La Scena Musicale

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Evil Iago stole the show in new Otello

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

The music is so achingly beautiful in Verdi's operas that one sometimes forgets to follow the surtitles.

But in a classic Shakespearean story about hate and jealousy, deception and devotion, it's pure human emotions that tell the story the best, and that was evident on stage in the
February 3 Canadian Opera Company new production of Otello.

Led by Italian conductor Paolo Olmi, the COC orchestra delivered an excellent performance in Verdi's four-act tragic opera. Olmi brought out a wide range of sombre colours in the score and reinforced the many cunningly dramatic climaxes with delicacy and volatility.

Clifton Forbis as Otello displayed both authority and vulnerability as a leader who has been toyed with into thinking his young wife, Desdemona, has betrayed him. The American tenor, who last performed with the COC as Siegmund in Die Walküre, was believable as an actor and generous as a singer.

The lovely Desdemona was sung by Italian soprano Tiziana Caruso, who makes her COC debut in this production. Caruso has a big voice. So big in fact, at times she drowned out her fellow cast members in numbers such as the Dammi la dolce e lieta parola quartet in Act 2 between Otello, Desdemona, Iago, and Emilia.

However, Caruso had the audience wrapped around her unshamefully hearty lyricism in the Otello-Desdemona love duet at the end of Act 1. Forbis matched her volume nicely here, both sounding beautiful and looking mesmerizing.

American baritone Scott Hendricks stole the show as the evil Iago, who deceives Otello into believing that Cassio and Desdemona are lovers. Chillingly charismatic, Hendricks' soliloquy was scheming, his sotto voce gripping — he was the perfect villain.

Unfortunately, Cassio, sung by Italian tenor Emanuele D'Aguanno, and Emilia by American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, were the weak links here. Both COC first timers, their overall performances did little to add to the tension-driven production.

Kudos to Scottish director Paul Curran for his minimalist and clever approach to Otello, often considered Verdi's most-challenging work. The spacious set and period costumes by Paul Edwards are exceptionally beautiful and David Martin Jacques' lighting created movement and suspense beyond the stage.

This production won't make you jump out of your seat, but not every production is meant to do that.

COC's Otello is a new co-production with the Welsh National Opera. It continues at the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre on Feb. 6, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25 and 28.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Last-minute stand-in saves COC’s Carmen

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I didn’t fall in love with the gypsy devil. As one of the most seductive operas of all time, the latest production of Bizet’s sizzling Carmen on stage at the Canadian Opera Company falls short of some much-needed charisma.

Directed by Justin Way with set design from Michael Yeargan, the Jan. 30 performance was interesting and lovely in parts (for example, the gypsy tavern in Act 2 and bullfight arena in Act 4), but struggles with movement and continuity throughout.

The COC chorus and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company chorus gave some magnificent and charming singing. However, it was unfortunate that they were given some awkward and un-gypsy-like routines to work with from choreographer Jane Johanson. This was especially painful to watch in the opening scene of the final act, when the choruses lined the front of the stage, stationary and pointing fingers.

The brief and sporadic standing ovation at curtain call owed its thanks to the last-minute-stand-in Carmen, sung brilliantly by Israeli-born mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, who makes her COC debut in this production after American mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton pulled out due to health reasons.

Shaham, blogging that she was “picking my nose in New York and complaining about my life” before she was called in last week, gave us a fiery, multidimensional Carmen, whose tobacco-laden gypsy pride torments the relatively simple and weak Don José. She wants her freedom above all things, and so she rejects the army officer for a matador in pink socks despite her hibernated love for the former. Shaham portrayed this subtle nuance beautifully.

In contrast, Don José didn’t know what he had until he lost it - albeit no one can hold on to a woman like Carmen for too long. New Orleans tenor Bryan Hymel, who made his COC debut as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, gave a guarded and measured performance of the hopeless lover. His singing was thin at times when coupled with Shaham’s deep and sultry tones, but he soared in the final act, revealing a vulnerable and impassionate Don José at his wits’ end.

Homegrown soprano Jessica Muirhead of Aurora, Ont. was a darling as the innocent and faithful Micaëla while French bass-baritone Paul Gay offered up a slightly rigid Escamillo, the matador. The COC orchestra, under the baton of 29-year-old Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald, shined from the pit.

Carmen continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts with Shaham on Feb. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 14. Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili will make her COC debut as Carmen on Feb. 17, 20, 23 and 27.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Breaking News!

The COC announced this afternoon that Ben Heppner will give a special concert to all ticket holders of the COC Diamond Anniversary Gala, at a yet to be determined date.

Read the press release.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lepage's Nightingale and Other Short Fables a Feast

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I never sat so straight at an opera as I did at the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables Tuesday night.

Only once 16 years ago, when I chanced on COC’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung at the then O’Keefe Centre and came out feeling like I had just seen something so cool that I was therefore cool from having seen it.

It’s no surprise then that the mastermind behind that still-talked-about double bill in Toronto is the very same one responsible for my straight back throughout the two-hour program at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts — Canadian director Robert Lepage.

Lepage’s new and second production for the COC is a collage of Igor Stravinsky’s two short operas —The Nightingale and The Fox — and other vocal and instrumental pieces, including RagtimePribaoutki, and three pieces for solo clarinet, played beautifully by Ross Edwards.

Yes, there was the much-publicized swimming pool (67,000 litres of water in the orchestra pit), in which singers stood and sang in The Nightingale, a three-act 45-minute fairy-tale opera set in ancient China.
The orchestra played on stage.

Different as the reversed arrangement may seem, when the opera premiered in Paris in 1914, singers were also placed in the pit by Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky some of his best-known works — The FirebirdPetrushka, and The Rite of Spring.

Aside from the water, there were puppets, 75 in total, including eight Japanese Bunraku puppets and 37 Taiwanese and Chinese puppets.

Again, the puppets alone are not that different. Lepage said he saw puppetry used in an opera several years ago, and last year, in Anthony Mighella’s staging of Madama Butterly for the Metropolitan Opera, a Bunraku-style puppet actually took a child’s place to play Cio-Cio-San’s son.

What made Lepage’s production so mind-boggling is the way he pulls various elements together and layers them in seamlessly with the orchestration, the singing, and the drama.

Russian lyric soprano Olga Peretyatko, who launched her career in 2007 after placing second at Placido Domingo’s Operalia singing competition, was a seductive and charming nightingale, her night calls clear as a whistle.

One of the most spellbinding moment for me was the opening of The Nightingale, when German tenor Lothar Odinius as the fisherman, whose supple voice moved the story along, walked out in waist-deep water with a boat and a puppet, the orchestra's humming murmur under Jonathan Darlington's baton floating amidst the fog.

Even if I knew nothing about Stravinsky, or opera, or classical music, it was an arresting scene I would have paused and pressed replay if I could.

With lavish costumes for the singers and their puppets, Lepage's Nightingale is a feast to the human eye. There was so much to see, the only downside was deciding where to focus your gaze on.

The first half of the program, consisting of Stravinsky's short works, was presented continuously with intriguing and complex hand shadow and full-body acrobatic shadow puppetry on a scrim.

Quite frankly, I found the puppetry so fascinating I barely had time to look at the singers, who were propped up on either side of the swimming pool.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables is by far the most visually imaginative creation I have ever seen in a musical performance. It was like watching Cirque du Soleil at the opera without the high jumps.

The music and the singing were fantastic, but opera has never looked so cool and I have definitely never been cooler.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets for the remaining shows are sold out. However, the COC has added an extra performance on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W., Toronto).

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 21, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 21 - 27)

The fall music season swings into action this week, now that the Toronto International Film Festival is over and our main concert venues are once again free. For voice fans, a major event is the start of the Canadian Opera Company season, with Puccini's warhorse, Madama Butterfly, at the Four Seasons Centre beginning Saturday, Sept. 26 7:30 pm. This revival of the serviceable if slightly frayed Brian Macdonald production will receive an unprecedented run of fifteen performances. The principal roles are double cast - Butterfly (sopranos Adina Nitescu and Yannick-Muriel Noah), Pinkerton (tenors David Pomeroy and Bryan Hymel), Sharpless (baritones James Westman and Brett Polegato), Suzuki (mezzos Allyson McHardy and Anita Krause). With the exception of Romanian Nitescu, it is an all-Canadian cast. Westman is particularly well known as Sharpless, having sung it many times, including the COC about ten years ago. Tenor David Pomeroy is rapidly becoming a COC mainstay. Coached by retired Canadian tenor Ermanno Mauro, Pomeroy sings with a pleasing, Italianate timbre. The conducting duties are shared by Carlo Montanaro and Derek Bate.

A second major event is the opening of the new Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music. The opening concert takes place on Friday Sept. 25 at 8:30 pm, with Jean-Philippe Tremblay conducting the Royal Conservatory Orchestra. It features Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and a video tribute to RCM graduate Glenn Gould on the anniversary of his birthday. On the program are pianist Anton Kuerti, Toronto Mendelssohn choir, soprano Erin Wall, mezzo Wallis Giunta, tenor Richard Margison, and bass Robert Pomakov. The tariff at $100 to $250 is not exactly cheap, with the less expensive seats all sold out at this point. But this is a special occasion and well worth attending. A more affordable alternative ($35 to $125) is the concert the next evening, with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. For me, a must-see concert is the great Frederica von Stade in a Farewell Tour Concert on Saturday, Oct. 10. This will be our last chance to hear this great mezzo.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra launches its new season on Thursday Sept. 24, with violinist Joshua Bell playing Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major. Peter Oundjian conducts this and the Brahms Symphony No. 2. Also on the program is Canadian composer John Estacio's Frenergy. The program is repeated on Saturday Sept. 26 at Roy Thomson Hall.

On Thursday morning, the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank Competition will announce its results in a press conference at the Glenn Gould Studio. Fourteen winners will get the use of 13 instruments plus a cello bow valued at a total of more than $26 million USD. This program is designed to aid promising young Canadian musicians in their careers by making available to them world-class instruments for performance. I will attend the press conference and will have more to report. In the evening at 8 pm, there will be a free concert given by the winners at the Glenn Gould Studio. Seating is limited so be sure to arrive early.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, May 2, 2009

This Week in Toronto (May 2 - 8)

Soprano Laura Claycomb as Tytania in the Houston Grand Opera/Lyric Opera of Chicago/Canadian Opera co-production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Photo: Felix Sanchez

Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, COC's Oberon

The last production of the COC's 2008-9 season, Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, opens on May 5 and continues until May 23, in eight performances at the Four Season's Centre. It will be an "updated" production from Houston Grand Opera, directed by Neil Armfield. It stars American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon. This will be Zazzo's belated COC debut, as he was originally announced to appear three seasons ago in Rodelinda. Soprano Laura Claycomb, last seen as Gilda in Rigoletto, returns as Tytania. Also of interest is the return of German baritone Wolfgang Holzmair as Demetrius, in a bit of unconventional casting. Holzmair made an unscheduled - and largely unannounced - debut two seasons ago in two performances of Cosi fan tutte as Don Alfonso, replacing Pavlo Hunka, near the end of the run. I look forward to hearing him in Toronto again. Also returning is soprano Giselle Allen, who was Marie in COC's last Wozzeck. Former Kansas City Symphony music director Anne Manson conducts.

On Tuesday May 5, Newfoundland's Duo Concertante will give a free noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, in the Four Season's Centre. The duo of violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves is launching its new CD, It Takes Two, with this free concert. It also appeared previously in a live performance at the New Classical FM 96.3 on April 8th. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get a seat, as these concerts are almost always full.

Today (May 2) in over 30 theatres in Canada, Montreal distributor DigiScreen presents Royal Ballet's production of La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer), as part of The Royal Opera House’s international Opus Arte Cinema series. It stars three of ballet's biggest stars - Tamara Rojo, Marianela Nuñez and Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta. I plan to attend the show at Empress Walk cinemas in North York.

Lieder fans will love Off Centre Music Salon's German-Spanish Salon on Sunday, May 3 2 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio. It stars the wonderful baritone Russell Braun, sopranos Monica Whicher and Lucia Cesaroni, with pianists Boris and Inna Zarankin.

Finally I want to report on the superlative concert I heard last Tuesday at Roy Thomson Hall. It was the National Philharmonic Of Russia led by Vladimir Spivakov, with guest soloist Denis Matsuev. I recall reading somewhere that Spiavkov was asked personally by Putin to put this touring orchestra together, as a means of keeping the great Russian talents at home. It is comprised of many great virtuosi picked from various Russian orchestras. Svetlana Dvoretskaia, the impresario of Show One Productions, brought the orchestra to Toronto for its Canadian debut. I don't have any statistics to back it up, but judging by casual observation, the audience was at least 80% Russian, if not more. It was a completely packed house, with people sitting even in the choir loft. There was also a palpable sense of excitement in the lobby before the concert.

The program began with Anatol Liadov's The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62. The hushed and evocative orchestral passages reminded me, of all things, passages from Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, except Liadov is more tonal. A very beautiful piece that I hope to hear again. That was followed by the centerpiece of the first half, Rachmaninoff's No. 1, with Matsuev. Since his win of the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998, Matsuev has appeared around the world, in all the great venues the likes of Carnegie Hall and La Scala. I have to confess that of the three Rachmaninoff concertos, No. 1 is my least favourite. However, Matsuev's stunning technique and fluid phrasing was impressive, and he was expertly supported by Spivakov. Embarrassingly, the audience applauded after the first movement, even when Spivakov kept his hands raised to discourage the misdirected enthusiasm. Frankly I don't think he was amused by the rather gauche audience behaviour. He noticeably did not pause between the second and third movements to avoid a repeat.

The second half consisted of two pieces with the Romeo and Juiette theme, that of Tchaikovsky's Fantasy-Overture, and the meatier Four Pieces from the Romeo and Juliet Suite by Prokofiev. To me, this was the heart of the evening. I am at a loss to come up with superlatives to describe the sound - and the conducting - of these two pieces. The waves upon waves of incredible sound - and energy - coming from the stage was staggering. Ever the showman, Spivakov's conducting was so colourful that I couldn't take my eyes off him. His movement was fluid - he waved his arms like he was imitating a crane taking off! There were four encores, all chestnuts, that had the audience in a frenzy - many, many ovations and lots and lots of flowers, to be sure. This sort of audience response is rare in Canada but very common in Europe, particular the former Soviet Union. Spivakov's conducting reminds me of a racecar driving behind the wheel of a Ferrari - he could do anything he wanted with this orchestra! Simply amazing to watch and listen. Let's home that Show One will bring Spivakov and the superb NPR back to Toronto in the not-too-distant future.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 6, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Feb. 7 - 13)

Richard Margison takes over the role of Florestan at the COC
Photo: Henry Grossman
(Courtesy of Moira Johnson Consulting)

By Joseph So

The Canadian Opera Company is in full swing this week, with performances of Fidelio and Rusalka at the Four Seasons Centre. The major news is the cast change on Feb. 12, when Canadian tenor Richard Margison takes over from Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson as Florestan. Readers may remember the eleventh hour withdrawal of American Jon Villars from the production. Fortunately the COC was able to secure the services of not one, but two Florestans, no mean feat as heldentenors sure don't grow on trees!

I attended the performance on Feb. 4. and found Mr. Ketilsson to be a fine Florestan, much better than his reviews on opening would indicate. Although the media is always invited to attend opening night, there is something to be said about attending a later performance, when all the first night jitters have subsided and any potential problem ironed out. It could not have been easy for Mr. Ketilsson to step in at the last minute and without adequate rehearsal. By Feb. 4, he had had three performances under his belt and was able to relax and sang up to his potential. His compact tenor has a pleasant timbre with a strong top register. Many tenors have come to grief in the final minutes of the Dungeon Aria with its impossibly high tessitura, but Mr. Ketilsson sang it very well. I find his Florestan altogether satisfying. On Feb. 12, Richard Margison takes over the role for five performances. The Canadian tenor has been branching out into the Germanic repertoire in recent years, in roles such as Bacchus, Aegisth and Florestan, the latter he sang to critical and audience acclaim at the Vancouver Opera. He has not sung at the COC for some years now, so it is good to have him back. This will be his Four Seasons Centre debut.

Although not exclusively a Toronto event, a highlight this week is the Met in HD showing of Lucia di Lammermoor on Saturday Feb. 7, with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. It was announced two days ago that the wildly popular Mexican tenor Villazon has cancelled due to illness - best laid plans of mice and men, as they say! This comes as a blow to his legions of fans, but perhaps it was not totally unexpected. On opening night last week, Villazon ran into heavy weather, sounding strained and cracking on several occasions. The audience was in shock when Villazon came to a complete stop during the ensemble before the Mad Scene. The conductor halted the orchestra and there were several seconds of tense silence, until Villazon cleared his throat and resumed. Clearly he was not in good voice, and Peter Gelb came out at the intermission to make an announcement. Villazon regrouped and finished the performance without incident. He was replaced in the second performance by Italian tenor Giuseppe Filanoti. On the telecast, it will be Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. I saw Beczala as Werther last July in Munich, and he will be a worthy replacement. He has an ingratiating voice and looks fine onstage, but without the same measure of energy and magnetism as Villazon. So don't expect the high voltage charisma a la Villazon, nor the special chemistry between Villazon and Netrebko tomorrow. And let's hope the setback of the beloved Mexican tenor is only temporary.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 31, 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 31 - Feb. 6)

Tenor Michael Schade
(Photo courtesy of Moira Johnson Consulting)

By Joseph So

This week's highlight is the Canadian premiere of Dvorak's Rusalka. This rarely performed opera is best known for its hit aria - "Song to the Moon", sung by the water nymph Rusalka. Frequently programmed in concerts and recital CDs by sopranos blessed with silvery tone and good top notes, this aria is really the only genuine hit tune in the opera. I have seen this piece twice, once with Renee Fleming and the other time with Czech diva Gabriela Benackova, both memorable in terms of star power. The tenor role of the Prince, considered a dramatic tenor role, has a few good moments, but overall it really isn't a particularly showy role. Canadian Ben Heppner has done well with this, although he appears to have dropped it from his active repertoire.

Now we have Canadian tenor Michael Schade trying his hand in this high-flying part. Schade started his career as a Mozart specialist, but with the passage of time, the voice has grown heavier and bigger. Now such roles as Idomeneo and Tito are in his repertoire, although he still sings the lyric tenor roles of Tamino and Ottavio. The Prince will be a bit of a stretch for him vocally, as the role requires a large, heroic sound more in line with the voices of a Heppner, Paul Frey, Peter Seiffert, Siegfried Jerusalem, Johan Botha, and the late Sergej Larin. In the title role is American Julie Makerov, who was a very good Freia and Donna Elvira for the COC. I also saw her several times, including a marvelous Tosca in Sarasota some years ago. I look forward to her Rusalka especially after being disappointed that her all important Mi tradi was cut from the recent COC Doon Giovanni, an idiotic decision as far as I am concerned. Also in the cast are Richard Paul Fink, a local favorite. The production comes from Theater Erfurt. I have not seen the dress rehearsal, but as I understand it, the sets are typical regional German house Regietheater type, ie, bleak, dark, short on colour, and symbolic in approach. I will reserve my judgement until I have seen the show. However, as is typical of new-fangled productions that favor "concept" and "meaning" over practicality, functionality and visual appeal, these modern sets can be a minefield for the perfomers. I understand at the dress rehearsal, the fountain with water onstage where the singers splashes about meant an inevitable wet floor. When Michael Schade took a fish bowl out of the fountain, he slipped on the wet floor that sent him flying, landing on his behind right in center stage - not a very elegant staging for the Prince!!! The fishbowl careened toward the lip of the stage, thankfully without tumbling into the auditorium. Stage accidents do happen, but it would be nice if stage directors and set designers take the welfare of singers into consideration when they come up with their "concepts"...

Speaking of tenor Schade - this Canadian is known as a superlative recitalist, and he will be giving a recital at the Four Seasons Amphitheatre on Tuesday Feb. 3 at noon. It is free and not to be missed. It is first come first serve so get there early!

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Breaking News: Jon Ketilsson COC's new Florestan

Photo: Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson, COC's new Florestan

(photo courtesy of IMG Artists)

By Joseph So

This just in:

In the soon-to-open COC production of Fidelio, American tenor Jon Villars has just been replaced by Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson. He will sing the first five performances of Florestan, with Canadian tenor Richard Margison singing the latter five performances. There is no information at this point as to the cause leading to the cast change at such a late stage - opening night is only two days away, on Saturday, Jan. 24. I will post more information as they become available.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Canadian Opera Company announces new season - and new music director

Johannes Debus Photo credit: Michael Cooper
I just returned from the COC press conference at the Four Season's Centre, where its new intendant Alexander Neef announced the 2009-10 season.

The season opens with Madama Butterfly, a whopping 15 performances worth of this Puccini warhorse, double cast - Adina Nitescu and Yannick Muriel-Noah shares the title role; David Pomeroy shares Pinkerton with Bryan Hymel, a name new to me. James Westman and Brett Polegato (Sharpless) and Allyson McHardy/Anita Krause (Suzuki) round out the cast. This is followed by a Robert Lepage world premiere of The Nightingale and other Short Fables, which includes a Lepage cutting edge treatment of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, plus a piece based on the animal fable The Fox, and the jazz inspired orchestral piece, Ragtime. This is a coproduction with Aix en Provence and Lyon. Soprano Olga Peretyatko, whom I heard in the recording sessions of Wuthering Heights in Valencia last September, will be the Nightingale.

The winter season begins with a revival of the Montreal Opera production of Carmen, with American mezzo Beth Clayton in the title role. I last heard Clayton in Santa Fe where she makes her home, as Olga in Onegin. She also sang in the COC Cunning Little Vixen some years ago if I remember correctly. Bryan Hymel is Jose. This Carmen is paired with Otello, marking the return of heldentenor Clifton Forbis. It will also mark the return of the popular Paolo Olmi as conductor.

The Company continues with an expanded Spring season, opening with a revival of Dutchman, starring Russian Yvgeny Nikitin and American Julie Makerov. Mats Almgren returns as Daland, and Robert Kunzli returns to sing Erik. This show will be conducted by the new COC music director, Johannes Debus, who made a remarkable company debut last fall in War and Peace. This 34 year old conductor received excellent critical and audience acclaim and had great rapport with the orchestra. I heard his conducting of Elektra in Munich last July and he was extremely impressive. I was so taken by his work that I e-mailed him at the time, and I received a gracious reply. Little did I know 6 months later he would be the COC music director! His is an inspired choice.

Dutchman will be followed by a rare foray into bel canto by the COC, in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. It stars one of my favorite Italian sopranos, Serena Farnocchia in the title role, opposite the Elisabetta of Alexandrina Pendatchanska, a terrific Bulgarian soprano whom I heard as Ermione and Vitellia previously. American tenor Eric Cutler sings Leicester and Patrick Carfizzi is Talbot - a great cast! The season closes with a new production of Idomeneo, with American tenor Paul Groves making his COC debut in the title role. Former COC Ensemble members Krisztina Szabo returns as Idamante and Michael Colvin as Arbace. Isabel Bayrakdarian is Ilia, a role tailormade for her. Early music specialist Harry Bicket conducts. One performance will feature the current crop of COC Ensemble artists.

In addition to the above shows - a great season, by the way - will be a Ben Heppner concert, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the COC. Neef mentions that Heppner is booked up for the next few seasons, so we are fortunate to have him back in a gala concert.

There you have it - a mixture of war horses and the unfamiliar, with some exciting casting. I was hoping for a Parsifal or Tristan, or an Ariadne, but that was not to be. Still, it promises to be an excellent season.

- Joseph So
> COC Season Press Release

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canadian Opera Company announces new Director

A long awaited announcement of the directorship of the Canadian Opera Company will take place at 10:30 am this morning, from the stage of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. I will be attending the press conference. You can be there also since the event will be webcast!

Go to the COC website at and follow the instructions on the homepage.

Update: Unanimous choice - casting director at the Paris opera under Mortier for the past four years. It is 34 year old Alexander Neef, a native of Ebersbach an der Fils near Stuttgart, Germany. He did his internship at Salzburg Festival. He has worked with many Canadians - Robert Lepage, Robert Carsen, Michael Levine, Russell Braun, Ben Heppner, Adrianne Pieczonka. He forsees more coproductions with other companies in North America. His English is impeccable. In response to questions about repertoire, he mentions looking at producing operas that has not been produced before, like Parsifal. Measha Brueggergosman was in attendance, as were a few other singers. Neef mentions he has a project with Measha and Mortier at NYCO - he did not elaborate. Could it be Measha singing her first Valentine in Les Huguenots?

> Official Press Release

Labels: , ,