On January 15 the Canadian Opera Company announced its 2014/15 season. In contrast to the current season that features three company premieres, the 2014/15 season revives three famous productions from the past – Madama ButterflyDie Walküre and Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung – and has no company premieres. Instead, there will be three new productions of standard repertory – FalstaffDon Giovanni and The Barber of Seville. Patrons who have been happy to see the company exploring new repertoire are bound to be disappointed. Even more disappointing is the fact that the COC is presenting only six productions, not the seven it has presented ever since it moved into the Four Seasons Centre in 2006.

At first glance one fewer production might not seem important. Yet, anyone who attended the late Richard Bradshaw’s press conferences leading up to the opening of the new opera house will know that it is. Bradshaw always mentioned to the press that it was impossible for the COC to present a balanced season with only six productions. He said he therefore had to program operas with a view to achieving balance over several seasons. The reason why the COC added a seventh production once it moved into the Four Seasons Centre was part of a larger plan to increase that number eventually to at least eight in order to match the number of productions presented by the most important American opera houses after the Met – like the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera. To return to six productions looks like the postponement of that dream.

In fact, the last time the COC presented only six productions was in the 2000/01 season and before that in the 1994/95 season. It presented six or fewer from its founding to the 1982/83 season, then somehow managed eight operas from the 1983/84 season to 1992/93.

Before the 2009/10 season, the COC gave the Ensemble Studio its own production which made six operas into seven. Granted, these were on a smaller scale, but this allowed the COC to delve into smaller works outside the standard repertory with rarities by Gazzaniga, Walton, Sartorio, Cavalli and Ullmann. This slot also allowed the COC to present new Canadian works such as Swoon (2006) by James Rolfe or Red Emma (1995) by Gary Kulesha without the expense and risk of a mainstage production. If the company must move back to six operas, perhaps it should give the Ensemble Studio its own production again to offer more variety in programming and give cause once more for the Studio members’ work to be reviewed in a context less contrained than the one-night Ensemble production of a current mainstage production such as the current production of Cosí.

bbb - on opera 1Frankly, the retreat to six productions might be less troubling if it were not so clearly dictated by financial considerations. In his entry on June 18, 2013, in his blog Musical Toronto (musicaltoronto.org), music critic John Terauds remarked that the COC was trying to put a positive spin on bad fiscal news. He noted that “Since the 2009/10 season, the Canadian Opera Company’s net ticket revenues have fallen by 23.5 percent, while overall attendance has dropped by 16.7 percent.” He concluded that “Our city’s musical bounty sits perched on a knife’s edge.”  On June 17, 2013, Arthur Kaptainis of the National Post  after reviewing the same information went further and ventured an outright prediction, which now has come to pass. He said, “The downward turn at the COC is troubling. My crystal ball says the 2014/15 season will contract from seven productions to six. I believe you read it here first.”

Both Terauds and Kaptainis note that the COC gave 67 performances in the 2011/12 season but only 61 in the 2012/13 season. In the present season there are only 58 performances. While the administration touts the fact that attendance at the COC has been 90 percent or above since it moved into the new opera house, that figure is meaningless if the number of performances is reduced every year. For 2011/12 attendance reached 125,238, but for 2012/13 it was 114,133 – a drop of 11,105 in one year. It should be obvious that in shrinking from 67 performances to 58, the company has lost the equivalent of nine performances which equal one full opera production. It should therefore not be surprising that the company has decided to drop one production.

What has caused such a precipitous drop in such a short time? Kaptainis mentions that L’Opéra de Montréal, experiencing a similar decline, puts the blame on the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD cinema broadcasts whose original goal was to increase attendance at the Met. Kaptainis however points the finger on COC general director Alexander Neef’s penchant for Regietheater.

Now Regietheater, or opera productions guided by a directorial concept, can be either good or bad. The three famous COC productions to be revived in 2014/15 are all examples of Regietheater at its best, where a directorial concept illuminates an opera. Unfortunately, the COC has recently presented several examples, in my opinion, of Regietheater at its worst. One thinks of Christopher Alden’s Die Fledermaus and La Clemenza di Tito in the 2012/13 season or Zhang Huan’s Semele in 2011/12. Here the directors rather than illuminating the operas deliberately subverted their stories.

The plan to move back to a six-opera season was known before January 15. Neef first revealed it in the Fall 2013 edition of the COC’s magazine, Prelude, citing the burden that seven operas places on the company without ever mentioning declining attendance. He stated, “Since 2007 we’ve forced the seven-opera model to function, but at a cost of too many compromises – artistically, financially, and from a patron and staffing perspective.” With the six-opera season, he said, “We’ll have more financial flexibility to produce more grand operas, and contemplate some new productions.” Speaking of the 2014/15 season, he predicted, “Starting next season, you’ll see more varied repertoire, including the potential for one grand and/or new opera per season.”

Unfortunately, the announced 2014/15 season contradicts this prediction. Not only has Bradshaw’s goal been set aside but so, it seems, have goals of Neef’s. In 2010 when Neef announced the first season solely chosen by him, he said that he wanted to fill in gaps in standard repertory that the COC had never done, such as Parsifal and Nabucco. He also pledged to present one contemporary opera per season. Following this, he gave us Nixon in China in 2010/11 and L’Amour de loin in 2011/12. Neither of these goals is evident in the 2014/15 season. Bluebeard’s Castle (1918) and Erwartung (written 1909) can hardly be considered “contemporary” and the three new productions are of operas the COC has often done before.  

Looking at the figures, the problem does not seem to lie with the seven-opera model per se, as Neef claims, but with a decline in attendance that makes seven operas impracticable. Ultimately, the COC needs to be more open about these difficulties. If a company is having problems, people will help. If it claims that all is well, people will not. Why is attendance now lower than the 117,700 at the Hummingbird Centre in 2004/05? The COC needs to identify why it is losing patrons – especially now that Toronto finally has one of the finest opera houses in the world and can attract the finest talent in the world.

The most positive side to the 2014/15 announcement (and there is a positive side!) is that COC audiences will indeed be seeing so much of opera’s finest talent next season. Appearing will be such stars as Christine Goerke, Patricia Racette, Jane Archibald, Russell Braun, Gerald Finley, Clifton Forbis, Ekaterina Gubanova, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, John Relyea, Michael Schade, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó. Let’s hope that next season represents a period of adjustment while the COC finds out how to win back those it lost. To inquire about subscriptions, visit coc.ca.  

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

on opera - guinta and dyeIf you want to find out the first time Attila and Marion Glatz sold out their annual New Year’s Day “Salute to Vienna” live concert gala all you have to do is go back to the first time they presented it — New Year’s Day 1995 at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York. So what do you do when you hit a home run your first time up at the plate? Simple, you switch to a venue double the size, double the prices, and do it all over again ... and again ... and again. Charlie Cutts, CEO of Roy Thomson Hall was at that first ever event and had no hesitation offering the Glatzes the opportunity to move the event to Roy Thomson Hall, the big glass bonnet at Simcoe and King. “We like working with people who are good at what they do,” he says, simply. And the Glatzes certainly are that.

Truth be told, this magazine did not have a listing for that first concert at the George Weston, for one simple reason: we didn’t come into existence until September of the following year. But from then till now you can find them in every December/January double issue of The WholeNote, (most often as the “only show in town” in their mid-afternoon January 1 slot).

Read more: Salute to Glatz’s Salute to Vienna

on opera - showtime for the small and shinyIn November it’s the turn for the smaller opera companies to shine. Six companies in particular will present the kind of unusual repertoire that keeps the opera landscape in Ontario so diverse.

Arcady: First up, on November 2, is Ronald Beckett’s opera Ruth, based on the book in the Bible of the same name. It is performed by Arcady, an ensemble dedicated to the performance of baroque music and Beckett’s work. Composed of a collection of singers, actors and instrumentalists from throughout Ontario, Arcady combines established professionals, outstanding university music students and recent performance graduates. The performance takes place at the Hope Christian Reformed Church in Brantford.

The opera will feature a cast of young soloists led by Elise Naccarato in the title role and Michael York as Boaz. The role of the narrator will be sung by tenor Christopher Fischer, Naomi by Montreal’s Meagan Zantingh and Malchi-Shua by Brantford’s own Shawn Oakes. The work uses three choruses — a chorus of the women from Moab, a male chorus of Elders who appear at the trial of Malchi-Shua and a youth choir. In 2007 Arcady recorded Ruth for Crescendo Records, and anyone wishing get a sense of the 80-minute work can listen to excerpts on iTunes or CDBaby.

TOT: On November 3, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents a concert performance of the zarzuela, The Saucy Señorita (La revoltosa), from 1897 by Ruperto Chapí (1851–1909). A zarzuela is the Spanish version of operetta and the short one-act La revoltosa is considered one of the masterpieces of the form. Beth Hagerman is Mari-Pepa, the flirtatious troublemaker of the title, who causes a row among the men in her Madrid neighbourhood (sung by Diego Catala, Fabian Arciniegas and Marco Petracchi) and angers the women. Music director Narmina Afandiyeva provides the piano accompaniment. The TOT fills out the evening with a selection of hits from the world of zarzuela.

Essential Opera: On November 8, Essential Opera opens its fourth season with Haydn’s charming two-act comic opera L’isola disabitata (1779) in concert at Heliconian Hall in Yorkville. This four-character score will be sung in Italian with onscreen English translation. Music direction and piano accompaniment are by Kate Carver.

All the action in L’isola disabitata takes place on a tiny desert island inhabited only by Costanza (Erin Bardua), who was abandoned there 13 years earlier by her faithless fiancé, along with her younger sister Sylvia (Maureen Batt). Their loneliness is interrupted by the arrival of Enrico (Giovanni Spanu) and his best friend (Stefan Fehr), none other than Gernando, Costanza’s fiancé.

As Bardua and Batt told me in an interview, “For season four, we wanted to begin with something from the classical period; that’s what we started with (Le nozze di Figaro was our first show), and it felt like the perfect time to revisit that era. This Haydn was immediately appealing; it was designed for a small cast and performance space, so as soon as we discovered it, we knew it was a good fit. It’s entirely about relationships and how they’re formed — Costanza’s motherly/sisterly bond with Sylvia; Sylvia’s desperate need for variety and affection, which makes her fall instantly for the gruff Enrico; Enrico’s loyalty and growing empathy; Gernando’s unwavering faith. Those relationships all get resolved in a really satisfying way. Plus, it’s pretty funny — Haydn clearly felt the subject matter was lighthearted at its core, and we love laughs at Essential Opera.” For an idea of a performance by Essential Opera, Bardua and Batt recommend visiting their YouTube channel for highlights of their season three spring show, Two Weddings & a Funeral.

GGS: On November 15 and 16, the Glenn Gould School of Music at the Royal Conservatory presents a major rarity in the form of The Silent Serenade (Die stumme Serenade) by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957). Korngold is probably best known as the composer of numerous rousing scores for Hollywood movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940). But before leaving for Hollywood at the request of Max Reinhardt, Korngold had written in a wide range of classical genres. One of his six operas, Die tote Stadt (1920) is still performed today.

Peter Tiefenbach, who will conduct The Silent Serenade, told me in an interview that Korngold’s stay in the U,S, gave him the desire to write a musical. When he couldn’t find a producer in the States, Korngold decided to try his luck in West Germany and had the original English libretto translated into German. It was broadcast by Radio Vienna in 1951 and staged by Theater Dortmund in 1954. Set in Naples in 1826, the plot concerns a fashion designer, Andrea Coclé, who falls in love with his famous actress client Silvia Lombardi. The style is a mix of operetta and jazzy 1920s-style cabaret songs with the most difficult music given to Andrea and Silvia. What excites Tiefenbach most about the work is Korngold’s marvellous orchestration for chamber orchestra.

The original English libretto being lost, Korngold’s publishers commissioned an English translation of the German. The Glenn Gould School performance will mark the world premiere of this translation. The work, Korngold’s only operetta, will be directed by Joel Ivany. The piece was recorded for the first time in 2009 on CPO.

TrypTych: On November 16 and 17, TrypTych will present the first staging in Canada of Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio (1839), written when the composer was 26. The all-Canadian cast is led by bass Henry Irwin as Oberto and soprano Natalie Donnelly as his daughter Leonora — the first of Verdi’s many explorations of the bond between father and daughter. Tenor Lenard Whiting sings Riccardo, the man who seduced and abandoned Leonora, and mezzo-soprano Michèle Bogdanowicz sings Cuniza, the woman whom Riccardo is about to marry. Leonora’s bold plan is to confront Riccardo on his wedding day.

The production is directed and designed by Edward Franko with musical direction at the piano by Timothy Cheung. Joining the cast is an augmented Ensemble TrypTych Chamber Choir. November 17 will be the 174th anniversary to the day of the opera’s premiere. Performances take place in the newly renovated West Hall Theatre of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Toronto, and will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Voicebox: 2013 is the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth and the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth. While TrypTych commemorates the first, Voicebox: Opera in Concert commemorates the second. On November 24 it presents the Canadian premiere of Britten’s Gloriana (1953), written for the celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The opera concerns the public and private faces of Queen Elizabeth I and the friendship and friction between the monarch and the Earl of Essex, whose ambition worries her advisors. Betty Waynne Allison sings Queen Elizabeth, Adam Luther is Essex, Jennifer Sullivan is Lady Rich and Jesse Clark is Lord Mountjoy. Peter Tiefenbach is the music director and pianist and Robert Cooper is the choral director.

Britten’s portrait of Elizabeth’s isolation and failing powers was not deemed celebratory enough and the opera’s reputation has been tarnished by the negative reaction of its opening night audience ever since. Recently, however, singers and critics have spoken out against the opera’s neglect. Music critic Rupert Christiansen says of the score that “it is magnificent, with episodes that show Britten at the height of his powers” and the opera is “music theatre of Verdian scope and scale ... expressed through a brilliant evocation of the riches of Elizabethan music.” Since the larger opera companies in Ontario are unlikely ever to stage any of the six works above, we are lucky to have so many institutions and small companies willing to fill in these gaps. 

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

It is not very often that southern Ontario’s three biggest opera companies launch their seasons in the same month, but that is exactly what is happening this October. The Canadian Opera Company, Opera Atelier and Opera Hamilton all begin their 2013/14 seasons this month making this an unusually strong month for large-scale opera productions.

The Canadian Opera Company opens the new season with 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. Some may ask why the old production with sets by Wolfram Skalicki and costumes by Amrei Skalicki is being replaced. This production premiered in June 1989 and has been revived five times since then. I asked COC media relations manager Jennifer Pugsley whether the considerations related to the physical decay of the production or were purely aesthetic. She responded that the decision to mount a new Bohème involved both. Twenty-five years of use had taken their toll in wear and tear on the old production. But Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera were looking to create a new Bohème and gave the COC a chance to partner with them. The resulting collaboration is still set in the late 19th century but David Farley’s design will provide “a refreshed aesthetic.”

operaThe 12-performance run will necessitate the use of two casts of principals. Mexican tenor David Lomeli had been listed as the Rodolfo for eight of the performances, but in September it was announced he had to withdraw for health reasons. He has been replaced by Americans Dimitri Pittas and Michael Fabiano, two of the most exciting young tenors in opera today. Pittas will sing on October 3, 6, 9 and 12 while Fabiano will sing on October 16, 19, 27 and 30. There is also a third Rodolfo, American Eric Margiore who will sing October 18, 22, 25 and 29.

Two sopranos share the role of Mimì — Italian Grazia Doronzio and Canadian Joyce El-Khoury. Doronzio sings on October 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, 22, 25 and 29 and El-Khoury on October 16, 19, 27 and 30. El-Khoury, who was born in Lebanon but whose family moved to Canada when she was six, will also take on the role of Musetta. She sings that role on October 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, 22, 25 and 29 while Canadian Simone Osborne sings it on October 16, 19, 27 and 30. Famed Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi conducts all performances.

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 from October 5 to 26, this will be the opera’s third staging at the COC and its first since 2003. In one of his signature roles, Ben Heppner stars as the vilified fisherman Grimes with Ileana Montalbetti as Ellen Orford, the one woman in the village who stands by him. Alan Held, last seen as Jochanaan in Salome and Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde earlier this year, sings Captain Balstrode, the only male villager concerned about Grimes. Denni Sayers recreates Australian Neil Armfield’s direction of this co-production between Opera Australia, Houston Grand Opera and West Australian Opera. The COC has mounted two previous Armfield productions of Britten operas — Billy Budd in 2001 and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2009. Johannes Debus conducts.

Opera Atelier opens its 2013/14 season with a remount of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio that it first staged in 2008. It runs from October 26 to November 2. Abduction will feature Lawrence Wiliford as Belmonte and Adam Fisher as his servant Pedrillo. (In 2008 Frédéric Antoun sang Belmonte and Wiliford sang Pedrillo.) The pair will try to rescue Belmonte’s beloved Konstanze (Ambur Braid) and her servant Blonde (Blondchen), played by Carla Huhtanen, from the ever-watchful Osmin (Gustav Andreassen) and Pasha Selim (Curtis Sullivan). Huhtanen, Andreassen and Sullivan all return to the same roles they had in 2008. David Fallis will again conduct the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Like The Magic Flute, Abduction is a singspiel meaning that the dialogue between arias is spoken, not sung. As last time, the dialogue will be spoken in English and the arias sung in German with English surtitles.

Opera Hamilton begins the new season with its first-ever staging of Verdi’s Falstaff running October 19, 22, 24 and 26. John Fanning will sing the title role while James Westman sings Ford. Lyne Fortin and Ariana Chris sing the title roles of Mistress Alice and Mistress Meg, while Lynne McMurtry is Mistress Quickly, Theo Lebow is Fenton and Sasha Djihanian is his beloved Nanetta. Opera Hamilton general director David Speers conducts and Alison Grant directs. As of last year Opera Hamilton began building its own sets. The size of its new performance space in the Dofasco Centre is more in line with that of opera companies of a similar size in the U.S. This means that Opera Hamilton, which previously had always rented productions from elsewhere, for the first time has the chance to reverse the process and sell its productions to other companies. Speers assured me in a telephone interview that Falstaff would be set in Elizabethan England as Verdi intended.

Voicebox: besides these three larger companies, Voicebox: Opera In Concert also begins its new season, its 40th, this month. On October 6 it stages a spoof of Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor (1786) titled The Stressed-Out Impresario. It stars Voicebox’s own artistic director, Guillermo Silva-Marin, in the title role as the impresario who encounters difficulties with various singers competing for leading roles while he tries to balance schedules and fundraising imperatives. Raisa Nakhmanovich is the music director with a cast including Leigh-Ann Allen, Vania Chan, Christina Campsall, Keenan Viau, Domenico Sanfilippo and Sean Catheroy. Like Abduction from the Seraglio, Der Schauspieldirektor is also a singspiel and was specially written by Mozart to compete against an opera buffa by Salieri to decide which genre was better. Salieri’s contribution, Prima la musica e poi le parole, like the Mozart, is also a meta-opera — that is, an opera about opera. It is generally thought that Salieri’s work is superior to Mozart’s, but the main impediment to its success is that its humour depends so heavily on parodies and references to other now-forgotten operas of the time.

Opera by Request has a busy month with three operas in concert in October alone. On October 5 it presents Massenet’s Manon (1884) at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo. On October 18 it has Adriana Lecouvreur (1902) by Francesco Cilea and on October 27 Tales of Hoffmann (1881), both at College Street United Church in Toronto.

Anyone wishing to venture further afield should know that the Gryphon Trio will be performing Christos Hatzis’ highly acclaimed Constantinople (2004) at the Grand Theatre in Kingston on October 9. The multimedia music theatre piece, sometimes called a chamber opera, incorporates projections, stage movement, costumes, choreography and lighting, and sets texts for two sopranos from both the Western and Eastern sides of the only city in the world located on two continents. 

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

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 opera@thewholenote.com.

Back to top