Art Gallery of Ontario: “Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh & more” (October 22 – January 29, 2017)


This fall, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) invites visitors to accompany some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. Organized in partnership with the renowned Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh and more breaks new ground by exploring the mystical experiences of 36 artists from 15 countries, including Emily Carr, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Georgia O‘Keeffe and James McNeill Whistler. This major exhibition, which features close to 90 extraordinary paintings and 20 works on paper, debuts on Oct. 22, 2016 and runs to Jan. 29, 2017, before opening at the Musée d‘Orsay in the spring of 2017.

The years between 1880 and 1930 were marked by rampant materialism and rapid urbanization. Disillusioned with traditional religious institutions, many artists across Europe and North America searched for an unmediated spiritual path through mystical experiences. They conveyed their feelings of unity with nature and the cosmos in some of the most famous landscape paintings ever created. Gauguin found inspiration in the faith of peasants in rural Brittany; Monet sought solace from the First World War through hours of contemplation beside his waterlily pond at Giverny; and van Gogh looked for consolation in the starry skies over Arles.

Mystical Landscapes was conceived and developed by Katharine Lochnan, the AGO‘s senior curator of international exhibitions, together with guest curators Roald Nasgaard and Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, in addition to Guy Cogeval and Isabelle Morin Loutrel of the Musée d‘Orsay.

Over the five years it has taken to develop the exhibition, the AGO has been assisted by a multi-disciplinary advisory group drawn largely from senior faculty at the University of Toronto. Leading experts in the fields of theology, history, astrophysics, medicine and psychology have looked at nature mysticism and art through different lenses.

“These masterpieces convey experiences that cannot be put into words”, says Lochnan. The feeling of connecting with a deeper reality—a power much greater than ourselves—is a mystical experience. These experiences may reach any of us through the contemplation of nature and the cosmos. We are moved by the beauty of sunrise and sunset, the stars in the night sky, the reflections of the moon on lakes, the power of the ocean waves and the vision of snow-capped mountains. These paintings convey the artists “mystical experiences of something greater than themselves. It is primarily through the contemplation of nature that they have seen with greater clarity.”

Mystical Landscapes will take visitors on a journey through Europe, Scandinavia and North America, beginning on a path through the woods and ending with a view of outer space from a mountain top.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles from 1888, which prompted him to write about feeling ―a tremendous need of —shall I say the word—religion…so I go outside at night to paint the stars‖;

Paul Gauguin’s vivid Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) from 1888, painted during his sojourn in rural Brittany;

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (Nymphéas) from 1907, which he painted after hours of Zen-like meditation beside his Japanese water garden;

Edvard Munch’s The Sun, created to inspire students in the wake of his well-publicized nervous breakdown between 1910-1913;

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Series I – from the Plains from 1919, showing the terrifying power of an approaching thunderstorm in Texas;

A series of mystical lithographs by the recently rediscovered French artist Charles-Marie Dulac, which illustrates St. Francis of Assisi‘s Canticle of Creation.

“We have been given extraordinary support for this project from institutions around the world,” says Lochnan. “Many of the loans are ‘magnets’ in their home museums and are very seldom lent. This unprecedented level of generosity reflects the very genuine excitement and commitment to the ideas explored in this exhibition which have never been fully addressed through art historical research.”

Lenders include the Musée d‘Orsay; Tate Britain; National Gallery of Canada; National Gallery of Scotland; National Museum, Stockholm; National Gallery, Oslo; National Gallery, Prague; Leopold Museum, Vienna; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; and many other institutions worldwide.

After stepping through its doors, visitors to the exhibition will feel an immediate sense of escape from the world outside. While designing the in-gallery experience, AGO Senior Interpretive Planner David Wistow has carefully considered ways to help audiences draw their own emotional connections to the art works. “We welcome people to contemplate the role of spirituality in their own lives, and their connection to a deeper reality,” says Wistow.   The artists’ mystical journeys prompt us to ask our own questions of, ‘Who are we, and why are we here?'”.

An illustrated catalogue will accompany this exhibition—one of the most ambitious publications in the AGO‘s history—and will be available in English and French. Featuring essays by 19 scholars and curators from across Europe and North America, including those who served in an advisory capacity, it will be for sale in shopAGO.

AGO members receive free admission to this time-ticketed exhibition. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at

Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh and more is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and the Etablissement public du musée d‘Orsay et du musée de l‘Orangerie, Paris.

Review – The Canadian Opera Company: ‘Ariodante’ (October 16 – November 4, 2016)

16-17-02-MC-D-0711The work of George Frideric Handel, a supreme artist of the Baroque era, returns to the Canadian Opera Company stage this fall in the long awaited company premiere of Ariodante. This new COC co-production is staged by celebrated theatre and opera director Richard Jones with a cast led by two opera stars: British mezzosoprano Alice Coote and Canadian soprano Jane Archibald. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts the piece heralded as Baroque opera at its best. Ariodante runs for seven performances on October 16, 19, 22, 25, 27, 29 and November 4, 2016.

Ariodante is unique from Handel’s other compositions, standing out as a simple, romantic and sincere work that expresses a love story free of artifice. Director Richard Jones, who staged the critically acclaimed The Queen of Spades for the COC in 2002, delivers a production that “gets to the heart of this opera’s distinctive melancholia” (The Telegraph) in his telling of Handel’s tale about the conflict between love and duty as Ariodante and his love Ginevra are brutally separated by the lies of a jealous rival.

Jones envisions a more modern setting for Ariodante that plays with the formality of work’s 18th-century origins. He sets the melodrama against the backdrop of a remote island village creating the look and feel of a closed-off community that honours the attitudes and social hierarchy of the source material’s storyline of Scottish royalty. Sets and costumes are by Olivier Award-winning designer ULTZ with the production’s striking use of puppetry created by puppetry director/designer Finn Caldwell and puppetry designer Nick Barnes. Ariodante is lit by award-winning opera and theatre lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin with choreography by Lucy Burge.

Handel’s operas are distinguished by magnificent musical virtuosity that powerfully and genuinely captures the emotional core of its characters. The COC’s Johannes Debus makes his Handel debut conducting Ariodante, one of the composer’s most radiantly beautiful scores, leading a dream cast and the acclaimed COC Orchestra and Chorus.

British mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, after delivering stunning turns in the COC’s Ariadne auf Naxos (2011) and Hercules (2014), returns in the trouser role of Ariodante. The wide-ranging expressive music of the hero role is a stirring showcase for the world renowned mezzo’s artistry, whose performances are described as “breathtaking in [their] sheer conviction and subtlety of perception” (The Times) and her voice as “beautiful, to be sure, but, more importantly, it thrills you to the marrow” (The Daily Telegraph).

The equally incomparable Canadian soprano Jane Archibald makes her role debut as Ginevra, Ariodante’s wronged fiancé. Archibald once again brings her “unbelievable mastery of singing, controlled with apparent ease… combined with a remarkable dramatic presence” (Le Figaro, FR) to the COC stage after successive performances delivered to critical and popular acclaim in Ariadne auf Naxos (2011), Semele (2012), Don Giovanni (2015), Semele at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (2015), and The Marriage of Figaro (2016).

Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan has been called a “revelation” by the New York Times and makes her Canadian debut in the trouser role of Polinesso, the jealous rival of Ariodante. Rising Canadian coloratura soprano, and COC Ensemble Studio graduate, Ambur Braid is Dalinda, Ginevra’s maid and Polinesso’s unwitting accomplice. Norwegian baritone Johannes Weisser makes his COC debut as the King of Scotland, Ginevra’s father.

Fellow Ensemble Studio graduate, Canadian tenor Owen McCausland is Ariodante’s vengeful brother, Lurcanio. Ensemble Studio tenor Aaron Sheppard is the courtier Odoardo.  The unattributed libretto for Ariodante is based on Antonio Salvi’s libretto for the opera Ginevra, principessa di Scozia, which drew inspiration from sections of the epic Italian romance poem Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto and, in turn, was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Ariodante premiered in London on January 8, 1735. While initially successful, Ariodante fell into obscurity for almost 200 years until revived in the 1970s and subsequently came to be considered one of Handel’s finest operas.

This new production of Ariodante is a COC co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Ariodante is sung in Italian with English SURTITLESTM. The COC performs Ariodante at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The COC’s 2016/2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Four Seasons Centre, Canada’s first purpose-built opera house, which opened in fall 2006 and has been hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world.


Single tickets for Ariodante range from $35 – $235 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit



The leaves are falling, the air is damp and how the rain must drizzle and make us cringe as a gentle reminder that winter is on its way. It is only fitting to watch the Canadian Opera’s Company rendition of Handel’s ‘Ariodante’ and feel like we are on the east coast of Canada experiencing gale force winds as a drama unfolds behind closed doors.

The Canadian Opera’s Company rendition of Handel’s ‘Ariodante’ is epic, breathless, outstanding and full of a psychological depth that carries us through the 4 hour opera.

We are immediately taken into the womb of a Maritime town full of quilts, fabric hearts, banting, woolen sweaters and a chill in the air that keep us on edge for what is to come. Ginevra in her pretty frocks, auburn locks and crimson cheeks provides a contrast to the hum drum nature of the male-centric cast.  Ariodante is swashbuckling in his intent but takes a quieter lead to his lady.

The puppeteering added a wonderful dreamscape texture during the Canadian Opera’s Company’s ‘Ariodante’. It provided the viewer a reprieve to see the characters at their most vulnerable experiencing grief, excitement and success in free form.

The Canadian Opera Company yet again, out does itself with a grandiose and daunting staging that the viewer is compelled to want to take a seat at the welcome table, lie in Ginevra’s comfortable bed and perhaps peer out the bay windows into the Scottish Island landscape in all its maritime glory. The staging is transformative and speaks to Handel’s work in equal measure.

Polinesso’s evil roots implant itself in the production and makes the viewer instantly cringe whenever he takes centre stage. His baiting of Ginevra and taking advantage of her father’s psychological slump after the death of his wife aches pain, suffering and a direct polar opposite of the warmth being exuded by the community and it’s dwellers on stage.  The stage works with the actors in creating a Calvinism feel and a strong moral compass.

Although the opera is named for ‘Ariodante’, this is an opera about Ginevra’s love who is sincere, sensitive and noble hearted. Ginevra is indeed our heroine.  We see her in her darkest days of oppression by a male dominated society.  We see her ‘girl power’ dreams and fantasies being squashed and belittled at its core. The viewer comes to know behind the scenes the trials and tribulations of Lurcanio (Ariodante’s brother) driven by his sense of justice, encourages the King to act out violently.  We, the viewer, witness Dalinda at her worst when she works out her raw desires with the likes of Polinesso.

The Canadian Opera’s Company rendition of Handel’s ‘Ariodante’ will move you with its personal confessions, brimming with unrequited love and the move to turn inwards with one’s own emotions, fears and sense of well-being.

October Reads: ‘The Girl from Venice’ by Martin Cruz Smith


The highly anticipated new standalone novel from Martin Cruz Smith, whom The Washington Post has declared “that uncommon phenomenon: a popular and well-regarded crime novelist who is also a writer of real distinction,” The Girl from Venice is a suspenseful World War II love story set against the beauty, mystery, and danger of occupied Venice.

Venice, 1945. The war may be waning, but the city known as La Serenissima is still occupied and the people of Italy fear the power of the Third Reich. One night, under a canopy of stars, a fisherman named Cenzo comes across a young woman’s body floating in the lagoon and soon discovers that she is still alive and in trouble.

Born to a wealthy Jewish family, Giulia is on the run from the Wehrmacht SS. Cenzo chooses to protect Giulia rather than hand her over to the Nazis. This act of kindness leads them into the world of Partisans, random executions, the arts of forgery and high explosives, Mussolini’s broken promises, the black market and gold, and, everywhere, the enigmatic maze of the Venice Lagoon.

The Girl from Venice is a thriller, a mystery, and a retelling of Italian history that will take your breath away. Most of all it is a love story.

October Reads: ‘The Spawning Grounds’ by Gail Anderson-Dargatz


On one side of the river is a ranch once owned by Eugene Robertson, who came in the gold rush around 1860, and stayed on as a homesteader. On the other side is a Shuswap community that has its own tangled history with the river–and the whites. At the heart of the novel are Hannah and Brandon Robertson, teenagers who have been raised by their grandfather after they lost their mother. As the novel opens, the river is dying, its flow reduced to a trickle, and Hannah is carrying salmon past the choke point to the spawning grounds while her childhood best friend, Alex, leads a Native protest against the development further threatening the river. When drowning nearly claims the lives of both Hannah’s grandfather and her little brother, their world is thrown into chaos. Hannah, Alex, and most especially Brandon come to doubt their own reality as they are pulled deep into Brandon’s numinous visions, which summon the myths of Shuswap culture and tragic family stories of the past.
The novel hovers beautifully in the fluid boundary between past and present, between the ordinary world and the world of the spirit, all disordered by the human and environmental crises that have knit the white and Native worlds together in love, and hate, and tragedy for 150 years. Can Hannah and her brother, and Alex, find a way forward that will neither destroy the river nor themselves?

October Reads: ‘Three Years with the Rat’ by Jay Hosking


After several years of drifting between school and go-nowhere jobs, a young man is drawn back into the big city of his youth. The magnet is his beloved older sister, Grace: always smart and charismatic even when she was rebelling, and always his hero. Now she is a promising graduate student in psychophysics and the centre of a group of friends who take “Little Brother” into their fold, where he finds camaraderie, romance, and even a decent job.

But it soon becomes clear that things are not well with Grace. Always acerbic, she now veers into sudden rages that are increasingly directed at her adoring boyfriend, John, who is also her fellow researcher. When Grace disappears, and John shortly thereafter, the narrator makes an astonishing discovery in their apartment: a box big enough to crawl inside, a lab rat, and a note that says This is the only way back for us. Soon he embarks on a mission to discover the truth, a pursuit that forces him to question time and space itself, and ultimately toward a perilous confrontation at the very limits of imagination.

This kinetic novel catapults the classic noir plot of a woman gone missing into the 21st century city, where so-called reality crashes into speculative science in a novel reminiscent of Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Three Years with the Rat is simultaneously a mind-twisting mystery that plays with the very nature of time and the story of a young man who must face the dangerously destructive forces we all carry within ourselves.

October Reads: ‘Here I Am’ by Jonathan Safran Foer


God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and Abraham replied obediently, “Here I am.”

This is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. Over the course of three weeks in present-day Washington, D.C., three sons watch their parents’ marriage falter and their family home fall apart. Meanwhile, a large catastrophe is engulfing another part of the world: a massive earthquake devastates the Middle East, sparking a pan-Arab invasion of Israel. With global upheaval in the background and domestic collapse in the foreground, Jonathan Safran Foer asks us: What is the true meaning of home? Can one man ever reconcile the conflicting duties of his many roles– husband, father, son? And how much of life can a person ultimately bear?

October Reads: ‘Nutshell’ by Ian McEwan


New from the bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home—a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse—but John’s not there. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb.

Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.