Taking on Wagner's Ring Cycle is no easy task. With approximately 16 hours of musical intensity, intricate character development, and striking leitmotifs, this is truly an epic operatic endeavour.
My 90-year-old father, an all-around great guy, took "his brood" to Wagner's Ring Cycle several years ago on a COC opera tour. Our only price for the tour was two years of study and an understanding of all of the leitmotifs! This was the first opera I had ever paid any attention to, and what a job trying to make sense of all of this. At the Vienna State Opera my brain screamed in delight for four days—neurons and interneurons firing and never before pathways opening and forming moment by moment. The Rhinemaidens, Erda, Valhalla and the Wood Bird all settled in my head. Wow! Thanks Wagner, Dad and Dr. David Stanley Porter! I cannot wait for 2017 and Götterdämmerung.
Photo credits: (top) Mats Almgren as Hagen; (bottom) Allyson McHardy, Laura Whalen, and Krisztina Szabó as the Rhinemaidens; both photos from Götterdämmerung (COC, 2006), by Michael Cooper.
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New technologies constantly allow us to absorb information and ideas where we had previously lacked exposure. In this regard, the opera world has become much more accessible in the past several decades. With the company's invention of SURTITLES™, the technology which provides a simultaneous translation of an opera’s text projected over the proscenium arch, the Canadian Opera Company transformed the opera-going experience.
Michael and Linda Hutcheon
Going to the opera once meant a lot of work: first, you had to read the libretto (and often in translation); then you had to listen to recordings (vinyl, of course); then you had to listen to the recording with the libretto; then you were ready. All of that changed in January of 1983. Our date with a one-act, two-hour violent domestic squabble in German was accompanied by something brand new—a running translation projected across the top of the proscenium. SURTITLES™ had been invented for the COC’s production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra. What would have been quasi-incomprehensible without the above preparatory work became a riveting drama in real time that kept us on the edge of our seats. Despite the rear-guard disapproval of some conservatives who saw themselves as opera “purists,” SURTITLES™ quickly spread around the world, making the art form newly accessible, no matter one’s language limitations. SURTITLES™ are now a significant part of what makes ours a “golden age” of opera.
Above: the first ever use of SURTITLES™ in the COC's 1983 production of Elektra.
Michael and Linda Hutcheon are both long-time supporters of the COC, with Linda currently serving on the Board of Directors. Michael is a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and Linda is university professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto. Together, through their diverse professional backgrounds and shared love of opera, they have written several books on opera and medical culture.
Photo credits: Scenes from Elektra (COC, 1983), photos by Michael Cooper.
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.
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001