January 2014 was so full of opera news it was impossible to cover all of it in a single column. As reported last issue, the Canadian Opera Company announced its 2014/15 season on January 15; on January 7 it had announced the launch of the Canadian Opera Orchestra Academy.  Developed in collaboration with the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, the COC Orchestra Academy is a mentorship program led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus to offer student musicians professional insight and experience in their pursuit of a career in an opera orchestra. As Debus puts it, “What we’re creating with the COC Orchestra Academy is an opportunity to pass on the wealth of experience that the members of the COC Orchestra possess to the next generation of musicians coming up through the ranks. The students selected for the launch of the program represent some promising talent and I’m very interested to see how they will blend in with our players and the perspective they’ll gain on the world of the orchestra pit.”

Against the Grain: On January 16, the COC announced that it would partner with the upstart Toronto company Against the Grain, best known for presenting operas like La Bohème in pubs. The point of the new training program organized by the Banff Centre is to take opera off the stage and into the community. Following auditions in Toronto and Vancouver, eight emerging professional opera singers will be invited to the intensive. They will workshop skills that challenge the conventions of opera performance, production and design, and develop a modern interpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for presentation at venues throughout the Banff community. 

1906 onoperaOpera Atelier: The COC was not the only company to announce its 2014/15 season. On January 21, so did Opera Atelier. It will present two new productions – the first fully staged production of Handel’s Alcina in Canada from October 23 to November 1, 2014 and the Berlioz 1859 version of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridyce from April 9 to 18, 2015. The latter will mark the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s furthest foray into the 19th century.

Tapestry changes guard: On January 28, Tapestry Opera announced Michael Mori as its new artistic director. Mori has been working alongside Tapestry founder Wayne Strongman for the past two years to deepen his understanding of opera creation and the challenges facing the company and the sector. Strongman has said, “It is very satisfying to hand over the artistic reins of Tapestry to Michael Mori, who is a colleague of like aesthetic and human values. You can imagine the pride as I watch the achievements of Tapestry being celebrated and continued with fresh energy and insight.” 

Opera Hamilton sad end Amid all this positive news, the announcement that sent a shudder through the Ontario opera world came on January 8. On that date Opera Hamilton announced that it would be ceasing operations and that it would cancel its upcoming performances of Popera on January 11 to 18 and Carmen from April 19 to 26. Co-chair and treasure Peter Uffelmann stated: “We simply do not have the financial resources to continue.” He added, “We had hoped a large donation from an individual would arrive in time, but regrettably it did not materialize, and in the absence of any other funding, the Board had no choice but to cancel the rest of the season and cease operations.”

Readers will recall that between 1992 and 1994 Opera Hamilton expanded to become Opera Ontario to include performances in Kitchener. That expansion, however, did not prove economically viable and Opera Ontario went bankrupt. In 2008 Opera Hamilton re-emerged from the ruins of Opera Ontario and switched its performance venue from Hamilton Place to the more congenial Dofasco Centre, where Theatre Aquarius performs. It still had a large accumulated deficit and was unable to pay the orchestra for what would prove its final production, Verdi’s Falstaff in 2013.

In The Hamilton Spectator, Leonard Turnevicius stated what many were feeling when he wrote, “It’s a sad end to an organization that over the years has featured some of this country’s finest singers, established artists plus the up-and-comers as well as a number of international imports, but also conductors, directors and designers, the names of whom would fill an entire page of this newspaper.”

From its inception in 1980 to its last production in 2013, Opera Hamilton provided not only live opera for the residents of the Niagara peninsula, but a way for Toronto inhabitants to augment the offerings of the COC. The company presented several productions of operas the COC has so far never staged – like Verdi’s I due Foscari in 1989 and 1994, Verdi’s Nabucco in 1992, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah in 2000, Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs des perles in 2002 and 2013 and Delibes Lakmé in 2003 – and some it is likely never to stage like the unusual double bill of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine and Massenet’s Le Portrait de Manon in 2004. Opera Hamilton provided a way to hear a number of Canadian singers just before their careers took off and incidentally hired a number of established opera singers from Quebec who seldom or never appear at the COC. In January Opera Hamilton co-chair Dennis Darby said, “We’re hopeful that maybe something will emerge in the next few months and we’ll re-emerge.” We can only hope that just as Opera Hamilton survived its near-death experience in 2008 it can do so again, otherwise Ontario audiences and emerging artists will have lost an invaluable cultural asset.

GGS Vixen: On a more positive note, March is unusually filled with opera productions, most of them in concert, yet still a means of offering audiences a way to hear a wider range of works and for singers to display their skill. The only fully staged opera on offer in March is the Glenn Gould School’s production of Leoš Janáček’s comic opera The Cunning Little Vixen (1924) on March 19 and 21 at Koerner Hall.Toronto has not seen this beautiful work since the COC presented it in 1998. The opera is conducted by Uri Mayer and directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones and will be performed in English with English surtitles.    

Voicebox Stiffelio: For those still celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Voicebox: Opera in Concert is the perfect choice. It is presenting the unjustly neglected opera Stiffelio (1850) that Verdi wrote in tandem with Rigoletto. The contemporaneous subject matter about a Protestant minister with an adulterous wife, so scandalized the political and religious powers of the day that Verdi eventually withdrew the work and his autograph copy went missing. In 1992 the Carrara family gave access to their collection of Verdi’s papers to scholar Philip Gossett, who discovered the autograph copy among them. This led to the first complete performance of the score by the Metropolitan Opera in 1993, and it will be this version that Voicebox will perform on March 23. The title role will be sung by Ernesto Ramirez, his wayward wife by Laura Albino and her lover by Geoffrey Sirett. The cast will be led from the piano by Michael Rose.  

Opera by Request has an especially busy March with performances of Don Giovanni on March 7, La Bohème on March 8 and Massenet’s Werther on March 29. All three will take place at the College St. United Church in Toronto and all three will be accompanied on the piano by the indefatigable William Shookhoff.

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

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.

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