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.

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 (luminatofestival.com) 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 (lukehousner.com). 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 (solt.ca) 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 (brottmusic.com) 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 (elorafestival.com) 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 (highlandsoperastudio.com) 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 (stratfordsummermusic.ca) is presenting the unusual group known as The Bicycle Opera Project, July 26 to 28. The group (bicycleopera.ca) 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 (westben.ca) 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 (montrealbaroque.com) 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 (lanaudiere.org). 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 opera@thewholenote.com.

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