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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.


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!