Our subscribers are truly dedicated to opera as an art form, and certainly have some interesting experiences! From a teenager seeing Faust with his football buddies, to distant memories of the incomparable American mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens, life-changing opera moments have been occurring in our own backyard for decades.
I was born and raised in Guelph, as was Edward Johnson of Metropolitan Opera fame as singer and then General Manager. Guelph had the Presto Music programs to which I believe Johnson steered excellent talent. I had the privilege of attending, with my fellow students, warm-up sessions by the various performers. Marion Anderson was my favourite, but she was not my first exposure to opera. My mother took me to Rigoletto (on film) at the Capitol Theatre in Guelph. When I was four, sports on Saturdays were in the morning and the Texaco sponsored Metropolitan Opera broadcasts in the afternoon.
Above: (left) Edward Johnson as Radamès in Verdi's Aida; (right) Edward Johnson as the title character in Gounod's Faust.
At age 15, together with three of my football buddies, I saw my first live performance of an opera—Faust at that marvel of acoustical halls: Maple Leaf Gardens. Since then I have enjoyed 60 more years of opera with the COC (a subscriber for over 30 years), as well as performances in the USA, Argentina, Iceland, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Russia, France, Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, China, and Australia. More music to come! We are fortunate to have the COC.
I saw my first opera when I was 15 years old. I attended a Metropolitan Opera production of Carmen with my mother in Toronto. Risë Stevens sang the title role, for which she was famous. It was wonderful. Toronto then was not the city it is today. The opera was performed at Maple Leaf Gardens! I am currently a COC subscriber.
Above: Risë Stevens as the title character in Carmen (PBS, 1951).
Banner photo: A scene from Rigoletto (COC, 2011), photo by Michael Cooper.
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As we prepare for our production of Mozart's The Magic Flute this winter, we decided to share some stories in our The Opera That Changed My Life series about one of the highlights of the opera repertoire.
Ingmar Bergman's film of The Magic Flute blew me away. I loved the way the director drew the viewer into each scene so you forgot you were watching a film of an opera. He'd then break that intimacy by reverting back to the proscenium stage between acts, and show the actors/singers playing a board game or peeking out behind the curtain to check out the audience. I thought the casting was brilliant but I couldn't believe that Sarastro was evil—as depicted by the Queen of the Night—based on his singing/voice/acting—and it turns out he's not. I've watched it over and over, purchased a copy of the opera, and seen it in person many times. I'm willing to overlook aspects of the story that aren't politically correct, as the music is so compelling.
Above: The wonderful Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård as Papageno in a scene from Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute.
In London during graduate school, my experience at the Proms brought me to The Magic Flute and Wozzek. Such willing bookends for me to begin filling with new experiences! I'm completely hooked.
Photo credits: (top) A scene from The Magic Flute (COC, 2011); (bottom) Michael Schade in The Magic Flute (COC, 2011). Photos by Michael Cooper.
As our Ensemble Studio School Tour of Second Nature gets underway, take a moment to get to know the opera’s talented young composer, Matthew Aucoin! Second Nature is an original work by this award-winning composer, pianist, poet and conductor, who has been called "the next Leonard Bernstein" (Wall Street Journal) and "Opera's Great 25-Year-Old Hope" (New York Times). Read on to learn more about how he got his start as a young composer and his inspirations behind this eco-friendly opera!
Name: Matthew Aucoin
Hometown: A small town near Boston, Massachusetts
What’s your favourite kind of music other than opera?
"So many kinds... indie rock, jazz, non-operatic classical music.
What was your favourite subject in school?
"Literature. Much more than music, actually."
What inspired you to become a composer?
"I caught the composing bug pretty early—I think I was six. I heard Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and got addicted."
Tell us about the first time a composition of yours was performed in public.
"I was about nine when I first heard my own music performed. A local orchestra played a piece of mine."
Where did you get the idea for Second Nature?
"I got the idea for Second Nature when I was walking around the Lincoln Park Zoo, in Chicago. Seeing our planet’s cool, funky, beautiful creatures made me think about how much of nature is disappearing—and a big part of that is humans’ fault. Some of those animals’ natural habitats are in danger because of pollution, for example. So I imagined a future world in which humans have messed up the environment so terribly that now we have to live in a zoo, to hide from the terrible heat and storms and toxic air outside."
How do you decide which voice type each
character should be?
"I decide the characters’ voice types based on their
personality and their attitudes. For example, a bird
might be a soprano, which is a really high woman’s
voice, and an old king might be a bass, which is
the deepest kind of male voice. But sometimes
there are surprises: sometimes a male character is
sung by a woman, or the other way around. The
human voice expresses parts of ourselves that we
don’t see every day. There are parts of me that
I would want to express through a heroic tenor
voice, and there are other parts of me that feel
more like a squeaky soprano."
What’s the point of having people sing a story
instead of just telling it like in a movie or a play
or a TV show?
"Yeah, why do opera singers sing? It risks looking
pretty silly, right? Well, try something out at home:
imagine you’re having a conversation with your
friend, and you start to get into an argument. At
first you’re talking normally, but then you start to
get mad. You can feel your cheeks getting flushed,
you can feel your pulse, and you raise your voice.
At the moment when you raise your voice, listen to
yourself: you just sang. When we raise our voices—if we’re really excited or overjoyed or angry—we
push them closer to music. (Imagine yourself
yelling “MOM! MOOOOOOOM!” You’re basically
singing.) And opera is the world of that music—the music of human passion, of the things that we
express in music because speech doesn’t say it
strongly enough. It’s a way of letting our passion
and emotions out into the world without hurting
What’s your advice for someone interested in being a composer?
"Listen. Just listen to and absorb as much music as you can—and not just music; listen to the music of the world around us. And if you want to make music up, find some friends that you want to make music with!"'
To learn more about Matthew and his past works, go to his website.
Reprinted with the permission of Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Matthew Aucoin, photo by Steven Laxton; Matthew Aucoin, photo by Steven Laxton; Matthew Aucoin, photo by Steven Laxton; Betty Allison, Charles Sy, Megan Quick, Emily D'Angelo, and Bruno Roy in Second Nature (COC, 2016), photo by Chris Hutcheson.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001