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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 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.


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!  😉