10, an opera lover can sample the whole history of opera from the 17th century to the present.

1683: Venus and Adonis by John Blow on May 10, 11 and 12 by Toronto Masque Theatre. The oldest opera presented in this six-week period tells of the love of the goddess Venus (Marion Newman) for the mortal Adonis (Alexander Dobson). The opera, fully staged with the TMT Orchestra conducted by Larry Beckwith, is on a double bill with the world premiere of The Lesson of Ja Di (below).

1733: La serva padrona by Giovanni Pergolesi on April 5 and 7. Metro Youth Opera was founded by Kate Applin in 2010 to give Toronto’s young opera singers the chance to perform complete roles. The company’s third production is a triple bill of comedies, the earliest of which is Pergolesi’s important work, often seen as the bridge between the baroque and classical periods. The plot is about how the maid Serpina (Applin) tricks her bachelor master (Janaka Welihinda) into marrying her. Alison Wong directs with Blair Salter at the piano.

1790: Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on April 27 only. Opera by Request presents the third of Mozart’s collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Jonathan MacArthur is Ferrando, Josh Whalen is Guglielmo, while Naomi Eberhard and Alexandra Beley are the fiancées, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, whose faithfulness they test. William Shookhoff provides the piano accompaniment.

1791: Mozart’sThe Magic Flute on April 6, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 13. Opera Atelier remounts its much-loved production of Mozart’s fairy-tale opera with a cast of OA favourites. Colin Ainsworth sings Tamino, Laura Albino is Pamina, Ambur Braid is the Queen of the Night, João Fernandes is Sarastro with Olivier Laquerre as Papageno and Carla Huhtanen as Papagena. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Marshall Pynkoski directs.

1816: Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Gioacchino Rossini on April 6 only. Opera by Request presents Rossini’s well-known opera based on the first of Beaumarchais’ plays about the wily barber Figaro. Jay Lambie sings Figaro, William Parker is his friend Count Almaviva and Nicole Bower is Rosina, the object of the Count’s desire. William Shookhoff provides the piano accompaniment. For those interested in comparisons, the Soulpepper Theatre Company presents an adaptation of Beaumarchais’ play itself with previews beginning May 9.

1835: Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti on April 17, 20, 26, 30 and May 9, 12, 15, 18 and 24. The COC presents the acclaimed production of Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece created by director David Alden in 2008 for soprano Anna Christy and the English National Opera. Christy herself sings the title role with Stephen Costello as Edgardo, the man she loves, and Brian Mulligan as Enrico, Lucia’s brutal brother who forces her to marry someone else. Stephen Lord conducts the COC Orchestra.

1853: Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi on April 18 and 20. Now in its eighth season, Opera Belcanto of York will present a fully staged production at the Richmond Hill Centre of Verdi’s opera about gypsies and children switched at birth. Guest soloists from the Yerevan State Opera include Tatevik Ashuryan as Leonora, Hovhannes Ayvzyan as the troubadour Manrico and Nariné Ananikyan as Azucena with Canadian Jeffrey Carl as the Conte di Luna. OBY founder David Varjabed conducts and Gabriele Graziano directs.

1866: La Vie Parisienne by Jacques Offenbach on May 2, 3, 4 and 5. The final offering of the season from Toronto Operetta Theatre is Offenbach’s first full-length operetta dealing with contemporary life in Paris rather than the mythological satires like Orphée aux Enfers (1858) and La Belle Hélène (1864) that made him famous. The story involves the first visit to Paris of a Swedish baron and baroness whose tour is confounded by the actions of a Brazilian millionaire and a Parisian courtesan. The cast includes Elizabeth DeGrazia, Lauren Segal, Christopher Mayell and Adam Fisher. Larry Beckwith conducts and Guillermo Silva-Marin directs. The TOT last staged this operetta in 1992. In an odd coincidence L’Opéra de Québec will later present the work May 11, 14, 16 and 18 in Quebec City.

1901: Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák on April 19 only. Opera by Request presents the first of two Czech operas that form a study in contrasts. Though separated by only three years, Dvořák’s opera is fully romantic, while Janáček’s Jenůfa is realistic. Janáček’s new style of composition based on Czech speech patterns is a break from Dvořák’s more traditional symphonic style. Deena Nicklefork sings the title role of the water nymph who falls in love with a mortal, Ryan Harper is the prince she loves, David English is Vodník, the ruler of the lake, and Karen Bojti sings Ježibaba, the witch who changes Rusalka into a mortal at a terrible cost. William Shookhoff is, as usual, the piano accompanist.

1904: Jenůfa by Leoś Janáček on May 5 only. Unlike Rusalka’s world of supernatural beings and courtiers, Janáček’s Jenůfa focuses on peasant life. Kostelnička (Monica Zerbe), stepmother of Jenůfa (Michèle Cusson), forbids her to marry Števa (Lenard Whiting), unaware that Jenůfa is already pregnant by him. Meanwhile, Števa’s half-brother Laca (Paul Williamson) loves Jenůfa and can’t understand her indifference to him. William Shookhoff is again the piano accompanist.

1905: Salome by Richard Strauss on April 21 and 27 and May 1, 4, 7, 10 16 and 22. For the first time since 2002, the COC revives Atom Egoyan’s acclaimed production of Richard Strauss’ shocker based on Oscar Wilde’s one-act play. Erika Sunnegårdh sings the title role, Richard Margison is her dissolute father Herod, Hanna Schwarz is her stern mother Herodias and Martin Gantner (April 21 to May 4) and Alan Held (May 7 to 22) sing John the Baptist, the object of Salome’s depraved desire. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra.

1915: Goyescas by Enrique Granados (1867–1916) on April 29 and May 1 and 2. Opera Five helps us fill in our knowledge of opera by presenting a double bill of two one-act operas from Spain. The title of Granados’ opera is best known as a piano suite reflecting various paintings by Francisco Goya. The composer was encouraged to turn the suite into an opera and so, contrary to usual procedure, Granados’ librettist had to write a libretto to fit the music. The story deals with two men, Fernando (Conrad Siebert) and Paquiro (Giovanni Spanu), who fight a duel over Rosario (Emily Ding), the woman they both love. Maika’i Nash is the music director and pianist and Aria Umezawa is the stage director. Performances take place at Gallery 345. 

1922: Mavra by Igor Stravinsky on April 5 and 7. This rarely performed work is part of Metro Youth Opera’s triple bill of comic operas. (The COC last performed it in 1965 on a double bill with Salome.) Based on a story by Pushkin, the opera tells how the young Parasha (Laura MacLean) tries to deceive her Mother (Sarah Hicks) by smuggling her lover Vassili (Jan Nato) into the house disguised as the new maid “Mavra.” Alison Wong directs with Blair Salter at the piano.

1923: El retablo de maese Pedro by Manuel de Falla on April 29 and May 1 and 2. The second work on Opera Five’s Spanish double bill (see above) is a rarely performed one-act opera based on an episode from Don Quixote and usually translated as Master Peter’s Puppet Show. The opera focusses on the reactions of Don Quixote (Giovanni Spanu) to a puppet play presented by Pedro (Conrad Siebert) depicting Charlemagne’s adoptive daughter being abducted by Moors. As might be expected, Don Quixote cannot control his anger on viewing such an outrage.

1957: Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc on May 8, 11, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25. The COC’s final offering of the 2012/13 season is Robert Carsen’s production of this 20th-century masterpiece created for the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2007. Isabel Bayrakdarian starred as Blanche de la Force in Chicago and does so again in Toronto. Daughter of an aristocrat, Blanche decides to become a nun to escape the chaos of the French Revolution only to find herself caught up in it after she joins the convent. The starry cast includes Judith Forst, Adrianne Pieczonka, Hélène Guilmette, Irina Mishura, Frédéric Antoun and Jean-François Lapointe. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra.

1961: Le magicien by Jean Vallerand (1915–94) on April 5 and 7. The third work on Metro Youth Opera’s triple bill is the rarest of all. It is the only opera by Québecois composer Vallerand, written for Jeunesses Musicales as a curtain-raiser for their tour of Debussy’s L’Enfant prodigue. The libretto, also written by Vallerand, concerns a magician who brings the marionettes Colombine and Arlequin to life only to find that they refuse to return to their former state. Though it was performed more than 100 times in the 1961–62 season and recorded in by the CBC in 1967, it lapsed into obscurity until it was revived in concert in Montreal in 1989. MYO does us a great service in giving us the chance to see it now.

2013: Inspired by Lorca by Chris Paul Harman on April 30 is not an opera but a song cycle now titled La selva de los relojes (The Forest of Clocks) based on the poetry of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. I include it here because it is the last piece that the much-loved Queen of Puddings Music Theatre will produce before it dissolves at the end of August. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó is the soloist and QoP co-founder Dáirine Ní Mheadhra conducts a chamber ensemble of piano, harp, cello, flute and percussion. The performance takes place at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre and is free.

2013: Ruth by Jeffrey Ryan on May 4 only. This is a workshop performance given by Tapestry Opera (formerly Tapestry New Opera) of Ryan’s opera to a libretto by Michael Lewis MacLennan that reimagines the Biblical story as an immigrant tale about the struggle to find welcome in a new country. The performance takes place at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District.

2013: The Lesson of Ja Di by Alice Ping Yee Ho on May 10, 11 and 12 by Toronto Masque Theatre. The newest opera presented in this six-week period is a world premiere written as a companion piece to the oldest opera here, John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (above). Based on a true story from the Shang dynasty (second millennium B.C.), it tells of the horrific revenge that a King wreaks on his concubine Da Ji for falling in love with her music teacher, the nobleman Bo Yi. Larry Beckwith conducts the TMT Orchestra on period instruments, augmented on this occasion with traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu, pipa and guzheng.

Enjoy the bounty on offer in these six weeks and create your own opera festival. 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at

1806 on operaQueen of Puddings Music Theatre announced on February 8 that it would conclude operations at the end of August of this year. For many it comes as a shock that Toronto should be losing a company that for the past 20 years has brought an uncompromising vision to the development and production of new Canadian chamber opera. Their legacy is a series of works, acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, which have redefined not only what a Canadian opera can be but also what opera itself can be. Beatrice Chancy (1998–1999) by James Rolfe and George Elliott Clarke was the first opera about black slavery in Canada and launched the career of soprano Measha Brueggergosman. The Midnight Court (2005–2007) by Ana Sokolović and Paul Bentley was the first Canadian opera — and QoP the first Canadian company — invited to the Linbury Studio at England’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

In contrast to these narrative-based works, QoP also explored the boundaries of opera. Love Songs (2008–2011) by Ana Sokolović, a solo opera that set various love poems and the words “I love you” in more than 100 languages, was declared the best production at the Zagreb Biennale and was subsequently presented at the prestigious Holland Festival. Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour (2010) by Pierre Klanac, John Rea and Fuhong Shi, presented three poems in medieval French, English and Mandarin in the form of a ritual that was hailed by EYE Weekly as “an exquisite piece of music theatre.” In 2012, co-founder and co-artistic director Dáirine Ní Mheadhra was awarded the Canada Council Molson Prize in the arts in recognition of her lifetime achievements and ongoing contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada.

Why should Ní Mheadhra and co-founder and co-artistic director John Hess choose to end such an enterprise when it has reached the peak of its success? In some ways the question answers itself. The co-founders have decided that Queen of Puddings should end on a high note.

In an email interview near the end of last month, Ní Mheadhra agreed that she and Hess would answer a number of questions about QoP, its legacy and the future. Here it is:


Why did you decide that QoP should cease operations? Do you feel that QoP has achieved all the goals it was set up to achieve?

We decided that QoP should cease operations because after nearly 20 years we feel we’ve achieved what we set out to do, which was to commission and produce original Canadian opera to a high artistic standard and to develop an international profile for this work. In this current season the company is thriving, with the great success and critical acclaim for our production of Ana Sokolović’s opera Svadba-Wedding, now touring nationally and internationally. Coming up on April 30thwe are presenting the premiere of a new vocal chamber work, Inspired by Lorca, by composer Chris Paul Harman, sung by Krisztina Szabó with our ensemble at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

We’ve been considering our decision for some months, and while we realize that it’s unusual to cease operations when an organization is extremely healthy, it felt like the right decision for us both in this phase of our lives and in the life cycle of QoP. The end of our season in August 2013 feels like a very natural artistic ebbing point, and it also coincides with the end of our current three-year operational funding, and thus feels like the right moment to close the company. We want to conclude in a year like this, which is full of artistic highlights and the fulfilment of our goals — with continued financial stability due to a deficit-free track record.

What do you feel are QoP’s greatest achievements over its existence?

Probably our greatest achievement has been never to accept “received wisdom” about the state of new music/opera in Canada, but to have furrowed our own path with our individual beliefs. Just one example: when Dáirine arrived in Toronto from Ireland in 1994 we were told that there were only two singers in Toronto who could possibly sing new opera. We thought that was a load of old rubbish. It would never have occurred to us to segregate new opera from middle opera or old opera. For us it’s all a continuum — Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Strauss, Shostakovich, Andriessen, Sokolović, Rolfe ... and the singers who sing those operas also sing contemporary Canadian opera — there’s no difference.

We think another very important achievement has been the international touring we’ve done of new Canadian opera, which hardly existed before QoP. That was hugely important to us. Before Dáirine came to Canada, she had no real impression of what new Canadian music was like as it didn’t have a strong profile internationally. But we’ve discovered that the best singers in the world live in Canada and that there’s huge composer talent here too. It has been our mission to deliver this news to the world!

For example, we’ve wanted to bring Ana Sokolović’s music back to her Serbian homeland for ten years, and last October we felt such inordinate pleasure walking down a main street in Belgrade with a big poster of Ana and Queen of Puddings outside the Atelje 212 Theatre announcing a performance of Svadba that night. In the performance the singers sang Serbian so well that we were asked how we ever managed to find six Serbian-Canadian singers! Shortly afterwards, we brought Svadba to Dublin (Dáirine’s hometown) and the audience could not believe the virtuosity of the singers and the sheer imagination and verve of the music. But all of this we knew all along, and knew that audiences outside of Canada just needed to hear these Canadian singers and music, and they would be bowled over. And they certainly were.

Are you worried that the gap left by the departure of QoP
will leave a gap in the creation of new opera in Canada,
or are you confident that QoP’s success as a deficit-free arts organization has left a model that others can build on?

We’d never have the hubris to think that we’d left a gap in new opera in Canada! People are very resilient and if there is a gap, it would be filled sooner or later. Now the deficit-free business, well that’s another story! That was a personal aesthetic — we would have been mortified to ever show up at a board meeting announcing that we’d gone into deficit. So along with our producer Nathalie Bonjour, we just made sure we never spent more than what we thought we could fundraise.

What will happen to the many works that QoP created? Will other companies have permission to perform them, or will they disappear along with the company?

QoP has an excellent track record of repeat performances of new operas. When we commission a new opera, we have exclusive rights for a few years after, but that being said we’ve never turned anyone away who wanted to do their own production of a QoP work. That’s what we all want — more productions of new operas! Just last week, the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore presented their own production of Svadba and in fall 2013 there will be another US production of Svadba. Our 2009 production, Love Songs, has already had three other versions performed in Canada with a fourth coming up in a few months. And so on. We consider the new operas we have commissioned as living organisms which will continue to be performed well into the future and form a vital part of the emerging canon of Canadian opera.

What plans do you have for the future?

John has a recital with soprano Erin Wall on March 7 at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto and then a BC recital tour with Ben Heppner. For Dáirine, she’s been approached about a few projects, but in the short term she’ll probably take a break after August 31st and fuel the imagination with walks in the mountains in County Kerry and long coffees on the Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon. Then she’ll start having ideas for new projects and be back knocking on someone else’s door!

Let me give you my deepest thanks for truly enlivening the world of opera in Canada.

We’ve had a marvellous run of 20 years and experienced huge generosity, support and warmth from our friends and colleagues in Canada. They’ve all been integral to our work and we couldn’t have given the best of ourselves without their belief that we would do no less. 

Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera and theatre. He can be contacted at

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