La Scena Musicale

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Canadian baritone Cornelis Opthof (1930-2008) : A Tribute

If there ever was an evergreen in the Canadian opera world, baritone Cornelis Opthof would make the top of the list. A true stalwart for a half century in the Canadian opera scene and elsewhere, Opthof passed away on December 16 at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto at the age of 78.

Born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on 10 Feb 1930, Opthof emigrated to Canada in 1949. He studied voice with Catharina Hendrikse for seven years. He was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1957, and won a CBC Talent Festival competition in 1960.

Opthof made his stage debut in 1957 as an extra in Die Fledermaus, as a member of the Canadian Opera Company's touring division (1957-64). His mainstage debut was as Alcalde in La forza del destino in 1959. He remained a member of the COC for the next fifty years, the longest serving member of that Company. Among the many dozens of leading baritone roles he sang for the COC were Marcello in La boheme, Valentin in Faust, Einsenstein in Die Fledermaus, Amonasro in Aida, Germont in La traviata, Scarpia in Tosca, Jack Rance in La fanciulla del West, Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur, the Music Master in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly. In 1967, he created the role of Sir John A. Macdonald in Harry Somers' Louis Riel. On the international stage, Opthof made his mark with his association with the great Dame Joan Sutherland. Opthof's appearances as the Count in a Stratford Festival Marriage of Figaro under conductor Richard Bonynge in 1964 led to an Australian tour in 1965 with Dame Joan, and many subsequent appearances with her, including Germont opposite her Violetta in La traviata in Philadelphia in 1975 and as Riccardo in I Puritani, in his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1976. In recent seasons, Opthof took on more character roles at the COC, among them Geronte in Manon Lescaut, Baron Duphol in La traviata, Benoit/Alcindoro in La boheme, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, and the Doctor in Macbeth. One of his last assignments was as the old prisoner in Janacek's From the House of the Dead with the COC in the 2007-8 season.

As a regular attendee of COC performances since 1972, I saw Opthof in many of his celebrated roles. In a 50-year career with the Company, Opthof was its longest serving and one of its most dependable and valued members. Blessed with great bone structure, his tall, strapping appearance, manly baritone and charismatic stage presence made him an ideally evil Scarpia, a menacing Sheriff Jack Rance, and a sympathetic, fatherly Sharpless. Through it all, Opthof was the utmost professional, a loyal team player and a real trouper. His passing is a great loss to the Canadian opera community.

Opthof is survived by wife Natalia, daughter Natalie and her husband Frank, their daughters Heather and Shayla, his daughter Tamara, and son Nicholas and partner Yves Latreille. The visitation will be held on January 10, 2009, 2 - 4 pm, at Innisfil Funeral Home, 7910 Yonge Street, Innisfil, Ontario (705) 431-1717.

The Canadian Encyclopedia (
Cornelis Opthof, Opera Canada Nov-Dec. 2005

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Russia with Love

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Moscow Chamber Orchestra; Style of Five Folk Ensemble / Constantine Orbelian
Delos DV 7005
***** $$$$
Recorded live in St. Petersburg, Russia on September 15, 2006, this DVD consists of a program of Russian folk and contemporary songs which Dmitri Hvorostovsky has since taken on tour all over the world, including a concert in Toronto last season. To my eyes and ears, Hvorostovsky is the most significant baritone today, pace Bryn Terfel and a number of other wonderful singers. Others may have a more varied repertoire or an even more powerful stage persona, but none can beat the Siberian for his resplendent quality of tone and rock-solid technique with its amazingly long breath line. When DH came to Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, the audience was heavily Russian, and as in this video, the singer was offered bouquets galore from his adoring female fans. The soulful romances on the program were archetypically Russian, pretty much all written in the minor key, on the joys and pains of love and love lost. The baritone was his usual spectacular self, offering up volleys of refulgent tone. In no time the audience was eating out of his hand. If one were to nitpick, there was a stylistic sameness to it all – experiencing them in a single sitting is like eating a whole box of marzipan. Leading the Moscow Chamber Orchestra was DH’s frequent collaborator and conductor of choice, Constantine Orbelian. The Style of Five Folk Ensemble contributed several terrific instrumental arrangements of folk tunes, allowing the baritone brief rests between numbers. Three encores were given, including “O Sole Mio”, and of course the obligatory “Dark Eyes”, a showstopper that is indelibly linked to Hvorostovsky. His fans will want it all, as will any lover of great singing.

- Joseph K. So

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