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Red River Special: The V’ni Dansi’s Louis Riel Métis Dancers Celebrate Louis Riel with the Canadian Opera Company (#COCLouisRiel)


On April 13, 2017 @CanadianOpera a packed audience celebrated alongside the V’ni Dansi’s Louis Riel Métis Dancers #COCLouisRiel upcoming performances.

V’ni Dansi is a Vancouver-based traditional Métis and contemporary dance company dedicated to sharing the dances, stories and culture of the Métis. Led by Artistic Director Yvonne Chartrand, the company is dedicated to preservation and innovation. V’ni Dansi’s Louis Riel Métis Dancers specialize in traditional Métis dance and is one of the only professional groups of its kind.

The dances were energetic, colourful and brimming with emotion. The dancers were all smiles and oozed a genuine joy and pride as they danced Jim Twain Special, Broom Dance and Sash Dance to name a few.  The audience were keen to join in with foot tapping, hand clapping and laughter as we learned about Louis Riel’s legacy.


Traditional Métis jigging preserves the historical dances of generations ago, while contemporary Métis jigging modernizes traditional forms yet still pays homage to the cultural roots of each dance.

“The COC is in a unique position to use its presentation of Louis Riel to discuss the issues arising from a longer history of colonialization and appropriation,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “These are complicated issues and we hope it leads to a future that takes into consideration the aesthetic, spiritual, cultural and educational ways forward.”

Check out more amazing free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre! http://www.coc.ca/PerformancesAndTickets/FreeConcertSeries.aspx

Catch the Canadian Opera Company’s ‘Louis Riel’ from April 20 to May 13, 2017.



Review: The Canadian Opera Company presents ‘Götterdämmerung’ from Richard Wagner (February 8, 11, 14, 17 and 25, 2017)

The Canadian Opera Company enters the twilight of the gods with the revival of its acclaimed production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung directed by Toronto-area resident Tim Albery. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts his first Götterdämmerung, at the helm of the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra and Chorus with a cast of generation-defining voices led by powerhouse American soprano Christine Goerke in her debut as Götterdämmerung’s Brünnhilde. Götterdämmerung is sung in German with English SURTITLESTM and runs for seven performances on February 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 25, 2017.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle is commonly described as “the Everest of opera.” The largest work in the history of Western music, the Ring Cycle includes four operas: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. In the fourth instalment of Wagner’s heroic Ring, after poisoned drinks, mistaken identities and much deception, Brünnhilde and Siegfried are reunited in love and death as the worlds of both men and gods go up in flames only to rise again in an unforgettable affirmation of rebirth and renewal.

Götterdämmerung is the most epic of Wagner’s tetralogy with some of the most complex and riveting music in the operatic repertoire. Many famous passages make up the final instalment of Wagner’s monumental musical journey, including Siegfried’s “Funeral March,” an orchestral showcase offering a musical retrospective of the Ring itself, and Brünnhilde’s “Immolation” scene, an immensely powerful aria in which she restores order to the world and joins Siegfried on his burning pyre in an act of love.

Director Tim Albery’s vision for the COC’s conclusion of Wagner’s masterpiece has been proclaimed as “the most inventive of all” (New York Times). First presented by the COC in winter 2006, and then in fall 2006 as part of the company’s full Ring Cycle, this Götterdämmerung is “as stunning a feat of staging as [has been] seen in Toronto” (National Post), with critics singling out that “the great virtue of Albery’s production is the urgency and absolutely clarity of the storytelling” (Opera News), while also noting the presentation as a whole represents “the COC’s proudest hour” (Globe and Mail). Production designer Michael Levine’s compelling interpretation of Götterdämmerung moves the action forward to the contemporary corporate landscape of the mortals who now rule the world and brings the cycle to a commanding and dramatic close. The lighting design is by acclaimed designer David Finn, who won back-to-back Dora Awards for his work in Die Walküre’s 2015 revival and the 2016 remount of Siegfried. Choreography is by Patti Powell.


Few roles in opera are more unique or challenging than those of Götterdämmerung’s Siegfried and Brünnhilde. They are among the most demanding tenor and soprano roles in all of opera, requiring voices of steel and sensitivity alongside super-human stamina to deliver the opera’s awe-inspiring musical drama. Austrian tenor Andreas Schager is establishing himself as one world’s leading heroic tenors and makes his COC debut as Siegfried—a role for which he’s been proclaimed a “discovery” (The Arts Desk) and “a big star in the making” (The Independent). American soprano Christine Goerke is the most sought-after Brünnhilde in the world today, her performances heralded for how her “gleaming tones sliced through the glittering orchestra” (New York Times) and possess “everything a great Brunnhilde must have: dignity, stature, and a voice of molten gold” (Toronto Star) as well as delivering “a once-in-adecade experience” (Globe and Mail). Goerke returns to sing Götterdämmerung’s Brünnhilde for the first time, previously debuting each instalment of the character in the recent COC revivals of Die Walküre and Siegfried.

Internationally renowned German baritone Martin Gantner is Gunther, Siegfried’s rival. Estonian Ain Anger, “one of the great opera basses of our time” (The Guardian), makes his Canadian and role debut as Gunther’s half brother, Hagen. Canadian bass Robert Pomakov, “a talent to watch” (Washington Post), is Alberich, whose greed for the Rhinegold began this epic saga. COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Ileana Montalbetti, whose performance as Ellen Orford in the COC’s recent Peter Grimes was “in the realm of greatness” (Toronto Star), returns as Gutrune, Gunther’s sister and Siegfried’s bride.

As the three Norns, daughters of Erda the Earth Goddess who are spinning the rope of destiny, is a trio of new and familiar voices. American mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann (Schwertleite in 2015’s Die Walküre) is the First Norn; Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill makes her COC debut as the Second Norn; and soprano Ileana Montalbetti takes on a second role as the Third Norn.

In their COC mainstage debuts as water-nymph Rhinemaidens are two COC Ensemble Studio singers, soprano Danika Lorèn as Woglinde and mezzo-soprano Lauren Eberwein as Wellgunde. Mezzo-sopranos Lindsay Ammann and Karen Cargill are also heard as the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde and the Valkyrie Waltraute, respectively.

The COC performs Götterdämmerung at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The COC’s 16/17 season 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 Götterdämmerung range from $35 – $235 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.


If you were hoping for a restful opera experience, Götterdämmerung or ‘Twilight of The Gods’ is not it.  It is instead the most exquisite ‘heroic opera’ that will wrench your soul out of your body and hold it in front of your face until it is done with you (5 hours later).  Götterdämmerung is epic, soul destroying and will make you feel like you have run a marathon whilst sitting in your comfy seat at The Four Seasons for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

The light motif is dominant throughout the production of ‘Götterdämmerung’. Blinding office lights, red light district fare, darkness with one small light hanging above a table and a performer slightly off stage whose face is illuminated can be seen from afar as the audience’s attention is focused on another performer in front of the stage under a dimly lit light.  The theme of remorse, isolation and regret is connected to the light as it lingers behind Siegfried and Brünnhilde.  Its unsettling grimace is noted as it also blinds the audience above Hagen and Gunther as they hatch their devious plans.

In the first Act, the theme of little phrases of music provides the audience with small snacks to nibble on as they prepare for the far larger courses to come.  Moments when the curtain closed felt like a confessional where the audience was left to soak in the poetic sound emanating from the orchestra.  Poignant, verbose in its intent and yet alarming.

The bold chord changes when Brünnhilde is awoken like a Sleeping Beauty by Siegfried was opera gold.  The audience felt the fade and a kind of water music as it washed over our hero and heroine and then encouraged the audience to feel out their thoughts, words, camaraderie and impending doom on their own.

Indeed a slow evening of opera, ‘Götterdämmerung’ was in no rush to unfold.  Similar to that of a Snap Dragon as it patiently waited for its next prey.  COC Music Director Johannes Debus oozed that motif in his conductorship.  He was in command of every single detail that he executed to his orchestral team.  Deliberate, dynamic and spun in controlled threads of tension and a quick resolution.

Dramatic soprano, Christine Goerke, can detonate a bomb with her delivery of Brünnhilde.  Her Brünnhilde is quirky, but also a maven not to be messed with.  Goerke’s on stage presence will leave you with your mouth agape and wanting more when you are already being spoon fed the most delicious, decadent and resolute treats.  Goerke’s Brünnhilde will teach the audience that love is about resignation, self-sacrifice and redemption.   Her strength goes beyond the pop culture ‘Girl Power’ peace sign but envelopes the audience in her rage, determination and a reminder that she is her father’s daughter.

‘Götterdämmerung’ at the Canadian Opera Company with Goerke at its helm is a pure Turkish Delight with extra powder and rose essence.  Whereas, Austrian tenor Andreas Schager, dreamy Siegfried is the perfect Romeo to Brünnhilde’s testy Juliet.  The audience is reminded, as much as you may want to eat the dessert before your main meal – Schager will teach the importance of patience.  As the audience roots for Brünnhilde, they will also shake their heads in wonderment of Siegfried’s choices and ultimate downfall.

Martin Gantner as Gunther and Estonian Ain Anger as Hagen added the texture within ‘Götterdämmerung’.  Darkness, disdain, jealousy, anger – these characters take it up a notch and remind the audience not to get too comfortable.  The plot was about to get even more complicated and evil.

The COC Chorus was a wonderful pop up experience in giving the audience a break from the dramatic soliloquies from the main performers.  The audience was able to linger and rest as the chorus beefed up the lay of the land and demonstrated the amount of power it takes to sing over an orchestra.  Their athleticism as a collective demonstrated their quiet determination in amplifying the contempt, dread and horrors that make up ‘Götterdämmerung’.

The COC Orchestra summarizes Wagner’s ‘Götterdämmerung’s’ drama and deep discord.  The audience felt the energy and the havoc created on stage through the deep deluge of pain evoked by the musicians and performers.  Grandiose, devastating and a reveal to make use of every moment to the best of your ability.  A simple inspiration but also an easy one to forget.  Siegfried and Brünnhilde provide the gentle take away in that you may be surprised in what you discover about yourself at the end of the day or in years to come if you take that risk and push yourself that little bit harder in the moment.  If you made it through ‘Götterdämmerung’ unscathed, you can get through anything.




Review: The Canadian Opera Company’s “The Magic Flute” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (February 1, 3, 4, 7, 10, 16, 18, 19 and 24, 2017)


It’s a fairy-tale start to 2017 with the revival of the Canadian Opera Company’s playful and whimsical production of Mozart’s beloved opera, The Magic Flute. Bernard Labadie, one of Canada’s pre-eminent conductors, makes his COC debut with one of the most popular operas in the world with a cast of international and Canadian rising stars. The Magic Flute was last performed by the COC in 2011 and returns February 1, 3, 4, 7, 10, 16, 18, 19 and 24, 2017.

Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie is a specialist in Baroque and Classical repertoire who “moulds the phrases, plucks out all-important details in the texture and radiates an infectious joy in the music” (The Telegraph). An Officer of the Order of Canada and a knight of Ordre national du Québec, Labadie is a regular guest with the premier orchestras across North America and gaining increasing renown in Europe. He now brings his musicianship to the COC for the first time to lead the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra and Chorus through some of Mozart’s most beautiful and infectious melodies.

The COC production was conceived by Tony Award®-winning director Diane Paulus with a purposeful sense of fun, playfulness and whimsy in this theatrical version of Mozart’s humorous, sometimes profound, exploration of the trials of growing up, seeking ideals and finding love. COC Ensemble Studio graduate and artistic director at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Ashlie Corcoran, makes her COC mainstage debut staging the 2017 revival, based on Paulus’ original direction. The production is full of wonder and wisdom in following the adventures of Prince Tamino as he undergoes feats of heroism to rescue his love, Pamina, from the forces of evil.

The look and feel of the COC’s production evokes an 18th-century storybook sensibility in its costume and set design by acclaimed designer Myung Hee Cho with slight contemporary touches in colours and textures. The period feel carries through in the lighting design by Scott Zielinski who incorporates such 18th-century performance practices as candles, torches, and reflections off shiny surfaces and mirrors. The production conjures up a play-within-a-play scenario with the guests of a young girl’s name day celebration finding themselves entertained by an opera to only become the characters themselves, with the line between performer and audience quickly blurring. The ensuing trials and tribulations of the play travel through the girl’s home and take place over the course of one night, beginning at evening and ending at dawn.

Leading the young cast are two breakout tenors from the COC’s own Ensemble Studio, recent graduates Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland, who share the role of Prince Tamino. They are matched with two sopranos to watch: Russian Elena Tsallagova and Canadian Kirsten MacKinnon, singing the role of Princess Pamina, in their Canadian and COC debuts, respectively.

Two of the finest baritones of their generation, Canadians Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis, return to the COC to share the role of the bird catcher, Papageno. COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Jacqueline Woodley, heard last season as the Forest Bird in Siegfried, brings her exceptional talent to the role of Papageno’s sweetheart, Papagena.

The Queen of the Night is brought to life by the thrilling coloratura of COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Ambur Braid.

The priest-king Sarastro is sung by Croatian bass Goran Jurić, in his Canadian debut, and American bass Matt Boehler. The roles of Monostatos and the Speaker are sung by two notable voices on the international opera scene, COC Ensemble Studio graduate tenor Michael Colvin and German baritone Martin Gantner, respectively.

Rounding out the cast are many new and returning Ensemble Studio members: graduate soprano Aviva Fortunata, mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo, in her COC mainstage debut, and graduate mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal are the First, Second and Third Ladies, respectively; tenor Charles Sy sings the First Priest and is joined by baritone Bruno Roy, in his COC mainstage debut, as the Second Priest. Alternating in the role of the First Armed Man will be Ensemble Studio graduate tenors Owen McCausland and Andrew Haji, when not singing the role of Tamino, with graduate bass Neil Craighead as the Second Armed Man. Singing the First, Second and Third Spirits are members of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.

The Magic Flute was Mozart’s final opera, receiving its premiere only three months before his death in December 1791. From the spectacular fireworks of the Queen of the Night to Pamina’s anguished lament and Papageno’s comic antics, the charm and profundity of Mozart’s music has made The Magic Flute a timeless classic in the years since with it consistently ranked as one of the most performed operas in the world.

The COC’s production of The Magic Flute is sung in German with English SURTITLESTM.

The COC performs The Magic Flute at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The COC’s 16/17 season 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 The Magic Flute range from $35 – $235 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.


The Canadian Opera Company’s “The Magic Flute” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is an opera that digs deep into the psychopathy of what a ‘happy ending’ really means. The audience is immediately thrown into a play within a play and are tasked to feel out the emotional mayhem transforming itself in front of their eyes.

Indeed fairtyale like with injections of comedy throughout the over 2 hour production – the joyfully painted portraiture as seen through exuberant costuming and enthusiastic stage production is thwarted by the ‘in your face’ theme of the mistreatment of women in “The Magic Flute”.

This production is filled with robust romance and decadent melodrama. It is also a wonderful introduction to Mozart’s work.  “The Magic Flute” is accessible and indeed very hummable.  There was many a toe tapping and giggling felt in the aisles throughout the evening.

Cheeky, campiness and majesty aside, our heroine, Pamina is offered to the audience in a rich text for feminine critique. Pamina represents the ideal woman, a good wife and daughter. Her mother, the Queen of the Night, is all attitude, heavy on the melodrama and exciting.  Whereas Prince Tamino and Papageno show us aristocracy’s stiff upper lip in contrast to the court jester.

Director, Diane Paulus, states “We have set the action in 1791, the year in which the opera was first performed, against the backdrop of the Enlightenment. The entire play-within-a-play is presented in the open space of a nobleman’s garden, itself a place of enchantment and symbolic power during this historical period. As the drama unfolds, the actors leave the theatre behind and continue to enact their story in an elaborate labyrinth that covers the grounds of the estate. The theatricality of their journey is enhanced by the mysteries of the outdoor world beneath the cover of night where they act out the rituals of the drama. All distinctions between fantasy and reality fade away as their pageant lasts through the night until dawn.”

The staging of “The Magic Flute” is grand, complex and ethereal. It was indeed the icing on the cake.  Watching the singers and chorus frolic, clash and find a common ground amongst lit wall sconces, well-manicured shrubbery, revolving hedge doors and The Shining like passageways transported us into a European country side far away from big city living.

The arts and crafts paper dragons, alligators, birds and giraffes were a delight to see. The sparkles of glittery dresses, kitschy fire walls and umbrella festooned men in electric blue jumped off the stage.  These vignettes felt like a scene out of “Beauty School Drop Out” from Grease.  These simple artisan notes added a pop up experience to the production and again continued to hypnotize the audience into a light mood even though the textures of music brought a silence to linger upon and the idea if the end really does justify the means?

Be sure to dwell on the gorgeous sicilienne aria for “Queen of the Night” as sung by Ambur Braid. It is an athletic feat and beautifully curated.  Think puncture holes through the heart and mesmerizing all in one shot.  The aria’s provided a rocking rhythm throughout the production and emulated a cradle of sorrow for the audience to breathe in in small bursts.

Elena Tsallagova as Pamina, Goran Jurić as Sarastro and Andrew Haji as Tamino created a safe place for the audience to lean into and learn about Mozart’s art. Their performances also allowed one to reflect quietly on the intent behind their deliveries.

“The Magic Flute” leaves the audience with the ideals of “reason, wisdom and light” as a take away. Perhaps easy ideas to read on paper, but difficult after a production that has opened up a dialogue that touches upon themes that are au courant in today’s current political climate.  That said, “The Magic Flute” is an opera to be reckoned with.  Emanate a grateful nod to the Canadian Opera Company for providing food for thought and a deep breath as we commence 2017 together.


Review – The Canadian Opera Company: ‘Norma’ (October 16 – November 5, 2016)

Searing drama and epic lyricism open the Canadian Opera Company’s 2016/2017 season with a new production of Bellini’s Norma. This bel canto masterpiece is a remarkable showcase for the rare soprano who can handle the demands of this title role and the COC production boasts the return of two of today’s most sought-after divas to its stage: Canadian-American Sondra Radvanovsky and South African Elza van den Heever star as the high priestess Norma. Norma was last performed by the COC in 2006 and returns for eight performances on October 6, 15, 18, 21, 23, 26, 28 and November 5, 2016.

Bellini’s opera tells of all-consuming passion and devastating betrayal when the Druid high priestess Norma finds her life in turmoil with the discovery that she’s been cast aside by her Roman lover for a fellow priestess. American director Kevin Newbury makes his COC debut with this new staging, co-produced by the COC, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu. One of the finest directors working in opera today, Newbury sets the action of Norma in a mythic, Game of Thrones-inspired milieu, brought to life through his creative team that includes recent Tony Award-nominee set designer David Korins, rising star costume designer Jessica Jahn and internationally acclaimed lighting designer Duane Schuler.

American maestro Stephen Lord has made a specialty of bel canto operas and conducts the graceful melodies and musical fireworks that distinguish the florid magnificence that is Bellini’s Norma, presented by this all-star cast with the acclaimed COC Orchestra and Chorus. Chosen by Opera News as one of the “25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera” (one of four conductors), Lord returns to the COC after past productions of A Masked Ball and Lucia di Lammermoor.

The title role of Norma demands a true diva to convincingly convey the character’s emotional range while effortlessly delivering some of the most vocally challenging music ever composed. Globally celebrated artist Sondra Radvanovsky, acclaimed in past COC productions of Roberto Devereux and Aida, now brings her “dramatically and vocally arresting” (New York Times) Norma to Toronto. Elza van den Heever mesmerized audiences in the COC’s Il Trovatore with her “plush, dramatic voice capable of formidable power and dazzling high notes” (Associated Press) and delivers triumphant performances with premier opera companies around the world, including a Norma where she is “breathtaking throughout … with her controlled virtuosity, [has] the audience anxiously awaiting every note” (Bachtrack).

American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard is acclaimed by critics for her passionate intensity and vocal beauty. She returns to the COC after a much-admired performance in La clemenza di Tito to make her role debut as Adalgisa, Pollione’s new lover, a character that demands supreme dramatic and vocal sensitivity and authority in order to harmonize with Norma and deliver the duets that make up some of the opera’s greatest musical moments.

American Russell Thomas is one of the most exciting vocal and dramatic talents on the international opera and concert scene. His “gorgeous, warm tenor” (Globe and Mail) makes a swift return to the COC, after his recent Dora Award-nominated turn as Don José in Carmen last spring, to sing Pollione, Norma’s Roman lover. Russian bass Dimitry Ivashchenko, last heard as “a menacing, vocally chilling Hunding” (New York Times) in the COC’s recent Die Walküre, is Oroveso, Norma’s father.

Recent COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Aviva Fortunata is Clotilde, Norma’s maid. Ensemble Studio tenor Charles Sy is Flavio, Pollione’s friend.

Norma is Bellini’s best-known opera and was the composer’s personal favourite. Bellini claimed that, were he shipwrecked, it was the score to Norma that he would try to save.

Norma is sung in Italian with English SURTITLESTM.


Single tickets for Norma range from $35 – $235 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.



It is rare to find an opera that will re-awaken all of your senses in one sitting. The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Bellini’s ‘Norma’ is beautifully curated but also littered with a deep symbolic spirituality rarely (and yet authentically) brought to stage with such intensity of heart, soul and mind.

“Casta Diva” from ‘Norma’ as sung by the great, Elza van den Heever is transformational. You will appreciate every note like it is a fine wine early on in the performance.  Take a moment to close your eyes and meditate on its essence.

The ‘coloratura’ is an appropriate word in defining the ‘decorative singing’ as seen in “Casta Diva”. The audience will be immersed in it when breathing in ‘Norma’. The opera is ornate, full blossomed and aromatic in its delivery.  The libretti are illuminated as it is colored in with broad strokes.  Don’t be afraid as you are assaulted with every flower, leaf and root as it comes flying at you in musically noted symbolism and text throughout ‘Norma’.

The Druid’s religion of sacrifice, rituals, human and animal sacrifice are central to the Druid ethos and seen on stage through the images of Ritual of Oak, Mistletoe, bulls, sacred forests and burning effigies. These pieces provided the audience with a gorgeous texture throughout the performance. The audience is transported not only to a specific place and time but also a culture not all that different from our own in the present.  Themes of community versus exclusion, monogamy vs. adultery, the religious right vs. atheism and expensive love triangles.

The actors and actresses oozed a Games of Thornes meets Medea aesthetic in their luxe costuming, knotted hair and metallic tattoos. The exquisite visual stage décor specifically outfitted with totem bullheads on the walls and Norma’s children’s miniature elements of war reflect sacrifices and conflict.

As per Kevin Newbury’s Director’s Notes, ‘Norma’s moments with her children are deeply moving to me, especially in the hands of two gifted singing actresses: Sondra Radvanovsky and Elza van den Heever. Her rumination about whether or not to kill her own children envisions both a Medea-like act of revenge and an act of protection from the violent world she knows awaits them (as in Toni Morrison’s classic novel Beloved). In our production, Norma breaks the cycles of violence as she turns the war machine into an effigy and the instrument of her ultimate sacrifice.’

Elza van den Heever has set the bar high in her performance as ‘Norma’. Toronto audiences will be hard-pressed to not want to tear up when we encounter Bellini’s work in our future thanks to her dynamic performace.  Alongside Isabel Leonard, as ‘Adalgisa’, both women take us on a rollercoaster of emotions while also demonstrating to us the sheer complexity of girl drama at its finest.  Giggles, tears and a melodramatically drawn out, duh duh duh, will be experienced sequentially in this performance.

Russell Thomas can do no wrong as ‘Pollione’. Russell’s quiet yet powerfully serene presence fills the space with so much ambiance and intent that one can’t help but dwell upon each word sung from the deep crevices of his pained heart.

The three artists collide with such force and prove to be a wonderful reminder of the athletic artistry exhibited by Maestro Stephen Lord and his artists and musicians. They collectively, beautifully shape together The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Bellini’s ‘Norma’.

The audience was on their feet before the curtains closed and there was a joyful yet heroic mood felt in the Four Season of Performing Arts air. The audience was sure to let the cast and crew know of their sincere gratitude.  The cast’s emotional faces demonstrated that they accepted it.

There are only a few performances left – I encourage you to check out ‘Norma’ before she is gone.


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 coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.



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.


Review: The Canadian Opera Company Presents Georges Bizet’s ‘Carmen’

Returning to the Canadian Opera Company stage this spring is one of the world’s most famous operas, Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Canadian director Joel Ivany, of Toronto’s cutting-edge collective Against the Grain Theatre, brings a fresh look to this masterpiece of lyric theatre when it comes to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Italian conductor Paolo Carignani is at the helm of Bizet’s passionate score. Carmen was last presented by the COC in 2010 and returns to the Four Seasons Centre for 13 performances on April 12, 17, 20, 23, 28, 30, May 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 2016. Carmen is sung in French with English SURTITLESTM.

Carmen is a highly charged melodrama about an irresistible gypsy, Carmen, and her seduction of a young soldier.

At the time of the opera’s premiere in Paris in 1875, it was condemned in the press as too immoral to be staged; Carmen marked the first time in opera that a female character could flout morality and still remain the heroine of the work. It is now consistently ranked as one of the most produced operas in the world.

Internationally renowned conductor Paolo Carignani, last in the COC’s orchestra pit for Tosca in 2012, returns to lead the COC Orchestra, Chorus and an exciting cast through a tantalizing score of popular melodies. From Carmen’s alluring teasing in “Habanera” and the swaggering machismo of Escamillo’s “Toreador Song” to the desperate pleading of Don José’s “Flower Song” and Micaëla’s innocence and quiet strength in the aria “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante,” the music drives the drama and action of Carmen forward and lays bare the deep well of emotions at play between Bizet’s characters. The end result leaves no question as to the opera’s universal appeal.

Joel Ivany makes his COC main stage directing debut in this revival of the COC’s production of Carmen, which premiered in 2005 and was last presented in 2010. He brings to the work a fresh new staging already hailed as a “visceral treat” (Vancouver Sun) offering a “human take that engages and entertains as much as it provokes” (Vancouver Straight) when Vancouver Opera presented the COC production in fall 2014 with Ivany directing. His staging is set against the colourful, sun baked landscape of 1940s Latin America with sets and costumes designed by Michael Yeargan and François St-Aubin, respectively. New to the production’s 2016 revival are two up-and-coming, innovative Toronto-based artists who frequently collaborate with Ivany: lighting designer Jason Hand and set and costume design co-ordinator Camellia Koo, making their COC main stage debuts.

Two mezzo-sopranos making a specialty of the lead role bring Carmen to life at the COC: Georgian Anita Rachvelishvili (April 12, 17, 23, 30, May 4, 6, 13) and France’s Clémentine Margaine (April 20, 28, May 8, 10, 12, 15). Rachvelishvili returns to the COC after 2014’s Don Quichotte and 2010’s Carmen to bring her “smoldering, earthy sexuality” (New York Times) once more to the Four Seasons Centre. Internationally renowned, she has sung Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera and Royal Opera House Covent Garden, among others. Margaine has been hailed “a dream voice for the passionate but mercurial Gypsy” (Dallas Morning News), singing Carmen with Dallas Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and Washington National Opera. After her Canadian debut with the COC, she goes on to sing Carmen in future seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Opera Bastille in Paris.

As Carmen’s jealous lover, Don José, the COC welcomes the return of two tenors: American Russell Thomas and Ensemble Studio graduate David Pomeroy. One of the most exciting vocal and dramatic talents on the international opera and concert scene, described as “nothing short of sensational” (The Telegraph), Thomas follows up his star turn in the COC’s 2012 production of The Tales of Hoffmann with a role debut performance as the young soldier who attempts to tame Carmen. Pomeroy returns to the COC after recent performances in 2012’s Die Fledermaus and 2009’s Madama Butterfly. He’s been called a “magnetic” Don José by Belgian Operaguide, his voice “fresh…with a particularly gratifying bloom” (Philadelphia Inquirer), reaching “the demanding high notes with smooth ease…totally compelling as a ruined man” (Winnipeg Free Press).

In the role of the toreador Escamillo are the powerful voices of American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn and American baritone Zachary Nelson. They make welcome returns to the COC after recent company outings: Van Horn for his performances in 2013’s La Bohème and 2012’s Tosca, and Nelson for 2015’s Don Giovanni.

Sharing the role of the peasant girl Micaëla are two standout Canadian sopranos. COC Ensemble Studio graduate Simone Osborne returns to the COC, after 2014’s Falstaff, on the heels of a 14-city U.S. concert tour with the Metropolitan Opera’s Rising Stars Concert Series. Osborne is joined by emerging opera talent, Ensemble Studio soprano Karine Boucher, whose “gorgeous, womanly voice” (Schmopera) recently sang Susanna in the Ensemble Studio performance of The Marriage of Figaro.

Rounding out the cast are former and current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Bass Alain Coulombe is Zuniga, Don José’s captain, and baritone Peter Barrett sings the role of Moralès, an officer under Zuniga’s command. Mezzo-soprano Charlotte Burrage and soprano Sasha Djihanian are Carmen’s gypsy friends Mercédès and Frasquita. Ensemble Studio bass-baritone Iain MacNeil and Ensemble Studio tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure are the smugglers, Le Dancaïre and Le Remendado.


Single tickets for Carmen range from $50 – $435 and are available online at coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.



Oddly, the evening we catch ‘Carmen’ at the Canadian Opera Company is the night Beyonce drops her latest musical offering ‘Lemonade’ to the world.  Perfect timing!  Beyonce is no stranger to ‘Carmen’.   She curated  ‘Carmen:  A Hip Hopera’  with “Habanera” as a place setting a few years back and introduced a whole new generation to its exquisiteness.   Bizet would have been proud.

With Queen Bey’s ‘Carmen’ in the air, The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘Carmen’ is also one to be savoured.  It is the people’s opera.  Full of ornate production, costuming popping with colour reminiscent of Frida Kahlo, electricity on the stage with an abundant chorus that instantly transports you to a heat, sexiness and allure from a dusty past.  The interactive dalliances with the chorus on stage and their audience was mesmerizing and authentic.  The score was rich, cohesive and as Beyonce would say, worthy of a ‘slay’ with a Spanish navaja if you are not careful.

As Director, Joel Ivany states ‘For me, what has allowed this piece to endure through the years, from 1875 to the present, are the real characters in real situations. Now more than ever, this piece is a reminder of the freedom that we all enjoy and also the chains that we can find ourselves bound by. We desire passion and uninhibited living, but must have certain constraints to maintain order within our lives. We see ourselves in the gentle, yet strong, spirit of Micaëla; our inhibitions are brought out through Don José; our passion is felt through Carmen; and our self-absorbed, “selfie” urges are seen through Escamillo. This opera can be like looking in a mirror.’

The Canadian Opera Company’s has created a ‘Carmen’ that is accessible, introspective and for every palate.  ‘Carmen’ will challenge your moral code; encourage you to ponder where you are with your own relationships.  Those particular relationships that trouble us, make us giddy, ones we should let go of and perhaps some we need to infuse with more energy and light.

Georgian Anita Rachvelishvili and American Russell Thomas will make you swoon with reflection.  Operatic talent’s so mind blowing that you will feel their wrath as they glide up to the stage from the audience in Act IV.  Carmen and Don Jose’s love is torrid, fraught with pain, confusion and contempt although blanketed under the excitement, joyous colour and smiles of the occasion in the corrida.  Anita Rachvelishvili and Russell Thomas will make you believers in ‘Carmen’ and leave her story emblazoned in your memory until you meet again.

The Canadian Opera Company has again created staging that is luxe, gritty, seductive and awe inspiring.  The grandiosity of wooden stadium seating  for the chorus to watch a bull fight, lingering moments outside of a cigar factory with factory workers as they exhaled tobacco on a break and an ominous jail with iron gates so menacing you cannot help but wince in your seat.

With Mother’s Day around the corner, find time to reconnect with your mother or loved one in your life with this fantastic piece of musical theatre from the Canadian Opera Company. ‘Carmen’ won’t be here long – but the musical messaging, the romance and ‘lemonade’ like drama only Bizet could do with such finesse and intrigue will leave you with something to talk about long after you have left the Four Seasons of The Performing Arts.

A Valentine’s Day Review: The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ (February 4 – February 27, 2016)

Canadian Opera Company audiences find themselves ensnared in a web of erotic passions with a new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro this February. One of the most beautiful and convincing operas about the fluid enchantments, maze-like confusions and bouts of sheer blindness brought on by love, this new staging is directed by one of the most sought-after and critically acclaimed artists of his generation, Claus Guth, with equally celebrated musical leadership by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. The Marriage of Figaro is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for 11 performances, including a special presentation starring the young artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio training program, on February 4, 7, 9, 13, 17, 19, 21, 22*, 23, 25 and 27, 2016.

This new COC production of The Marriage of Figaro was originally built by the Salzburg Festival as the centrepiece of its celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. It was hailed as a “masterpiece” (Bloomberg News) and was the hit of the 2006 Salzburg Festival – revived repeatedly in successive seasons since. German director Claus Guth is renowned for his innovative productions of classic operas and for this Figaro he draws visual and thematic inspiration from the films of Ingmar Bergman and the plays of Ibsen and Strindberg, while fusing stylized gesture and choreography with Mozart’s score to deliver a “shattering, unforgettable” (The Guardian) account of the elemental forces of human nature at play in this opera.

COC Music Director Johannes Debus is at the musical helm of the COC’s entire winter season as he conducts The Marriage of Figaro in addition to Siegfried, leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus through a score widely considered a testament to Mozart’s genius. In Figaro, Mozart writes musical moments of unprecedented emotional impact and sensuality, delivering an opera that fuses comedy, tragedy and poetry to create one of the smartest and sharpest explorations of human relationships in all theatre. Assistant conductor Jordan de Souza steps into the orchestra pit for Maestro Debus on February 23 and 25.

A sparkling cast has been assembled for this magnificent, witty farce that finds Figaro and Susanna’s wedding in jeopardy due to the wandering eye of their employer, the Count. The ensuing intrigue and mistaken identities lead all the characters to experience intense human passions as they’re torn between morality, desire and impulse.

Austrian bass-baritone Josef Wagner, praised as “energetic and forceful as Figaro” (Calgary Herald) in his recent North American debut with Calgary Opera, makes his first COC appearance in the title role. His love, Susanna, is internationally acclaimed Canadian soprano Jane Archibald, praised in her most recent outing with the COC in 2015’s Don Giovanni as “thrilling from first note to last, with a sweep and an edge that made her presence on stage aurally riveting” (Globe and Mail).

Renowned Canadian soprano Erin Wall, last heard at the COC in 2012’s Love from Afar, is the Countess She brings her “soprano of radiance, pristine beauty and tingling top notes” (The Guardian) to a role that explores the full range of emotion, from sadness to humour to forgiveness. The Count is sung by internationally acclaimed Canadian baritone Russell Braun, returning to the COC after his intense, critically acclaimed and Dora Award nominated portrayal of Don Giovanni last season.

American mezzo-soprano Emily Fons, one of opera’s rising stars, makes her COC debut as the mischievous Cherubino. Acclaimed Canadian tenor Michael Colvin, who delighted COC audiences with his Dr. Caius in 2014’s Falstaff, sings the role of gossiping music teacher Basilio. Canadian bass Robert Pomakov, last with the COC in 2013’s Peter Grimes, returns as the vengeful Bartolo. American mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman makes her COC debut as Marcellina, Bartolo’s housekeeper and partner-in-crime.

Canadian baritone Doug MacNaughton is Antonio, Ensemble Studio tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure is Don Curzio and Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Sasha Djihanian is Antonio’s daughter, Barbarina. German actor Uli Kirsch is Cherubim, a silent character introduced by Guth often seen manipulating the other characters.

Set and costume design is by Christian Schmidt, who situates the action within the main hall of a 19th-century mansion with the character’s wardrobe reflecting a more modern era through 20th-century dresses and suits. Lighting design is by Olaf Winter with video design by Andi A. Müller. Choreography is by Ramses Sigl.


Single tickets for The Marriage of Figaro range from $50 – $435 and are available online at coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.


Valentine’s Day is right around the corner – so why not treat your lover or loved one to The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ as a holiday treat?  Chocolates and lingerie are so passé – opera tickets is the ultimate Valentine’s gift.

Mozart’s work is a wonderful way to relax into your Valentine’s Day evening.  His work is rich, diverse and full of moments worth lingering upon within the characterization on stage and one’s own life.

Let’s be cynical for a moment, Valentine’s Day  commercial leanings of ‘Be Mine’, ‘I Heart You’ alongside Valentine shaped candy boxes and batting eye lashes can be a bit much.  Its one day.  True love affairs don’t come close in matching these motifs on a daily basis.

As per Guth’s Director’s Notes ‘Mozart created a world theatre of human passions that testifies to the elemental force of eroticism. All forms of love and desire are found in this opera, and the four generations of characters— presented in exemplary fashion—are completely torn between morality, desire and impulse. In Figaro, Mozart not only allows all kinds of intense human passions but also portrays how they can get out of control and escalate to extremes, thus setting his opera far apart from the comedy by Beaumarchais.’

Mozart’s score oozes depth, sex appeal and the moors of darkness within the confines of a relationship.  As the Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ unfolds we see Figaro, Susanna, The Count and Countess at their best and their worst.  How could we not squirm in our seats and think of our own past (or present) dalliances in the pitch of the honeymoon period to the equivalent of the February blues?  Anxiety, self doubt, confusion and grief all play a part.  The reality is these flavours run through our veins throughout the course of our relationships.  The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ is a wonderful reflection within ourselves and the health of our romantic lives.

Cherubim’s insertion of humour as he sprinkled feathers and imaginary cupid arrows at the characters added a touch of whimsy, delight and giddy smiles throughout the production.  Come on, the audience needs a relief line during the course of the production.  Again, a lovely reminder that even in the darkest of times we need laughter to pull us through.  A box of chocolates would have been nice to add to the lux experience as we curled up in our Four Seasons Opera Company seats.

The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ is perfect for the novice opera goer.  It is a modern piece, the staging architecture will make you swoon in its crown mouldings and sweeping staircase glory, the rich characterization of the talent and song will make your knees shake in your seat and the orchestral accompaniment will make you wonder why you haven’t come to the opera sooner.

Let The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ ruminate with your guest over a glass of wine in their wine bar space.  This Valentine’s Day – challenge your lover or your loved one with how you will strengthen your love in the year ahead as oppose to just one day out of 365.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Review: The Canadian Opera Company Presents Richard Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ ( January 23 – February 14, 2016)

Canadian Opera Company audiences will experience the heights of heroism and passion this winter when the third instalment of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, Siegfried, returns to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Siegfried’s heroic journey reveals the drives and desires of gods and mortals in a story of greed, fear and self-discovery, told through a powerful and evocative score, and is brought to life in a critically acclaimed production by renowned Canadian director François Girard and celebrated Toronto-born designer Michael Levine, conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Siegfried runs for seven performances on January 23, 27, 30, February, 2, 5, 11 and 14, 2016.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle is commonly described as “the Everest of opera.” The largest work in the history of Western music, the Ring Cycle includes four operas, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, comprising approximately 16 hours of some of the most complex and riveting music in the operatic repertoire. Siegfried features some of the greatest music in the whole Ring Cycle, as the titular hero slays a dragon, confronts the gods, and braves a ring of fire in his journey to save the sleep-enchanted Valkyrie, Brünnhilde.

Siegfried is the ultimate story of a hero’s path to self-discovery. Drawing inspiration from Siegfried’s internal battles and struggle for self-understanding, Girard and Levine have conceived a work that reflects a memoryscape and a psychological fairy-tale. Lighting is by Dora Award-winning designer David Finn, and award-winning Canadian Donna Feore joins the creative team as the choreographer.

Johannes Debus conducts his first Siegfried with the COC. With this production, he leads the 106-piece COC Orchestra through an electrifying score of unparalleled musical storytelling: from Siegfried’s comic Forging Song in Act I to the lyrical forest murmurs in Act II to one of Wagner’s most blissful duets in Act III when Brünnhilde awakes from her sleep and declares her love for Siegfried.

In German tenor Stefan Vinke the COC has one of the finest Siegfrieds in the world. Described as “huge of voice, unflagging of stamina, imaginative and energetic on the stage” (Seattle Times), Vinke belongs to an elite group of tenors who consistently sing the complete dramatic repertoire of Richard Wagner. Few roles in opera are more daunting than Siegfried with many saying it is almost impossible to sing. It demands a tenor to scale extreme vocal heights, possess unwavering stamina in a marathon opera running 240 minutes, and demonstrate a nuanced reading of one of opera’s most introspective characters. Vinke makes his Canadian debut in this legendary role.

Vinke is equally matched by the powerhouse American soprano Christine Goerke, heralded for her “gale-force power and sheen” (Wall Street Journal). She returns to the COC as the mighty Valkyrie Brünnhilde; her company debut in 2015’s Die Walküre met with unabashed critical and popular acclaim as her “gleaming tones sliced through the glittering orchestra” (New York Times) and showing “she possess[ed] everything a great Brünnhilde must have: dignity, stature, and a voice of molten gold” (Toronto Star).

Austrian Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, considered one of the most important character tenors on the operatic world stage, makes his Canadian debut as the sly Nibelung-dwarf Mime, who raised Siegfried from birth and plans to use the young hero to secure the famed ring for himself. Acclaimed British baritone Christopher Purves makes his COC debut as Mime’s brother Alberich, whose theft of the Rhinegold set in motion the Ring Cycle’s epic chain of events.

American contralto Meredith Arwady, who made her COC debut as Death in 2011’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, now brings her rich vocal intensity and captivating stage presence to the COC as the Earth Goddess, Erda. Acclaimed American bass-baritone Alan Held, one of the finest singer-actors on the stage today, was last heard as Balstrode in 2013’s Peter Grimes and returns to the COC as Wotan/The Wanderer.

Canadian bass Phillip Ens, most recently at the COC as Sparafucile in 2011’s Rigoletto, reprises the role of Fafner the dragon, the current possessor of the Rhinegold, which he sang for the company in 2005 and 2006. COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Jacqueline Woodley, last heard with the company as Papagena in 2011’s Ensemble Studio performance of The Magic Flute, is the Forest Bird who helps Siegfried locate Fafner’s treasure and see through Mime’s deceitful ways. Actor George Molnar is the Bear, a silent role created by Girard.

Siegfried is sung in German with English SURTITLESTM. The opera was last performed by the COC in 2006 at the opening of the Four Seasons Centre as part of the first Canadian production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The COC premiered the Girard-directed Siegfried in 2005, having previously presented Siegfried in 1972.


Single tickets for Siegfried range from $60 – $435 and are available online at coc.ca, 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 coc.ca.


The Canadian Opera Company is on fire. Seriously.  It’s rare that you can get lost in an opera that is so grandiose that it takes us on a journey that is transformational.  There is no place like home, but the Canadian Opera Company’s take on Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ could be showcased in a historic Opera theatre overseas with its grand intention.  The Canadian Opera Company’s take on Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ is bold, luxe and is supreme perfection.

Wagner’s version of opera time was observed (the quintessential balance of music of action and music of reflection). The audience were also in for a true treat as we witnessed the beautiful intermixing of modern dance, the use of bodies as texture and standing art complimented the operatic ‘power house’ performances from the likes of Stefan Vinke, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Alan Held, Jacqueline Woodley and Christine Goerke.  I witnessed the enthusiasm of audience members rooting for both Vinke and Goerke as we queued outside the gorgeous Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts like we were waiting for the lads from One Direction or Justin Bieber – albeit with a bit more class and prestige.

Richard Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ will challenge you. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.  It is hard to sit still most days without the itch to check our phones, fidget, put the kettle on or better yet take a nap.  Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ will test you.  It will also propel you to stop, think and reflect on the essence of  ‘Siegfried’s’ score, the talented voices, the daring and postmodern staging with multiple views and the artistry from stage performers that Toronto is ready to inhale.

Five hours is a wonderful testament in rumination within Wagner’s aesthetic. Wagner’s music is slow and encourages you to taste moments from your own past. Our lost relatives, robust traumas, family histories, lifestyle hiccups, broken relationships are all seen alongside Siegfried’s in its broken fragments above his head as he sits (grounded) on a larger than life tree stump. There’s no escaping the solitude, the introspection and the draw to nature within Siegfried’s and our own journey.

Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’ scenes could have been out of Tolkien or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The magical and perfectly timed humorous light and dark themed exchanges between Siegfried and the Mime broke up the intensity of the performance in between intermissions.  It also provided the viewer a wonderful testament to how Wagner steadily folded operatic art into our evening and as a takeaway gift.

Stefan Vinke is a true athlete in the role of Siegfried.   Indeed “Huge of voce, unflagging of stamina, imaginative and energetic on the stage” as stated by the ‘Seattle Times’.  For 240 minutes, Vinke looked strong and powerful at the helm of his performances just as he did in the beginning.

Jacqueline Woodley as the woodland fairy dispersed a quiet but rolling perseverance throughout the evening. Her gold and sweets tones were the perfect sweet to Siegfried’s sour.

Christine Goerke played Brünnhilde like an ultimate fighter. UFC has nothing on her.  There is no other epic love story comparable when Siegfried and Brünnhilde are on stage.  Goerke and Vinke blew away all comparable love stories out of the water.  Together, they hail “light-bringing love, and laughing death.”  We are lucky to have both Vinke and Goerke in Toronto to demonstrate to audiences how Wagner should be done.  Now that they have set the bar so high – we will be hard pressed to crumble as hard at Opera’s feet with other productions as we did taking them in during their ‘Siegfried’ flight.

If you are a Wagner devotee, ‘Siegfried’ as performed by the Canadian Opera Company will delight, and elevate you. If you are a newbie – get ready to have your body go through an emotional and physical transformation.  Pop some snacks into your purse, take a swig or two of your favourite coffee and get ready to be educated with opera’s best of the best.


Canadian Opera Company’s: ‘La Traviata’ at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

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The Canadian Opera Company opens its 2015/2016 season with a work of dazzling beauty, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. This operatic classic returns to the COC stage in a lush new production for 11 performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on October 8, 13, 16, 17, 21, 24, 29, 30, November 1, 4, 6, 2015.

La Traviata is one of opera’s greatest romances but it scandalized Venetians at its 1853 premiere with its unsentimental depiction of a Parisian courtesan in love. A year later, La Traviata was restaged and triumphed, quickly growing in popularity. It remains one of the most performed operas in the world.

Renowned New York theatre director Arin Arbus, hailed by the New York Times in 2009 as “the most gifted new director to emerge,” sets Verdi’s story of passion and sacrifice in glittering 1850s Paris, evoking the social realities, rhythms and debauchery of a rapidly changing world. Co-produced with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera, this La Traviata delighted audiences at its Chicago premiere in 2013 with a look and feel that is “both hyper-traditional and, in moments, saucily modern” (bachtrack.com).

Arbus’s creation balances the intimacy of Verdi’s delicate love story with the playfulness and decadence of the 19th-century Parisian nightlife that inspired the opera that Verdi called “a subject of the times.” The lavish costumes are by noted visual artist and designer Cait O’Connor, set against the uncluttered backdrop of set designer Riccardo Hernandez with atmospheric lighting by Marcus Doshi and choreography by Austin McCormick. Projection designs are by Christopher Ash.

Irresistible melodies and elegant harmonies make the score of La Traviata one of Verdi’s most emotional operas. Leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus through this musical masterpiece is internationally renowned Italian conductor Marco Guidarini, last with the COC for 2012’s Il Trovatore.

La Traviata’s doomed courtesan, Violetta, has emerged over time as one of the most compelling and glamorous heroines in all of opera. Russian Ekaterina Siurina, one of the leading singers of her generation and as celebrated for her sparkling soprano as her charming stage presence, makes her Canadian and role debut in a part known for its demanding vocal pyrotechnics and complex character arc. She shares this beloved role with equally lauded

Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, one of today’s leading Violettas, last heard at the COC in La Bohème in 2013.

In the role of Violetta’s nobleman lover, Alfredo, is one of the finest lyric tenors of his generation, internationally acclaimed American Charles Castronovo in his Canadian debut. He shares the role with “the powerful and nimble voice” (Opera News) of COC Ensemble Studio tenor Andrew Haji. As Germont, Alfredo’s disapproving father, is “incomparable” American baritone Quinn Kelsey, as proclaimed by The Guardian. Kelsey mesmerized COC audiences and critics in 2014’s Don Quichotte and 2011’s Rigoletto, and now brings his “strong, musical voice… [to make] a formidable Germont” (New York Times). Canadian baritone James Westman, last with the COC in 2012’s Die Fledermaus, brings his “dramatic range and superb vocal control… [and] keen sense of theatric expression” (Opera News) to the role of Germont for three performances. Westman also sings Baron Douphol, Alfredo’s rival, for the other eight shows in La Traviata’s scheduled run.

South African-Canadian mezzo-soprano and Ensemble Studio alumna Lauren Segal, “alluring, sexy, her voice rich in nuance” (Opera Magazine), returns to the COC as Violetta’s friend, Flora. Canadian bass-baritone Thomas Goerz sings Baron Douphol for three performances and Ensemble Studio alumni bass Robert Gleadow and bass-baritone Neil Craighead share the role of Dr. Grenvil. Rounding out the cast are current members of the company’s Ensemble Studio: bass-baritone Iain MacNeil is the Marquis d’Obigny; tenor Charles Sy is Alfredo’s friend, Gastone; soprano Aviva Fortunata is Violetta’s maid, Annina; and tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure is Violetta’s servant, Giuseppe. Baritone Jan Vaculik is a Messenger.

La Traviata is based on the French play La dame aux Camélias (1852) by Alexandre Dumas fils, which the author adapted for the stage from his own best-selling novel of the same name. Dumas had fallen in love with a famous Parisian courtesan named Marie Duplessis, who served as the model for the tragic heroine of Dumas’ novel and subsequently Verdi’s opera.

Dumas’ play attracted Verdi’s attention because it offered a new and invigorating Realism. In this story, morality did not necessarily triumph; the scale was intimate and personal by focusing on people’s private lives; and the characters and situations were recognizably contemporary, speaking to all manner of issues that were relevant to, and vigorously debated by, the public in mid-1800s Europe. Verdi originally set his opera in contemporary times, something rarely done, but he ran afoul of censors and theatre managers who demanded that the time period of La Traviata be pushed into the distant past to dilute the work’s shocking social critique.

La Traviata is sung in Italian with English SURTITLESTM, and was last performed by the COC in 2007.


When I was a teen I was dumbfounded as to why Julia Roberts cried whilst watching ‘La Traviata’ in “Pretty Woman”. How was I to know what that kind of love felt like?  I didn’t know heartache yet.  I wanted to experience an opera that conveyed so much emotion that it could move someone to tears.  This past weekend, I was ready to immerse myself in the rawness of the Canadian Opera Company’s ‘La Traviata’ and finally taste some of that painful joy.

As we settled in to watch ‘La Traviata’ at the Four Seasons Centre of Performing Arts we were introduced to its intensity right away through the power of voice, rich staging, decadent costuming and thunderous talent.

From the tilted stage to a veiled lace curtain opening we were given a view into Violetta’s isolated life. The sorrow, loneliness and silence immediately made the voyeuristic audience wince.  Once the veiled lace curtain lifted, the stage revealed was ornate, filled with exuberant crown moulded walls within a gorgeous home.  Everything seemed a little too perfect.

The beauty was tangible from a boisterous party scene, party goers, revellers and colours so vibrant they were practically pop up, starkly contrasted the fretted emotions emanating from Violetta and Alfredo.

Verdi’s world could be outfitted into our 2015 reality with ease. Even with so much light and joviality, the darkness and sadness began to beat like a faint heart beat buried deep within the floor boards of Violetta and Alfredo’s  world.

Violetta in her ‘Louboutin like’ dress and red petticoats distracted us for moments as ominous shadows were cast on the lovingly maintained walls of her dwelling. The whispers and cries slowly unfolded in deep yearning as sung out by Violetta and Alfredo of a love affair in deep crisis.

Arin Arbus says, ‘One must remember La Traviata scandalized the censors when it was written. Why? Because Verdi chose to write about the hypocrisies of the society in which he was living. As much as the opera is a deeply drawn psychological portrait of a woman struggling to love and survive, it’s a social critique. The story depicts a woman destroyed by a brutal and petty world. The love which Violetta and Alfredo create together is a rebellion against that world.

Violetta’s life is a solitary and empty one, despite the crowds, the pleasures and the parties. She has no friends. No family. This kind of life has made her sick—physically and psychically.’

‘Love me Alfredo. Love me as much as I have loved you.  Farewell, ’ sings Violetta in the most beautifully painful scene which will leave you feeling choked and grasping at your throat in discomfort.   We’ve all thought those words and perhaps never had the guts to say it to someone we loved and lost.

With some life experience and broken romantic relationships under my belt, taking in ‘La Traviata’ spoke to my life’s wisdom. It reinforced periods of time in my life that I wish I could saved, taken care of myself better, walked through pain with a greater sense of control and created a wall of security to keep my mind, body and wellbeing intact whilst in grief.  Easier said than done in reflection.

We all know a Violetta and an Alfredo. We have all been a Violetta and an Alfredo.  ‘La Traviata’ as performed by the Canadian Opera Company is a polished and an epic portrait of love, loss, society’s rigid views and familial obligations.   The Canadian Opera Company has done it again and when you are ready, they will shake up your core.


Last Chance! Catch The Canadian Opera Company’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ (Gioachino Rossini) before it closes on May 22, 2015!

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You maybe familiar with ‘The Barber of Seville’ from the Stage Door Cartoon which features Bugs Bunny being chased by Elmer Fudd into the stage door of the Hollywood Bowl.  Childhood moments were built around that iconic cartoon with the backdrop of music although unfamiliar at the time added a layer of fun and frivolity.

As adults, we now can have the same chuckles experiencing Rossini’s overture of ‘The Barber of Seville’ in an opera and still swooning along to a love story at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto.

Here’s the scoop!

Act I

Count Almaviva has fallen in love with Rosina, a young girl he saw in Madrid, and has followed her to the house in Seville where she is kept sequestered by her old guardian, Dr. Bartolo, who wishes to marry her and acquire her dowry. Accompanied by his servant Fiorello and some musicians, Almaviva comes in disguise to serenade her, but gets no response. As daylight breaks, the barber Figaro appears and promises to help Almaviva for a suitable reward. Serenading Rosina again, the Count identifies himself as a poor man named “Lindoro” because he wants her to love him for himself, not for his wealth. Figaro comes up with an idea: the Count should force entry into Bartolo’s house on the pretext of being a soldier billeted there. The two happily contemplate their respective rewards.

Meanwhile, Rosina, stirred by this most attractive voice, determines to find its owner. Bartolo enters with the music master Don Basilio, who warns him that Almaviva is his rival for Rosina’s hand.  Bartolo decides to marry his ward at once, but Figaro overhears and warns Rosina, promising to carry a letter from her to Lindoro. The suspicious Bartolo tries to get Rosina to admit she has written to her suitor and warns her not to trifle with him. Suddenly Almaviva, disguised as a drunken soldier, bursts in and passes Rosina a note, which she hides. A loud quarrel ensues when Bartolo claims exemption from billeting orders. As a curious crowd forms outside, police try to take the troublemaker into custody, but he confides his identity to the Sergeant, who lets him go amidst pandemonium.

Act II

Dr. Bartolo suspects the intruder was a spy sent by Almaviva, who once again appears in disguise, this time as Don Alonso, a music teacher substituting for a sick Basilio. Alonso announces he is staying at the same inn as Almaviva and has found a letter from Rosina. He offers to tell Rosina that Almaviva is cheating on her with another woman. Reassured, Bartolo allows Alonso to give Rosina her singing lesson. Bartolo observes the lesson until Figaro arrives to shave him. With Bartolo unable to decide whom to trust alone, Figaro manages to steal the key to the upstairs balcony and Rosina recognizes Lindoro, who proposes to her. As the shaving is about to begin, Basilio himself appears, and the sham threatens to unravel. Quickly, Almaviva bribes him to play sick and rushes him out of the house. Figaro shaves Bartolo, distracting him while the lovers make their plans to elope, but Bartolo overhears the word “disguise” and sends for Basilio. After everyone has left, the maid Berta wanders in and complains that she is working in a madhouse.

Learning that Alonso is a fraud, the doctor sends Basilio to fetch a notary at once so he can marry his ward that very evening. Calling Rosina, he shows her a note, saying Lindoro has deceived her and plans to win her for his master, Almaviva. Rosina is angry and agrees to marry Bartolo, also revealing that Figaro and Lindoro plan to enter by way of the balcony. Bartolo goes for the police.

Figaro and Almaviva come in through the window, only to be spurned by Rosina, who accuses Lindoro of wooing her for Almaviva. Lindoro reveals his true identity and Rosina is delighted.  Figaro urges them to hurry, but as they prepare to escape, they realize Bartolo has thwarted their plan by removing the ladder from the balcony. Basilio enters with the notary, but is dismissed with another bribe from the Count, who joins Rosina in signing the marriage contract. Bartolo surprises them, but is too late to intervene. Rosina is free at last; young love has won the day.


I was looking forward to my second performance at the Canadian Opera Company.  The Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre that houses the Canadian Opera Company is on 145 Queen St. W. and is accessible by transit and truly a luxe space.  Taking a date or going solo will make for a wonderful afternoon or evening.  The Canadian Opera Company building provides a sexy, relaxed and uplifting experience from a busy work week.

The cathedral like ceilings in the lobby of the Canadian Opera Company is laden with glass, soft lights, muted slate floors and warm wood for miles.  There was even a speaker like sculpture that greeted me at the entrance.  Each floor within the building had an invisible stair case with mini wooden tables added to railings that you can rest your wine glasses onto to take in the ambience of the building.

Upon entering the space, I observed that the patrons were heading to the second floor for an introduction to ‘The Barber of Seville’ from a member of the opera’s creative team.

The 4th floor grand wooden stair case that looks onto University Avenue; allows you to observe what people were purchasing at the individual bars on each level was worth the price of admission.  In true Canadian fashion the mood was warm, very welcoming and oh so modern.

Did you know that you don’t have to sit in an opera at COC clueless as to what the talent are singing?  A neat technology originally developed by COC is called SURTITLES translates the sung or spoken dialogue performed in the opera projected onto a screen above the stage.   Again not only was it helpful but it also allowed me to participate in the performance and most importantly laugh along with ‘The Barber of Seville’.

Using Joan Font’s Director’s notes, ‘Love—here we have a young student who is passionate and crazy for this young girl, and who in fact isn’t really a student but rather a rich Marquis who wants to be loved for his skills and not for his wealth, but who also constantly uses his power to get what he wants, buying his servant, musicians, Figaro, Don Basilio, and the Commander, all of whom allow themselves to be corrupted by the “filthy money.” The power of gold makes the impossible seem possible. However there is another power in this plot: the power of the everyday business and that of the keeper of the keys, the one who can open and close all doors and balconies of this mansion that is, in fact, a cage and prison.’

If you are a first timer to Opera, ‘The Barber of Seville’ is for you.  It oozes a sense of comedy that you may assume not to see at the Opera, pop up musicians, comedy in which you will not help to laugh without abandon and scenes that were reminiscent of a John Water film and a Pepto Bismol piano.  ‘The idea behind our Barber is timeless; it is not located in a specific space. The action of the opera runs in Seville but it could well happen in the 19th century or in today’s Toronto’, says Font.

‘The Barber of Seville’ ends on May 22, 2015.  I encourage you to try and catch this piece before is disappears.

Tickets pricing you ask?

Sixty $12 Standing Room tickets are available at 11 a.m. the morning of each performance, in person only at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office. Limit of two tickets per person. Subject to availability.

Patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 may purchase $22 Opera Under 30 tickets as of September 15, 2012 at 10 a.m., online at coc.ca, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office. Program patrons may opt to pay $35, whereby their tickets are automatically upgraded to the best available the morning of the performance they are attending. Opera Under 30 is presented by TD Bank Group.

Student group tickets are $22 per student and may be purchased by calling 416-306-2356.

Rush seats, starting at $22 and subject to availability, go on sale at 11 a.m. on the morning of each performance at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office. Limit of two tickets per person.

COC rush tickets go on sale at 11 a.m. on the day of a performance. Tickets can be purchased in person only at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office, 145 Queen St. W., are subject to availability and are limited to two (2) per person. All discounts are at the discretion of the Canadian Opera Company.

Rush ticket availability is only a guide and ticket inventory can fluctuate. All rush ticket sales are final and cannot be refunded, exchanged or replaced.

Under 30? Approximately 150 seats are reserved for Opera for a New Age ticket buyers and student groups for each performance. Tickets cost $22 each.

P.S.  Don’t forget to stay until the end for the money that falls from the sky!  😉