Enjoy our next instalment in our blog series: The Opera That Changed My Life! The power of opera is a combination of many factors and goes far beyond the singing. These two stories showcase several other important aspects to life-changing operatic moments: lighting, costuming, and sets.
Back in the days of the COC's tenure at the O'Keefe Centre, I grabbed a ticket in the 1990s to a performance of Ariadne auf Naxos. Having just arrived in Toronto and living on a rather spartan advertising agency salary, the ticket broke the week's budget. However, I have subsequently come to the conclusion that it was some of the best money I have ever spent. I believe the production came from the US—perhaps Houston? The singing was stellar; Richard Bradshaw and the orchestra were at the top of their game. The opera within an opera was reaching its end. I was enthralled—and then it happened. Nearing the end, as Ariadne and Bacchus sing their duet and the audience (both on stage and in the house) are collectively immersed in the singers' expressed love, a thousand twinkly stars appear. My gasp of pure joy was echoed by everyone in the audience. The use of a lighting element at precisely the right moment of a delightful performance created a transformative experience. Can opera have the power to change a life? Those tiny points of light made a compelling argument that it can.
Above: a scene from Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Tom Diamond, in the COC's 1995/1996 season.
Many years ago I worked in a junior capacity at the Sadler’s Wells (now the English National) Opera. One day I was offered a free ticket to the dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier, my very first Strauss opera, at Glyndebourne that afternoon. With my boss’s encouragement, I hurried over to Victoria Station for the train to Lewes, and thence to Glyndebourne. As I walked into the intimate, old Glyndebourne theatre, I sensed that this was going to be something special, and I was right. Before the performance began, we were warned that there might be a few glitches—this was, after all, still a rehearsal. But there were no glitches; it was superb. There was a dream cast: Régine Crespin, Elisabeth Söderström, Anneliese Rothenberger, Oscar Czerwenka. The singing was wonderful, and Oliver Messel’s rococo sets and pastel-shade costumes were spectacular. This production didn’t receive universally favourable reviews from the critics, but for me it was perfection. I must have gotten back to London very late that night, but I didn’t care. I’d fallen in love with Strauss and his operas that day, a love that still endures many decades later. I'm a COC subscriber, as well as a frequent participant in the COC Opera Tours.
Above: set model by Oliver Messel for a hall in the house of Faninal, Act II of Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne Festival, 1959 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Dimitri Pittas and Grazia Doronzio in La Bohème (COC, 2013), photo by Michael Cooper; Russell Braun, David Watson, Tracy Dahl, Alberto Sanchez, and Ya Lin Zhang in Ariadne auf Naxos (COC, 1995), photo by Michael Cooper
Posted by Tanner Davies / in TOTCML / comments (0) / permalink
We all know there are many different kinds of opera lovers and it definitely takes a specific type of person to fall in love with Wagner! As our production of Götterdämmerung comes to a close, we wanted to share the moments when two opera lovers became devoted Wagnerites.
I was 22 and walking past the old amphitheatre entrance at the Royal Opera House in London. A guy waved a ticket and said "it’s a good seat and only 30 bob!" I had nothing better planned and had been to a few operas but didn't know any Wagner. It started five minutes later, which is why he was in a hurry to sell. No surtitles and I didn't know what it was about. Anyway, [Birgit] Nilsson, [Gottlieb] Frick, [Wolfgang] Windgassen with Rita Hunter and Gwyneth Jones as Rhinemaidens or Norns, or both. [Georg] Solti conducting with demonic power. It blew my mind, even if I understood nothing.
I have been going to opera ever since, all over the world and averaging nearly 100 nights a year recently, trying to include a Ring Cycle every year. [Last summer I saw] the beautiful [Die] Meistersinger [von Nürnberg] opening night at Glyndebourne [Festival] with top headliners Gerry [Gerald Finley] and Michael [Schade]. It is awesome to have such marvelous Canadians everywhere!
I have been a COC subscriber for around 35 years now.
Above: a trailer for Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg as a part of the 2016 Glyndebourne Festival.
I was once cautioned against taking up with Wagner. Folks had talked of his ponderous works, his megalomania; his disregard for one’s demanding schedule and attention span, but perhaps it was exactly these qualities that attracted me to him. Tristan and Isolde opened up for me the metaphysics of music, the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Buddhism, and following from that, the realization that the folly of man arises from his insatiable desires, and that love, above all else, remains a redeeming quality in him. Tristan and Isolde is purely sublime. There is really no other way to describe it. This opera comes straight from the mind of an unquestionable genius, a man who undoubtedly succumbed to his prejudices, but who set music alight, and revolutionized it for the delight of modern audiences.
As our production of The Magic Flute closes, we wanted to share some life-changing operatic moments our patrons have had with the great Mozart, and more! From The Marriage of Figaro to The Magic Flute, where would the opera world be without this masterful genius?
Our most memorable so far: The Magic Flute, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper) a few years ago. The music, acting and singing were superb. The costumes were fairly traditional: Papageno and Papagena in their usual feathered suits, Sarastro in a white flowing gown, and so on. The staging was unusual—the sets were almost surrealistic, but appropriate. For instance, the “cave” in the last act was a big cube box on a skewed angle, with entrance and exit on two opposing sides, flanked by sloping ramps on which the guards stood. Altogether, it was an inspiring and uplifting experience for the pair of us.
The first opera I ever attended was The Magic Flute in Vienna on my 20th birthday (in 1981) during a year-long, post-secondary European trek. I knew nothing about opera but was mesmerized by the Queen of the Night and the ensemble singing. I became an instant, life-long fan of Mozart's operas. When I moved to Toronto that same year to attend university my sister was working for the costume department at COC. Through her I was able to attend Jenůfa in 1982 which was staged in English (these were pre-SURTITLESTM days!) The opera spoke to me in a profound way. I became a devotee of opera in general and of the Eastern European composers in particular. I have been able to see Jenůfa at least one more time since then; it was just as powerful as I remembered it to be.
I have been attending COC productions ever since and am a subscriber now. Thanks for the opportunity to share my story.
At 15 years old, I did not have too much of an idea what opera was. My friend from Catholic school played for me some beautiful arias, so at a Sunday matinee I got a stand-up ticket in the fourth ring. There were no subtitles at that time. It was The Marriage of Figaro with Victoria de Los Angeles and Christa Ludwig still singing in my mind.
The opera that stood my hair up was Turandot with Montserrat Caballé and Birgit Nilsson. After that I spent the rest of my teen years and youth at the theatre—on my feet. I also spent a few years studying classical dance with one of the maestros of this opera house. I can't live without music and am now taking vocal lessons at the age of 67—discovering my strong bass. I have been a COC subscriber for a long time.
Above: Montserrat Caballé singing "Signore ascolta" from Turandot during a 1975 concert at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Owen McCausland and Kirsten MacKinnon in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Jacqueline Woodley and Joshua Hopkins in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Ambur Braid in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Gary Beechey.
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001