Parlando: The COC Blog


Artist Basics: Alice Coote

What she's doing with us: British lyric mezzo-soprano Alice Coote is playing the title role in Handel's Ariodante with us this fall. Although this opera is not performed as much as other Handel works, Alice is no stranger to this role and we are excited to have her back on our stage! For more information on our production of Ariodante, click here.

Where you might have seen her: Alice has been seen on our stage twice before. Her COC debut came in 2011 when she played the role of the Composer in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. In 2014 she returned to sing the role of Dejanira in Handel's Hercules to great acclaim. Beyond the COC's stage she has a wildly successful career, well established as one of the most sought-after singers in the world. The Royal Opera House, the English National Opera, Opéra de Paris, the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago are just a handful of the many companies with which Alice has performed. 

Above: ​Alice Coote as Dejanira and Lucy Crowe as Iole in a scene from the COC's 2014 production of Hercules

Reviews and interviews: Alice has been widely acclaimed for her lyrical mezzo-soprano tone and superb acting. Here a few review highlights for her portrayal of Dejanira in our 2014 production of Hercules

"Alice Coote is equally impressive, capable of turning from the woman wronged to the instrument of vengeance in the course of a single scene, with her darker mezzo tones almost reaching contralto resonance as she plumbs the emotional depths as well." 

— Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star

"Alice Coote was mesmerizing as Dejanira... At times joyous, fearful, jealous, revengeful, guilt-stricken, Coote used her glorious and controlled mezzo-soprano voice to completely draw us into the psychological world of her complex character."

— Robert Harris, The Globe and Mail

Alice has also proven to be a dream to interview, as is seen in the video below by Schmopera from 2014 in the Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts:

Hard hitting questions:

1. What was the first music concert you attended?

Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler's Fifth Symphony at the BBC Proms

2. What book have you read again and again?

Charley by Joan G. Robinson

3. What performer would you drop everything for to see?

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

4. What is your favourite must-see TV show?


5. What is your preferred pre- or post-show meal?

I don't like to eat just before or after a show—I am too heightened or drained in senses and emotions

6. Do you prefer pants or skirts?


7. Les Misérables, Rent or Hamilton?

The Sound of Music

8. What is the worst job you've ever had?


9. Who would play you in a movie of our life?


10. One piece of advice for Ariodante?


Photo credits (top - bottom): Alice Coote, photo: Ben Ealovega; Alice Coote as Dejanira and Lucy Crowe as Iole in Hercules (COC, 2014), photo: Michael Cooper


Posted by COC Staff / in Ariodante / comments (0) / permalink


10 Thing to Know: Norma

By Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager

Vincenzo Bellini's Norma, the iconic bel canto masterpiece is set to hit the stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and kick off the 2016/2017 season. Do you need a quick introduction or a refresher course on some key concepts? Here are 10 Things to Know before you go!


Norma, a druid priestess, is torn between love for those she leads, and a secret passion for Pollione, the Roman enemy of her people. She has two children with him in secret before discovering he has begun an affair with her younger acolyte, Adalgisa. Norma forgives Pollione in the end, and he joins her in her fiery destiny.


Norma brings together all the great dramatic themes that dominate Italian opera: love (Norma loves her enemy, Pollione, head of occupying Roman forces); jealousy (the love triangle between Norma, Pollione and Adalgisa); friendship (Norma and Adalgisa maintain their friendship despite being in love with same man); conflict between nations (Druids versus Romans), motherhood (Norma has two children by the faithless Pollione) and finally, sacrifice (Norma commits suicide, wracked by guilt for having betrayed her people).


Bellini pioneered canto declamato (declamatory singing)—a style of vocal writing that kept the orchestral accompaniment relatively simple, allowing the audience to pay greater attention to the relationship between text and melody. This was in opposition to his Italian bel canto predecessor Rossini who opted for a more florid style referred to as canto fiorito (flowery singing).


Norma may be best known for the restrained, languid aria “Casta diva,” but it is also packed with searing drama, nowhere more so than the opening of Act II where Norma contemplates killing her children in order to seek revenge against their father, Pollione, who has abandoned her for her best friend, Adalgisa.


In the period directly preceding the bel canto era (Norma premiered in 1831), opera was dominated by the castrati, male sopranos worshipped for their extraordinary vocal technique. They were the stars of late 18th-century opera seria where vocal virtuosity took precedence over dramatic values. By Bellini’s time however, female singers became the new stars and roles like Norma set a new standard, placing equal value on dramatic veracity as well as ironclad vocal technique.


From the start, the great Normas of operatic history have all been great singing actresses: mistresses of astonishing vocal technique and outstanding personalities. The first Norma, soprano Giuditta Pasta, was lauded for her power to combine all the “several excellences of the drama, the opera and the ballet; mind, voice and action” into a complete performance. In the 20th-century, the gold standard Norma was Greek-American soprano, Maria Callas who in 1958 made headlines when she notoriously walked out of a performance of Norma in Rome, despite the presence of the Italian president.


Above: Sondra Radvanovsky in a scene from the COC's production of Norma (San Francisco Opera, 2014)


As was customary in Bellini’s time, opera roles were tailor-made to suit the talents of their original interpreters. Tenor Domenico Donzelli, the first Pollione, was very specific about his attributes when he wrote to Bellini: “The range of my voice then is nearly 2 octaves, from low D to top C. Chest voice to G and it is in this range that I can declaim with vigor and sustain all the force of the declamation. From G to high C, I can use a falsetto that, employed with art and with power, provides a means of decoration. I have a fair amount of agility, but find descents much easier than ascents.” Bellini took this to heart, filling the role with full-voiced G’s, just one “decorative” high C, and runs that mainly took the tenor’s voice downward.


Bellini’s signature style prioritized the text, allowing it to dictate how he shaped the vocal line. This school of composition was referred to as melodramma­—not in today’s pejorative, “soap opera” meaning of the term, but rather, to signify “drama as revealed in melody” and to distinguish it from the stiffer, formalized opera seria of the 18th century.


A tragic clash of cultures is central to Norma in which imperialistic Roman forces occupy the Druids in Gaul. Contemporary Italian audiences would have recognized in this conflict their own struggle to oust their Austrian oppressors who at the time were sending in troops to put down revolts against their domination.  


The team of Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani, was one of the great collaborations of operatic history. The composer simply refused to take on commissions unless Romani was on board to write the text. Bellini’s devotion bordered on obsessiveness as he recounted in his later years: “It seemed impossible for me to exist without you…write for me alone; only for me, for your Bellini”.


Above: Vincenzo Bellini (left) and Felice Romani (right)

Norma is running from October 6 to November 5. For more information and tickets, please click here.

Photo credits (top - bottom): a scene from Norma (San Francisco Opera, 2014), photo: Cory Weaver; Sondra Radvanovsky (far right) as Norma in Norma (San Francisco Opera, 2014), photo: Cory Weaver

Posted by COC Staff / in Norma / comments (0) / permalink


The Opera That Changed My Life: You Saw Her in Devereux...

This week on The Opera That Changed My Life, our contributor discusses two distinct operatic experiences in his life—nearly 70 years apart! We also learn about the importance of memorable recordings, and not just live performance, to the development of a true opera lover.

Georges C. Clermont

I was 13 years old (in 1949) and my parents took me to the Metropolitan Opera to see a production of Carmen—primarily because Wilfrid Pelletier was conducting and Raoul Jobin sang Don José. Risë Stevens sang Carmen and, if I recall, Rose Bempton sang Micaëla. I was hooked forever. My parents got me a vinyl recording of the opera with Stevens and within a year it was worn out. My thirst for vinyl never ended and my folks obliged.

Then I met a kindred soul and we got married; my wife’s grandmother was one of the founders of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Montreal Festival which produced operas in the summer.

We travel to NYC, Toronto, Montreal or other places to see special productions, not to mention the Live in HD which we have attended since it started 10 years ago. Recently, we enjoyed the Live in HD performances of Elektra and Roberto Devereux so much that we caught the last performances live at the Met. Radvanovsky’s last 20 minutes were worth the trip.


Above: Sondra Radvanovsky in a scene from the COC's 2014 production of Roberto Devereux

Photo credits (top - bottom): the Metropolitan Opera Company's program from its 1945 production of Carmen; Leonardo Capalbo and Sondra Radvanovsky in Roberto Devereux (COC, 2014), photo: Michael Cooper

Posted by COC Staff / in TOTCML / comments (0) / permalink

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



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