Parlando: The COC Blog


Opera Talks Preview: Don Giovanni

by Wayne Gooding 

This season, the staging of opera takes the focus in our series of Opera Talks under the banner: First Nights, Faux Traditions and Fresh Starts - An introduction to Director’s Theatre in opera through three dysfunctional families. Opera Canada editor Wayne Gooding examines three of our season’s productions, paying special attention to the specific visions of the directors who will bring them to our stage.

Here’s what Wayne has to say about Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni which will premiere at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on January 24, 2015.

This production is perfect to launch a discussion of Director’s Theatre since Tcherniakov’s imprint is all over it. The music is Mozart’s, the words are Da Ponte’s, but everything else is the brainchild of this production’s creative team. Quite apart from the now-familiar trope of updating the action to modern times (for example, Robert Carsen’s Falstaff), the scenography is totally changed so that the action all unfolds in the dining room of the Commendatore’s house; the time frame is considerably extended from 24 hours to a couple of months; the original dramatic layout is recast with the addition of many new scenes; and, perhaps most importantly, the characters are reconstituted in new relationships to turn the piece, literally, into a family drama.

This is a wholesale deconstruction that forces us to leave what we think we know and love about this venerable icon of opera history at the theatre door, and look with totally fresh eyes at the characters and their motivations even as we hear the familiar music and words.


I think Tcherniakov and his collaborators have done a brilliant job of transforming a Baroque classic into a contemporary comedy of sexual mores and manners. One of the things I particularly like in this production, which is shot through with irony and contradictions, is that the putative womanizing hero loses his libido while the other characters around him are driven by theirs. Talk about role reversals, since usually the characters are all defined by their passive reactions to the more active Don (well, except for Ottavio, who is more defined by his reactions to Anna). It doesn’t all work, to be sure, and there are some elements that seem gratuitously out of sync (Don Ottavio’s physical approach to Masetto, for example), but the production overall makes a very strong case that there’s considerably more substance embedded in Don Giovanni than Da Ponte’s wry depiction of late 18th-century social life and Mozart’s charming music.

This is certainly a disorienting production in many ways because it works very hard to break away from the familiar, but the payoff is a much more vivid, and even visceral, engagement with the original drama. Far from showing what’s wrong with Director’s Theatre, I would present it as a prime example of why opera needs strong creative teams.

Join us on November 19 for an in-depth preview of what promises to be one of the theatrical highlights of the COC’s 14-15 season. 

Opera Talks: Don Giovanni

Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 7 p.m., North York Central Library
For more information, visit:

Production images (top-bottom): 
Canadian Opera Company/Teatro Real Madrid (TRM)/Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Bolshoi Theatre co-production of Don Giovanni, 2013, TRM. Photo: Javier del Real. 
Ainhoa Arteta as Donna Elvira, Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina, and Russell Braun as Don Giovanni in the Canadian Opera Company/Teatro Real Madrid (TRM)/Festival d’Aix-en-Provence/Bolshoi Theatre co-production of Don Giovanni, 2013, TRM. Photo: Javier del Real.

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink


Centre Stage


On November 25, 2014, the Canadian Opera Company presents its annual fundraising gala event, Centre Stage: an evening dedicated to the discovery and celebration of young opera talent with an exhilarating competitive showcase of singers. Seven vocal finalists, chosen following preliminary auditions in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and New York City for the COC Ensemble Studio – Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals –  will be competing for cash prizes ranging from $1500 to $5000. 

Hosting the highly anticipated evening is Canadian Ben Heppner. A graduate of the Ensemble Studio, Heppner is recognized internationally as one of the finest dramatic tenors in the world and one of this country’s distinguished operatic talents. Also anticipated is a surprise musical guest, who will be revealed only at the event itself!

The young singers featured in the 2014 vocal competition are: mezzo-soprano Zoe Band (Toronto); soprano Eliza Johnson (Stratford, Ont.); baritone Dimitri Katotakis (Toronto); baritone Nathan Keoughan (Charlottetown); tenor Aaron Sheppard (St. John’s, N.L.); mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens (Calgary); and tenor Charles Sy (Toronto). 

Each singer will perform two arias before the audience and a panel of judges, with accompaniment supplied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus.  First, second and third prizes, of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,500, are awarded, in addition to an Audience Choice Award, selected by audience vote, of $1,500. Select finalists are also invited to join the COC’s 2015/2016 Ensemble Studio, to be announced at a later date.

“Through Centre Stage, the Canadian Opera Company is able to offer a special preview of the future of opera in Canada. The young artists we invite to participate in Centre Stage are some of the best and most promising operatic voices from across the country,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “We see exceptional talent over the course of our annual auditions for the Ensemble Studio and wanted to find a way to share these young artists with a wider audience, which is why we created a public competition component to the process a few years ago. Now, Centre Stage is one of the most anticipated events in the COC season.”

The vocal competition was first launched in 2011 in order to showcase the opera talent the COC had scouted from across the country and to create a public platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada. In 2013 the competition finalists were showcased as never before when they performed with an orchestra led by a world-renowned conductor from the mainstage of the COC’s opera house.

“It’s the excitement of hearing up-and-coming voices vying for prize money and glory that makes competitions irresistible – to me, at least!” said Joseph So, an opera journalist, in his review of the 2012 competition for La Scena Musicale. “Aspiring singers [get] to strut their stuff... Some of them have that extra, intangible something called star power, musicality, charisma, whatever. It’s that elusive quality that makes a singer an artist, and someone with the promise of a significant career. Competitions such as this one are designed to find that singer.”

Centre Stage takes place on November 25, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. in R. Fraser Elliott Hall at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St. W.). Centre Stage Competition tickets are $100 and include a pre-competition cocktail celebration. Specially priced $35 tickets are also available for patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 through Opera Under 30 sponsored by TD Bank Group. Centre Stage Gala tickets, encompassing the competitive vocal showcase and an exclusive black-tie dinner, are $1,500, with a limited number available for purchase.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit, call COC Ticket Services at 416-363-8231 or visit the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W.).

Ensemble Studio Competition finalists and winners with Centre Stage host Rufus Wainwright, 2013. Photo Credited to Michael Cooper

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Centre Stage / comments (0) / permalink



By Claudine Domingue, Director of Public Relations

This Remembrance Day, we take a moment to salute those who were involved in the war effort during the Second World War and joined the fledgling Canadian Opera Company as singers in its nascent years.
Here are just a few of those to whom we pay tribute:


Glenn Gardiner as John Sorel, Nellie Smith as Mother, and Theresa Gray as Magda Sorel in The Consul. Photo credit: Alex Gray, 1954

Prior to becoming one of the original members of the Canadian Opera Company, Glenn Gardiner was a pilot who joined the RCAF in 1940, flying 23 missions until May 6, 1942, when his plane was shot down over Belgium. He was captured and transported to Stalag Luft III, site of the now-famous Great Escape. Gardiner acted as a lookout for the diggers, but was not one of the 79 who attempted escape because he suffered from claustrophobia. Gardiner spent exactly three years as a POW.

After the war, Gardiner returned to Toronto to study at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (later the Royal Conservatory), after which he met teacher Ernesto Vinci and the COC’s first General Director Herman Gieger-Torel who plunged him into the world of opera. For the COC, Gardiner sang in all the productions of the company’s first two years Rigoletto, Don Giovanni and La Bohème (1950), and Le nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly and Faust (1951). He also sang the role of John Sorel in Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Consul in 1953 and 1954 among many other roles. 


Evelyn Gould as Lucinda, Andrew MacMillan as Lunardo, and Joanne Ivey as Margherita in School for Fathers (I quatro rusteghi). Photo credit: Alex Gray, 1954

During the war, bass-baritone Andrew MacMillan performed for the troops as a member of the Canadian Army Show. While he had already appeared extensively in operettas and musicals in Montreal during the 1930s, it wasn’t until the war was over that he began studying in earnest at the Royal Conservatory under Ernesto Vinci. In 1949 MacMillan became Herman Geiger-Torel’s teaching assistant, and in 1950 joined the company as both a singer and assistant stage director. Over the years, MacMillan was a valuable member of the company’s artistic roster singing lead roles in La Bohème, The Consul, Die Fledermaus, The Magic Flute, and The Marriage of Figaro. In addition, he directed Madama Butterfly in 1962, La Bohème in 1963 and 1965, and Die Fledermaus in 1964.

Irene Selemka as Mimi, James Shields as Rudolfo, Andrew MacMillan as Schaunard, and Jan Rubes as Colline in La Bohème. Photo credit: Alex Gray, 1954

Tenor James (Jimmie) Shields was already a well-known performer on radio and touring shows throughout the 1930s in Canada and the US, singing with the big bands of Morton Gould and Eddie Duchin, as well as appearing on the immensely popular radio shows hosted by Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Fibber McGee and Molly. He also starred on his own weekly NBC program called Enna Jettick Melodies.  

From 1942-1946, he appeared as The Singing Sergeant-Major in the same Canadian Army Show as Andrew MacMillan. After the war, in addition to being a leading performer on CBC Opera, and appearing on stage at Massey Hall with the TSO and various other orchestras, he also sang for the COC. He was Rodolfo in La Bohème (1951 and 1954) and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly (1951, 1953 and 1956). 

June Kowalchuk as Cio-Cio San, Joan Hall as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly. Photo credit: Joan Baillie COC Archives, 1951 

The ladies of the COC also participated in the war effort. Mezzo-soprano Joan Hall (Madama Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Rigoletto) remembers that she and others like sopranos Mary Morrison (Faust, The Magic Flute, The Bartered Bride, Così fan tutte, The Marriage of Figaro), Jean Edwards (The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro) and June Kowalchuk (Rigoletto, Madama Butterfly), spent some of their pre-COC years “wearing long johns under our long dresses in the 40 below weather and singing in front of two or three thousand troops!!! In Manitoba!!! We didn’t know much about opera, but our stage experience was awesome!”

We remember them all with pride and gratitude. Thank you to the Joan Baillie Archives of the COC for the photographs and memories.

Posted by Kiersten Hay / in Remembrance Day / comments (2) / permalink

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



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