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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.