Parlando: The COC Blog


European Summer Festivals: Part 1

By Alexander Neef, General Director

Firstly, my apologies that these posts are a little behind, but while I was in Europe I managed to see 12 operas over 13 days in five cities and, in the end, there’s so much to write about that I will have to recount my trip over the course of a few posts.

My summer tour began with a production of Nabucco at Opera di Roma, conducted by a Verdi master, Riccardo Muti. His performance was absolutely incredible with every detail of Verdi’s score lovingly explored. It’s amazing how a great conductor can make even pieces you’ve heard many, many times sound fresh and exciting.

Bayreuth was next.

Wagner is everywhere!
Wagner is everywhere!

Going to Bayreuth is kind of like making a pilgrimage. Wagner chose this provincial town to build his theatre and premiere his works in a place where, although lovely, there isn’t much else to do beyond seeing opera! Then, he built the Festspielhaus on top of a hill on the edge of town, forcing a walk up to the theatre. Although the town has never been convenient to get to (irregular train service, no nearby airports), going to Bayreuth is a commitment that people, even after 130 years, continue to make today.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Bayreuth this year was to see Eva Wagner Pasquier. Eva is the great-granddaughter of the composer, and was the artistic administrator at the festival in Aix when I was working at the Paris Opera, and since she took the job in Bayreuth I’ve been promising that I would come to visit. She’s a good friend, and she’s always been a huge font of information on new, young singers. She’s now a specialist in new Wagnerian talent, so she’s also a great resource for us in this capacity too.

I was privileged to be able to attend a few dress rehearsals during my four-day visit which, given the huge demand for tickets, was an honour. As it turns out, dress rehearsal week is a special one because it also happens to be the time when so many previous and current generations of Wagner singers come to visit too. In fact, the very first person I saw as I was sitting outside my hotel was Hanna Schwarz, our amazing Herodias in Salome. Hanna was the Erda and Fricka in the original Patrice Chereau Ring Cycle, performed from 1976 – 1980, and she comes every year for dress rehearsal week.

And it’s not just singers. Two mornings in a row I had coffee with Bernd Loebe, Johannes’s old boss at Frankfurt. Another old acquaintance I met on the hill was Dominique Meyer who I know from my Paris days when he was the director of the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. He’s now the director of Vienna State Opera and, because it’s such a huge company with so many singers, conductors and directors going through it each season, he is, like Eva Wagner, an invaluable resource and a great colleague.

My first evening, I saw Die fliegender Holländer conducted by the great Christian Thielemann. He hardly performs in North America anymore, so it was a rare chance to see him live. Thielemann brings so much understanding to the piece and created so much excitement with it, really capturing the romanticism of the music, even to the point of making it sound almost like Weber. It was a real pleasure to see Franz-Josef Selig (as Daland) again after his extraordinary performances with us last winter in Tristan und Isolde.

I was glad that I finally got to see Hans Neuenfels’s production of Lohengrin for myself. Now in its fourth year, it is both famous and infamous for many reasons, not the least of which are the rat costumes the chorus wears for the entire opera. Having said that, the bridal chamber scene is one of the most intense stagings of an operatic scene I have seen in a while. Conductor Andris Nelsons is an up-and-coming conductor with a great reputation, but I hadn’t seen him before and I was really impressed at how wonderfully the orchestra worked with him.

I couldn't resist!
I couldn't resist!

By designing his Festspielhaus in the now-popular one-level fan shape, Wagner essentially made the first innovation to theatres since the Italian multi-leveled, horseshoe-shaped houses of the 17th century. But it’s in his brilliantly conceived, covered orchestra pit that Wagner’s architectural genius really bears fruit. The beginning of Das Rheingold in the Festspielhaus never fails to impress, with the sound seeming to emerge out of nowhere from the invisible orchestra. Magic.

This year’s new Ring Cycle is directed by Frank Castorf, who sets Rheingold in a motel on Route 66 with the gods waiting at the motel for Valhalla to be finished. The set is quite efficient and there is live video to allow the public to follow scenes that don’t happen in direct view of the auditorium. The dress rehearsal for Die Walküre was closed to the public, but I was very grateful that Eva Wagner gave me the opportunity to watch Act I and II on the house TV in their donor lounge.

Much has been made of the critical reception of this Ring, so it will be interesting to return to it in a year or two to see how things have evolved. Many Ring Cycles, including Chereau’s now-classic production, received venomous reviews in their first season.

Photos: (top) Alexander Neef; (middle) Little Wagners at Bayreuth; (bottom) Alexander Neef meets a Wagner statue. Photo credits: (top); (middle, bottom) Alexander Neef.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Alexander Neef / comments (0) / permalink


Free Concert Series Returns for its 2013/2014 Season

Summer may be over, but there are tons of reasons to get excited for fall. At the top of the list is the return of the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre!

We recently unveiled an exciting line-up of 79 concerts for our 2013/2014 season and over the next 10 months, audiences can experience world class talent from Canada and around the world in six diverse series: vocal, chamber, piano virtuoso, jazz, dance and world music.

Below, we've selected a few highlights from this season that you won't want to miss!


In a popular Free Concert Series tradition, the first concert of the 13/14 season introduces audiences to the opera stars of tomorrow with a performance by the artists of the COC Ensemble Studio on September 26, 2013 at 12 p.m. It is the first of several concerts featuring the Ensemble Studio throughout the season.

This season, the Vocal Series features two world premieres. In October, Canadian bass Robert Pomakov and the internationally acclaimed Gryphon Trio perform a new work by Ukrainian composer Bohdana Frolyak, while the Canadian Art Song Project premieres a new song cycle by James Rolfe in March.

Several artists featured in the COC’s 13/14 mainstage season also make highly anticipated appearances in the series, including Canadians baritone Russell Braun, mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, and soprano Tracy Dahl, English baritone Sir Thomas Allen, American tenor Paul Appleby, and Ensemble Studio alumna soprano Simone Osborne.


The COC Orchestra returns for a third season with five concerts curated by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. In three additional special presentations, members of the COC Orchestra join forces with young artists of the COC Ensemble Studio and artists of the COC’s 13/14 mainstage season.

The series of 17 concerts includes two world premieres featuring percussionist Rick Sacks of ArrayMusic on April 24 and the young musicians of The Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble on December 3.

Holland's hottest new saxophone ensemble, Amstel Quartet, stop by the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on November 7 as part of their first Canadian tour. Listen to a clip of this versatile group below:


Brilliant pianists from Canada and around the world present a richly varied repertoire in 13 concerts. Highlights include first-time appearances by Kara Huber with a world premiere from emerging American composer Natalie Draper, Chinese virtuoso Haiou Zhang in a rare Toronto performance, and harpsichordist Hank Knox (featured in the video below).

Fans of influential new music composers John Adams and Hans Thomalla are in for a treat when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s New Creations Festival returns to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on March 4. Experience two important and exhilarating works of the contemporary two-piano repertoire: Adams’s iconic Hallelujah Junction and Thomalla’s Noema. Thomalla himself will be on hand to provide personal insight into his composition.


The Jazz Series presents Canadian legends and emerging talent on the Toronto jazz scene in 14 sizzling and soulful performances. Drummer Morgan Childs kicks off the series with his award-winning new quartet in a high-octane hour of swinging standards and original tunes on Tuesday, October 1 at 12 p.m.

Back by popular demand, powerhouse pianist Robi Botos reunites with Cuban pianist Hilario Durán (pictured below) for another meeting of extraordinary musical minds (pictured below) on March 5 at 5:30 p.m.


This season’s seven dance performances showcase some of the city’s most inventive dancers and choreographers, drawing from a variety of cultural and dance traditions. Styles range from the traditional Indian Kathak dancing of Infusion Dance, to the urban street moves of Gadfly Dance.

The series also welcomes return appearances from the University of Toronto’s Dharma Santi with their distinguished guest artists from Bali, and notable Canadian companies Peggy Baker Dance Projects and Ballet Jörgen.


Audiences begin a global musical journey of nine concerts in Turkey with Andrew Downing’s Anahtar Project in a tribute to Istanbul with oud player Güç Başar Gülle on October 8, and finish in Russia with domra virtuosa Iraida Erokhina and acclaimed accordionist Alexander Sevastian on bayan on June 3.

Another highlight is the return of Nagata Shachu, whose heart-pounding taiko drum beats you can preview in the video below.

Which performance are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

For a complete calendar of events and concert descriptions, click here.

Photo Credits: All photos by Chris Hutcheson, unless otherwise noted. Artists of the COC Orchestra; Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio; Robi Botos and Hilario Durán; Dharma Santi. Photo: A. Chandra.

Posted by Kristin McKinnon / in Free Concert Series / comments (0) / permalink


Inside Opera: Building Bohème - Costumes and Wigs

The Canadian Opera Company's popular Inside Opera video series is back, this time with a look at our first production of the 2013/2014 season, Puccini's romantic classic, La Bohème!

Watch the video below and join costume and set designer David Farley behind the scenes as he tours the COC's wigs and costume departments and works with our staff to get just the right fit for our cast in this new production. 

Don't forget to catch up with our first Inside Opera video from this season, which features an interview with costume and set designer David Farley as he introduces the COC's scene shop and showcases the sets and props of La Bohème.


Learn more about La Bohème:

Photo: Heidi Stober (centre) as Musetta in the Canadian Opera Company/Houston Grand Opera (HGO)/San Francisco Opera co-production of La Bohème, HGO 2012. Photo by Felix Sanchez.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in La Bohème / comments (0) / permalink

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