This summer there is not quite as much opera on offer in town in July and August as there has been in past seasons. Yet, it is not totally absent and nearby summer music festivals should hold much of interest for opera lovers.

16For staged operas with piano accompaniment, Summer Opera Lyric Theatre is always reliable. This year SOLT ( is presenting Mozart’s Idomeneo on July 29 and 31 and on August 3 and 6 with Michael Rose as music director. Playing with it in repertory is Verdi’s La Traviata on July 30 and August 2, 4 and 6 with Jennifer Tung as music director and Aaron Copland’s seldom-staged The Tender Land on July 30 and August 3, 5 and 7 with Nicole Bellamy as music director. The Tender Land, which premiered at the New York City Opera in 1954, concerns Laurie, a girl about to graduate from high school, who falls in love with an itinerant worker. It was staged at Glimmerglass just last year. All performances take place at the intimate Robert Gill Theatre on the University of Toronto campus.

On July 9, Opera by Request ( will present a concert performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore with Steven Sherwood (Manrico), Carrie Gray (Leonora), Karen Bojti (Azucena) and Yevgeny Yablonovsky (Count di Luna) with William Shookhoff as music director. The performance takes place at the College Street United Church, 452 College St.

The 24th annual Brott Music Festival in Hamilton ( offers several enjoyable options. Opera Ovations! on July 7 presents well-known opera excerpts sung by Ermano Mauro, Sinead Sugrue, Lauren Segal and Peter McGillivray accompanied by the National Academy Orchestra under Boris Brott himself. On August 6 the festival presents Bizet’s Carmen in concert with Lauren Segal (Carmen), Keith Klassen (Don José), Gregory Dahl (Escamillo) and Sinead Sugrue (Michaëla). Brott again conducts the NAO and Giandomenico Vaccari oversees the production. The previous day, Signore Vaccari will hold a dress rehearsal chat about the opera and discuss his role in rebuilding Bari’s famous Petruzzelli Theatre. The festival concludes on August 18 with a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with John McMaster, Leslie Anne Bradley and Theodore Baerg.

To the west, Stratford Summer Music is presenting A Serenade for Maureen Forrester at the Avon Theatre on July 25 commemorating her life and career. Soloists include Kimberly Barber, Allyson McHardy, Catherine Robbin, Krisztina Szabó, Jean Stilwell and Mary Lou Fallis. In addition to musical performances will be tributes from music critic William Littler, director Brian MacDonald, prima ballerina Karen Kain and composer R. Murray Schafer. Video tributes will come from conductors Zubin Mehta and Sir Andrew Davis. For more information and to book tickets visit

To the northeast the Westben Arts Festival in Campbellford is mounting a fully-staged production of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring from July 1 to July 3. The UBC Opera Ensemble is directed by Nancy Hermiston and Philip Headlam conducts the Westben Festival Orchestra. On July 14 well-known singers like Donna Bennett, Gabrielle Prata, Colin Ainsworth and Robert Longo take a break from opera to explore musicals from West Side Story to A Little Night Music and beyond. On July 24, Isabel Bayrakdarian with Serouj Kradjian at the piano presents a concert titled Sunday Afternoon at the Opera. Visit for more information.

If you’re looking for rarities and would rather stay in Canada, head over to Quebec to the Festival de Lanaudière ( near Montreal. On July 30 it will present what must be the first fully-staged performance in Canada of the romantic opera Der Vampyr (1828) by Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861), a composer whose operas are known to have heavily influenced Wagner. Wagner, in fact, conducted the work in 1833 with his brother in the tenor role. The opera is ultimately based on the first vampire story in English, the short novel The Vampyre (1819) by John Polidori, doctor to Lord Byron and friend to Percy and Mary Shelley. The singers include Phillip Addis in the title role, Frédéric Antoun, Nathalie Paulin and Robert Pomakov. Alain Gaulthier directs and Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts the Orchestre du Festival. Toronto last had a chance to hear the work in 1994 when Opera In Concert presented it. Since then others have championed it including Roberto Abbado, who conducted it in Bologna in 2008.

Opera productions in the US within a day’s drive of Toronto include Luigi Cherubini’s Medea (1797) in Italian at Glimmerglass Opera ( July 8 to August 16; Richard Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae (1940) at the Bard Music Festival ( July 29 to August 7; and at the Ohio Light Opera ( July 15 to August 6, Cole Porter’s Jubilee (1935), Victor Herbert’s The Fortune Teller (1898) and Leo Fall’s Madame Pompadour (1922).

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

Opera in Toronto no longer ends with the close of the Canadian Opera Company’s season. This month sees the world premiere of Svadba – Wedding, a new a cappella opera by Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic commissioned by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre.

p15_opera_the_midnight_courtAny opera by Queen of Puddings is an event, especially when it is on a large scale, this time involving six singers. According to the QoP press release, Svadba – Wedding “takes place the night before a fiancée, Milica, leaves for her wedding. Her girlfriends keep her company all night long and engage in raucous girltalk, invoking pagan rituals as they prepare her for the impending wedding. What elevates this ‘girltalk’ to a supernaturally exhilarating experience is Ana Sokolovic’s style of composition. Using existing Slavic/Balkan peasant folk tales, myths and traditions as her text source, she draws on her native Balkan folk music as a source of inspiration for all her music. She transforms the music and text into her own unique onomatopoeic language and transports listeners to a world of magic realism. The singers have to use every single possible vocal technique – combining opera singing with Balkan folk singing, overtones, extreme chest voice, heightened nasal voice, whispering, creating a wildly inventive intense palette of colours.”

This is Sokolovic’s fourth collaboration with QoP after Love Songs (2008), The Midnight Court (2005) and Six Voices for Sirens (2000). Born in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1968, she studied composition with Dusan Radic and Zoran Eric. She completed a master’s degree at the Université de Montréal under the direction of José Evangelista. Her catalogue includes orchestral and piano works and several chamber music compositions, and she has written numerous scores for the theatre. This year she has been unanimously chosen by the SMCQ (Société de musique contemporaine du Québec) for its 2011-2012 season Homage Series. This season the entire Québec cultural community will recognize and celebrate the work of Ana Sokolovic by programming her music.

Via e-mail, Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, co-founder with John Hess of QoP, writes of Sokolovic and her inspiration for this new work: “The genesis of Svadba was Sirens, that ten minute work for six female voices we commissioned from Ana in 2000. We adored that work and anyone who heard it has never forgotten it and we’ve performed it many times since. She used Balkan vocal techniques in Sirens, something akin to what you hear in that famous Bulgarian women’s choir, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. While we’ve commissioned other works from Ana since 2000, we’ve always wanted to revisit a full-length scenario for six female voices in which Ana would again be drawn towards Balkan vocal techniques, as she always is when writing vocal music.”

“Balkan folkloric music has always been the inspiration for all of her music. Love Songs included three Serbian poems, and now in Svadba she has come full circle as it’s completely in Serbian. She had the idea of really exploring Balkan literature and folk texts for Svadba and the wedding rituals and texts were the ones that caught her attention. She spent time in Belgrade poring over hundreds of texts. While Ana lives in Montreal, married to a Québécois with two Canadian children, she is never far from her Serbian background in her art. Igor Stravinsky’s Les Noces (a choral ballet from 1923 based on Russian wedding lyrics) may not have been Svadba’s immediate inspiration but it was probably there subliminally.”

In answer to questions about the nature of Svadba as opera, Ní Mheadhra says, “Svadba is more about ritual than narrative, although it does unfold in seven consecutive scenes where the bride and her girlfriends stay up all night long before the impending wedding as they prepare her for the ceremony. It includes scenes like colouring her hair, bathing her in the hammam, dressing her, etc., leading to the farewell, and the music is completely onomatopoeic. The catharsis is a purging through emotion, most definitely, as the forcefield of sound set up by those female voices singing nasally pushes into the far reaches of your cranium and makes your head buzz and your body vibrate so much that you feel totally exhilarated! It’s primal stuff and communicates so viscerally that you want more and more and more … which is after all how those Sirens could lure those sailors onto the rocks with their sound that was so seductive!”

Svadba will be sung in Serbian with English surtitles. The cast is comprised of singers Jacqueline Woodley, Shannon Mercer, Laura Albino, Carla Huhtanen, Andrea Ludwig and Krisztina Szabó, under the music direction of Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The creative team consists of stage director Michael Cavanagh, set and costume designer Michael Gianfrancesco and lighting designer Kimberly Purtell. Performances take place in Toronto June 24, 25, 28, 29, 30 and July 2 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. For tickets phone 416-368-3110 or visit For more about Ana Sokolovic, see and for more about Queen of Puddings see

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

Once singers have graduated from Opera School, how do they get a job? How do they know what repertoire to sing? How do they prepare for auditions? If you’ve ever wondered about these questions, a special event in May will show you the answers. The International Resource Centre For Performing Artists (IRCPA) presents Opera Week in Toronto from May 5 to 9. During this period, Vincenzo Scalera of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, and Joan Dornemann of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, will be in Toronto to work intensively with Canadian opera singers with the goal of helping them learn what their possibilities might be in the international market and how to prepare for important auditions for employment. The information garnered at these sessions will also be of interest to coaches, pianists, conductors, stage directors, teachers and managers.

17a17bBest of all, the coaching sessions are open to observers for $20 a session. Morning and afternoon sessions will take place May 5 to 9 at the Gallery Theatre Space, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Opera Week will then culminate in a Toscanini Celebration Concert on Wednesday, May 11, at 8pm, at the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Singers for the May 11 concert will be chosen during the week’s coaching sessions by Mr. Scalera and Ms. Dornemann, together with Canadian operatic divas Clarice Carson and Lois McDonall, both retired after illustrious international careers, and now active members of the IRCPA. May 11 is a significant date as it marks the 65th anniversary of the reopening of La Scala by Arturo Toscanini on May 11, 1946, after its restoration following the bombing of Milan in 1943. Tickets are $30, and $25 for seniors and students, and are available at 416-872-1111 or at More information is available at

The IRCPA has designed programs since 1983 to make artists ready for employment. Its mandate is to help all performing artists in the classical music and ballet fields to move into professional careers, with special attention to singers and dancers because of their short career spans. After years of formal training, singers need guidance in auditioning for national or international markets, and the IRCPA gives them the opportunity to learn from artistic directors and high-level coaches who work with international casts and know what they need to be hired. The artists thus gain rare access to people currently at the pinnacle of their field while saving on the costs of travel and an accompanist.

These sessions (also called “encounters”) are often supplemented by panel discussions and information on the “business” of performing – including contracts, protocol and the expectations presenters and employers have of artists. The IRCPA program also includes “Encounters with Employers” and the “Business of Career Development.” The next such encounter is scheduled for November 2011.

Ann Summers Dossena, IRCPA founder and the producer/organizer of Opera Week, had been working with Joan Dornemann and other major people, including Joan Ingpen (who was head of the Metropolitan Opera’s young artists programme). When Ann returned to Canada in 1977, she realized that there wasn’t anything similar in Toronto. Artists were asking for management but they weren’t ready for it. Ann spoke to Joan Dornemann, who said, “You do it and I’ll come.” That was in 1983. Joan Dornemann began her Israel program two years later, and Ann went there twice to help her.

Ann continues: “We soon realized that the coaching wasn’t enough because languages were a problem, so we expanded to include Nico Castel for languages. Then it became apparent that stage protocol and interpretation were needed, so we expanded further and brought in Leon Major, a Canadian stage director working in the U.S. who created the Opera Centre at the University of Maryland.”

Artists the IRCPA has tracked include Adrianne Pieczonka, Isabelle Bayrakdarian, Measha Bruggergosman, Colin Ainsworth, Jean Stilwell, Kimberly Barber and also actor Adam Brazier. Summers says, “We’ve also helped accompanists and they are working in theatres outside Canada. We hope they will bring back their experiences to Canada.”

Famed Canadian voice teacher Mary Morrison has said, “Many years ago, I attended Joan Dornemann’s classes as an observer. Her fabulous ears and acute musicianship have inspired some of our budding professional singers, and have certainly influenced my own teaching. I always encourage students to participate in any of her courses. How fortunate for singers to have this experience.” Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka agrees, saying, “As a young student aspiring to become an opera singer, I had the good fortune to benefit from the IRCPA. I participated in a masterclass given by Joan Dornemann which was a revelation! Her expertise and energy inspired me very much and I can still recall the suggestions she made.”

Opera Week is an event that benefits not just the participants but the public curious about the complex process of becoming an opera singer. For more information about the IRCPA, visit

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

15_opera_michael_maniaci2_photo_by_michael_cooperApril is once again the opera month of the Ontario cultural calendar with eight fully-staged operas in Southern Ontario plus at least two operas in concert on offer. One of the fully-staged productions comes from a brand new company, Wish Opera, that seeks to further the work of Canadian artists in its productions.

The month begins with the final performance, outside our listings coverage area, on April 2, of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor by Opera Lyra Ottawa, at the National Arts Centre. It stars Lyubov Petrova as Lucia, Marc Hervieux as Edgardo and Gregory Dahl as Enrico. See

The month continues with the peripatetic Opera Kitchener presenting Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Guelph on April 7,
in Waterloo on April 9, and in Mississauga on April 15. Visit for more information. Remaining on the periphery of the Big Smoke, Opera Hamilton presents the favourite double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci on April 21 and 23. Many familiar singers – Joni Henson, Sally Dibblee, Wendy Hatala-Foley and Gregory Dahl – appear along with Richard Troxall as Turiddu and Jeffrey Springer as Canio. See
for more.

The season in Toronto proper starts with performances of Rudolf Friml’s Rose Marie on April 15 and 16 by Wish Opera, about which there is more below. Opera Atelier concludes its 2010-11 season with North America’s first-ever period production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito running April 22 to May 1, and reuniting many of the cast members that made OA’s Idomeneo so electrifying: Measha Brueggergosman as Vitellia, Michael Maniaci as Sesto, Krešimir Špicer as Tito and Curtis Sullivan as Publio. They are joined by Mireille Asselin as Servilia and Mireille Lebel as Annio. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Orchestra. See

The Canadian Opera Company begins its spring season with Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola, April 23 to May 25. The COC last staged this work in 1996. This production, co-produced with Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera and two European companies, is directed by Joan Font and conducted by Leonardo Vordoni. Elizabeth DeShong in the title role is joined by Lawrence Brownlee, Brett Polegato and Donato DiStefano. The Rossini runs in repertory with Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, April 30 to May 29. The COC last staged this work in 1995. This production from Welsh National Opera is directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by the great Sir Andrew Davis. Richard Margison sings The Tenor and Bacchus, Adrianne Pieczonka is The Prima Donna and Ariadne and Jane Archibald scales the coloratura heights as Zerbinetta. For more details see

The final opening is Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, The Pirates of Penzance, from April 26 to May 1. Ryan Harper and Jessica Cheung will be Frederic and Mabel while David Ludwig and Jean Stilwell will sing the Pirate King and Ruth, his trusty maid of all work. Robert Cooper will conduct and Guillermo Silva-Marin will direct.

As for operas in concert, Opera by Request will present Verdi’s La Traviata on April 6 in St. Catharines, April 8 in Toronto and April 11 in London. OBR’s next presentation is Britten’s The Turn of the Screw on April 16. See

On April 28, the COC Ensemble Studio offers a triple bill for free at noon at the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium. On the program are Menotti’s The Telephone, Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and a new work by Ana Sokolovic, composer of Queen of Puddings’ The Midnight Court.

16_opera_tonia_cianciulli__wish_operaAs mentioned at the outset, entering the lists this month with Rudolf Friml’s Rose Marie is the brand new company, Wish Opera, founded by soprano Tonia Cianciulli. Last March, Wish Opera made its debut with concerts of opera arias at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre at York University. A production of Don Giovanni announced for June that year never took place. Cianciulli loved the York University venue but realized that to be successful her company would have to find a more accessible venue, closer to dining options before and after the show. Luckily, she came across the John Bassett Theatre located in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The little-known venue is “a real gem” in Cianciulli’s words. Self-contained, with its own entrance onto Front Street, it has 1330 seats, an orchestra pit and adjacent rooms for receptions.

Cianciulli knows she has her work cut out for her in finding a niche in Toronto’s opera scene and creating a following, but she feels “Wish Opera has something different to offer that will appeal not just to opera lovers, but people in the fashion industry, the design industry, art, photography – we’ll have something for everyone.” Wish Opera “seeks to promote and nurture and gain awareness for Canadian talent in all mediums.”

For Rose Marie, Cianciulli has assembled a wide-ranging group of artists and designers including Charles Pachter and aboriginal artists Maynard Jonny Jr. and Bernice Gordon, whose artworks projected on stage will provide backdrops for the action. Gordon is also contributing a hand-carved totem pole and serves as an advisor in revising the 1924 book by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II to make it more sensitive to aboriginal people. Finally, rather than calling Malabar to rent costumes, Cianciulli wants to make audiences aware of current Canadian designers. Thus, the show will feature fashions created by young Quebec designers Denis Gagnon and Marie Saint Pierre along with Girl Friday, Cabaret, Breeyn McCarney and Natasha Lazarovic. The furnishings and chandeliers will also be provided by Canadian companies.

Cianciulli says the idea of Rose Marie as Wish Opera’s first fully-staged opera came from conductor Kerry Stratton, who loves the music. Before he emigrated to the U.S., Friml was a pupil of Antonin Dvořák in Prague. The operetta, set in the Canadian Rockies about the love between a French Canadian girl and an English Canadian miner, was a great hit in New York and London. Especially in the famous 1936 film version starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, it became the archetypal image of Canada for many non-Canadians. There has likely not been a professional staging of the work since a production at the Shaw Festival in 1981. The Wish Opera production will be directed by Lesley Ballantyne with French Canadian mezzo Maude Brunet in the title role and tenor Todd Delaney as her lover. The cast also includes singers Olivier Laquerre, Michael York, Deborah Overes, Sarah Christina Steinert, Anne Marie Ramos, Dan Mitton and actor Sundance Crowe. As part of its community outreach, Wish Opera sponsors the attendance of children to special performances, donates a portion of all ticket revenue to the Hospital for Sick Children and sends artists to perform at Sick Kids’ in-house theatre. For tickets and more information visit or call 1-877-700-3130. Though April may already be crowded with opera, Cianciulli knows that there are still not enough opportunities for Canadian singers at home. If Wish Opera can provide those opportunities and make Canadians more aware of all the artists in their midst, it will have performed an invaluable service. Its next project is Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette on October 28 and 29 this year. We wish them all the best. n

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

March sees performances of two rarities – both influenced by the Nationalist movement in music in the 19th century.  On March 9, 11, 12 and 13, Toronto Operetta Theatre presents a fully staged version of the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda (1932) by Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) and on March 27 Opera in Concert presents a concert version of Antonín Dvořák’s comic opera The Devil and Kate (1899). Both works are regularly staged in their homelands – Spain and the Czech Republic, respectively – but are largely unknown outside of them. To discover more about the two works I spoke with Guillermo Silva-Marin, artistic director of both opera companies.

Luisa Fernanda is one of the most popular of all zarzuelas and will be the fourth zarzuela TOT has presented following Tomás Bretón’s La Verbena de la paloma in 1999, Gonzalo Roig’s Cecilia Valdés in 2003 and Francisco Asenjo Barbieri’s El Barberillo de Lavapiés in 2005. This makes TOT the only operetta company in the world, as far as can be determined, to include Spanish repertoire on a regular basis along with works from Europe and America. Ohio Light Opera, North America’s largest operetta festival, presented zarzuela once in 1999, but never since, and the Festival Internazionale dell’Operetta in Trieste has so far never included Spanish works.

Silva-Marin’s inclusion of zarzuela is a conscious effort to diversify the TOT’s offerings both because of the inherent value of the works and because the Hispanic community, as he notes, “is hardly ever represented in the cultural tapestry of this city.” Unlike Viennese or Parisian operetta, zarzuela has largely remained unknown outside of Spain, first because of the misconception that the works were “too typically Spanish” to travel and second for the practical reason that Spain was politically isolated in the central part of the 20th century when interest in opera was expanding.

It is true, though, that zarzuela is not quite like operetta. In fact, it presents an art form that neatly complements its European counterparts. As Silva-Marin explains, “Zarzuela is, unlike operetta, a little bit more overt as to how it is critical of social, moral and political issues and portrays those not so much in a fun way but in a critical way. Gilbert and Sullivan poke fun at those in power but the tone is light. In zarzuela it is more serious. A great number of zarzuelas are daringly critical of the government, the aristocracy or of whatever social issues they’re trying to present. That gives zarzuela more of an operatic tone. In Luisa Fernanda in particular the influence of Puccini and verismo is much stronger than in other zarzuelas of the period.” While the whole movement of zarzuela was to create a nationalist school of opera, Spanish composers were fully aware of the artistic movements of their time. Silva-Marin says, “You get this mixture which is fascinating in that it is undeniably Spanish but is pushing ahead under the influence of musical movements from abroad.”

Luisa Fernanda is set in Madrid in 1868 during the revolutionary republican movement that threatened the regime of Queen Isabel II.  A typical love triangle takes on political implications when the tenor lead Javier, a colonel, finds himself torn between his fiancée Luisa Fernanda, daughter of a court clerk and the Duchess Carolina.Luisa’s friends counsel her to forget Javier because of his dangerous revolutionary ideas and to accept the attentions of the wealthy landowner Vidal, who has come to Madrid to find a wife.

Mexican tenor Edgar Ernesto Ramirez will sing Javier, a role popularized on disc by Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. Michèle Bogdanowicz will sing Luisa, Miriam Khalil the Countess and Silva-Marin himself will sing Vidal. The zarzuela will be sung in Spanish with dialogue in English but for the first time the TOT will use surtitles for the musical numbers.

25_silva_marinShifting geography, Dvořák’s The Devil and Kate, like Luisa Fernanda, is a work that has never been off the boards in its home country since its premiere. Though it may seem heresy to say so, The Devil and Kate is generally considered even more popular in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia than than Dvořák’s best-known opera Rusalka (1901). Besides its robust humour, one of the work’s greatest attractions is its abundance of folk dances. Ever since Opera in Concert’s presentation of Rusalka in 1998, Silva-Marin became curious about Dvořák’s other eight published operas. As it happened he came across a DVD of the Wexford Festival’s 1988 production of the opera sung in English. Based on a Bohemian fairy tale, Kate wants to dance so much that she declares she’d dance with the devil himself. What do you know but a mysterious stranger named Marbuel suddenly appears, dances with Kate and disappears with her underground. Fortunately, Kate has a friend Jirka, who vows to rescue her. Marion Newman sings Kate, Giles Tomkins will be the devil’s servant Marbuel. OiC will use the same clever translation by Ian Gledhill used at Wexford.  For more information about TOT visit and for OiC go to Without the efforts of Guillermo Silva-Marin, Toronto’s opera scene would lose the diversity that makes it so rich.

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

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