By Nikita Gourski, Development Communications Officer
Deceit, betrayal, and revenge—assisted by magic potions—drive the drama in this final instalment of Siegfried’s journey. Do you need to brush up on your Ring Cycle knowledge or simply want to learn more about our upcoming production? Here are Nine Things About Götterdämmerung!
Wagner’s Far-reaching influence
Richard Wagner (1813–1883) is without a doubt one of the most important and controversial artists in human history. His influence extends far beyond music and has touched all aspects of modern culture, from literature, poetry, fine arts, and cinema, to literary theory, politics, philosophy, and more. Renowned music critic Andrew Porter has claimed that “No artist has been more influential than Wagner.”
Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wagner’s massive cycle comprising four interconnected operas, took approximately 26 years to compose. Music critic Alex Ross has pointed out that the Ring’s entire score is “more than two thousand printed pages [and if the music were played from beginning to end] would last from morning until midnight… arguably, the most ambitious work of art ever attempted.” The COC opened its opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, with the Ring Cycle in 2006 and more recently presented three of the Ring’s four operas over consecutive seasons: Die Walküre (2015), Siegfried (2016), and Götterdämmerung (2017).
In Götterdämmerung, which translates to “Twilight of the Gods,” the multi-generational epic that began with Wotan’s theft of a magic ring—precipitating a curse and prophesy of doom—comes to a stunning resolution that sees the world of gods and humans falling to the flames of destruction. Yet the end is also the beginning, as the opera leaves open the possibility of rebirth and renewal, and perhaps a better world to be remade from the debris of our faults.
In one sense, Wagner wrote his Ring Cycle “backwards,” starting with the end of Götterdämmerung and elaborating the events that took place before its conclusion. Once he had the text of the narrative written, he began to compose the music going “forwards.” Yet the process wasn’t as linear or simple as the music fitting to an unchanging textual mould. Over time—more than two decades of work—Wagner’s philosophical outlook, musical style, and worldview all went through significant, sometimes intense, changes; the text was altered and revised, reduced and expanded, revised again, becoming layered with the accumulated history of a shifting psyche and an evolving personal and political consciousness. Most notably Wagner experimented with many variations on Götterdämmerung’s ending, which ran the gamut from uplifting optimism, in its initial incarnation, to later expressions of resigned fatalism. Ultimately he settled on an option of rich ambiguity, prioritizing musical expression over any definitive textual summation: “[Understanding the opera’s conclusion] is more a matter of feeling than of subtle arguments… I have once again realized how much of the work’s meaning is made clear only by the music.”
Götterdämmerung features some of the most complex and riveting music in the operatic repertoire, including Siegfried’s “Funeral March”—an orchestral showcase which offers a musical retrospective of the Ring itself—as well as Brünnhilde’s famous “Immolation” scene, a powerful aria in which she restores order to the world and joins Siegfried on his burning pyre in an act of profound sacrifice.
A debut for Johannes Debus
With this production, COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts his first Götterdämmerung. During our recent multi-season exploration of the Ring Cycle, Debus has been at the podium for both Die Walküre and Siegfried, earning extensive acclaim for his work. “A piece like Götterdämmerung is far more universal than I expected. That’s the thing that surprised me. We all know that Wagner was highly interested in Greek tragedy. And that’s what he goes back to—those really elementary everlasting human questions. At the end of the opera, as depressing as it has been, you can see a sign, I think, that says, ‘Hope. …’”
Director Tim Albery’s vision for Götterdämmerung was first presented by the COC in winter 2006, and then in fall 2006 as part of the company’s full Ring Cycle. It has been called “as stunning a feat of staging as [has been] seen in Toronto” (National Post), with critics singling out that “the great virtue of Albery’s production is the urgency and absolutely clarity of the storytelling” (Opera News), while also noting the presentation as a whole represents “the COC’s proudest hour” (Globe and Mail).
The production designer Michael Levine worked on all four COC Ring operas, acting as a unifying architect of the cycle and giving it a coherent visual progression from opera to opera. He sets Götterdämmerung in a world that is recognizably ours, sleekly corporate and computerized, with business suits and modern dress. Yet the use of space and shadow, the dramatic lighting by designer David Finn, also produces an undercurrent of strangeness, as if this is a world that touches ours but simultaneously remains of another realm entirely.
American soprano Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde
“Everything a great Brünnhilde must have: dignity, stature, and a voice of molten gold” (Toronto Star); “a once-in-a-decade experience” (Globe and Mail)
Austrian tenor Andreas Schager in his COC debut as Siegfried
Establishing himself as one of the world’s leading heroic tenors: a “discovery” (The Arts Desk) and “a big star in the making” (The Independent)
German baritone Martin Gantner as Gunther
Internationally renowned at the world’s most important opera houses, such as Bayerische Staatsoper, Opéra National de Paris, Opernhaus Zürich, Metropolitan Opera, etc.
Estonian bass Ain Anger in his COC debut as Hagen
“One of the great opera basses of our time” (The Guardian) makes his Canadian and role debut
Canadian bass Robert Pomakov as Alberich
“A talent to watch” (Washington Post)
Canadian soprano Ileana Montalbetti as Gutrune
COC Ensemble Studio graduate, whose performance as Ellen Orford in the COC’s Peter Grimes (2013) was “in the realm of greatness” (Toronto Star)
Götterdämmerung is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from February 2 to 25. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
Photo credits (top - bottom): (l-r) Robert Pomakov and Ain Anger in Götterdämmerung (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; (l-r) Lauren Eberwein, Danika Lorèn and Lindsay Ammann in Götterdämmerung (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; (l-r, foreground) Christine Goerke, Andreas Schager and Ileana Montalbetti in Götterdämmerung (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Ain Anger (far left) in Götterdämmerung (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper.
Posted by Tanner Davies / in Gotterdammerung / comments (0) / permalink
Our production of The Magic Flute has officially begun, so we asked some of the opera's stars to tell us about their memories of this masterpiece. Click here if you missed the first part of this two-part blog exclusive!
Kirsten MacKinnon – Pamina
"The Magic Flute was my very first opera. I sang as one of the three spirits with Vancouver Opera when I was 10 years old and had a blast. I can't believe what a dream it is that the very next time I get to perform The Magic Flute, it's with the COC and I'm now singing Pamina. I've always loved Mozart (he and I are pretty tight) but The Magic Flute is particularly special to me since it's the first opera I ever performed. Pamina is a pleasure to sing. Who wouldn't want to play a princess?
"Flute is a favourite not only because of the music. The characters really make the show. I'd go for Papageno alone. He can be such a quirky weirdo and I completely dig it!"
Ambur Braid – Queen of the Night
"I first heard some of The Magic Flute in the movie Amadeus and it was captivating.
"Deep down, The Magic Flute is a very spiritual and human story about being a better individual in a crazy world. It's filled with advice like 'be steadfast, be patient, be silent' and opens with a large snake going after Tamino, the image most connected to achieving a higher state of consciousness. It's about self-improvement and morals. Who doesn't want their kids to learn about this stuff?!
"There's something for everyone in The Magic Flute. You can laugh, cry, and maybe even change the world.
"Villains are appealing and the Queen of the Night is an incredible lady. Yes, she has some pretty famous high notes, but she's a woman who is obsessed with power and that can be pretty ugly. We all have that desire inside of us, so it's nice to play the dark characters to keep it in check. Mwa ha ha!"
Joshua Hopkins – Papageno
"The first time I saw The Magic Flute I was transported. It was only the third live
opera I had ever seen and I was lucky enough to watch my wife (then
girlfriend) sing Second Lady in a Toronto-based young artist summer
program. The production was set in, of all things, the Star Trek universe. Papageno's character
was recast as Data, from the series Star
Trek: The Next Generation, which I watched religiously growing up. I
thought the concept really worked!
"Alongside some of Mozart's most glorious and
tuneful music, the story is entertaining and enchanting. It is a
fairy-tale that speaks to all ages, having characters to whom the audience can
relate, like the character I play, Papageno, and his long-lost love, Pagagena, who keep the story grounded. The opera has adventure in foreign lands, the
search for true love and plenty of laughs making it perfect for young audiences
and first-time opera-goers.
"I love so many aspects
of playing the role of Papageno. He is the only character in the opera who
steadily 'breaks the fourth wall' and directly communicates with the
audience. In most of the roles I sing in opera, I don't normally get
scenes with dialogue so I relish the chance to exercise my acting chops and
find my own comedic timing. Despite having performed in six different
productions throughout my career, this is actually the first in which I will be
speaking the dialogue in German!"
"I first saw The Magic Flute performed at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb while I was still in high school. I remember I admired the Queen of the Night and her fantastic arias, but didn't pay that much attention to Sarastro. Some years later, when I was student of opera studies at the University of Zagreb, I sang my first Sarastro ever in the same production and was brought full circle.
"The Magic Flute is like mille-feuille; it has a bit of everything for everyone. There is a fantastical side, where human beings talk to the animals and dragons; there are a few love stories; there is a huge story about the relationship between children and parents; and at least one, if not more, philosophical clashes. All of that through the stories of Papagena and Papageno, Pamina and Tamino, and the Queen of the Night and Sarastro. Mozart's music gives body and soul to Schikaneder's libretto. Almost every character has a hit aria, and all of these arias are different from each other; one cannot be bored listening to this opera. The frame-story of Papagena and Papageno and Pamina and Tamino are so popular, especially among young audiences, because they can relate to them and Mozart's marvelous music, with ear-worm arias delivering those stories in a super interesting way. There are so many well-connected layers in this opera.
"Sometimes the ambivalence of the characters to the Queen of the Night and Sarastro drives me crazy. I've sung this role so many times in different productions and I still don't have a clue who's positive and who's negative towards them. Every production gives me new answers to that question.
"I'm so sad that the Queen of the Night and Sarastro don't have a duet. Can you imagine what it would be like to listen to the two most extreme human voices, a coloratura soprano and a dark bass, clashing in a musical way? I hope one day some composer will add that number to this opera and I hope Wolfgang won't be mad."
Photo credits (top - bottom): Charles Sy (left), Goran Jurić (centre), and Martin Gantner (far right) in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Chris Hutcheson; Kirsten MacKinnon in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Ambur Braid in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Gary Beechey; Joshua Hopkins in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Goran Jurić in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper.
Posted by Tanner Davies / in The Magic Flute / comments (0) / permalink
Our production of The Magic Flute has officially begun! Opera singers and fans alike have personal stories of their first Flute experiences, so we thought we would share some of our cast's earliest memories. Stay tuned for the second part of this two-part blog exclusive!
ANDREW HAJI – TAMINO
"The first time I saw The Magic Flute was back in 2011 here at the COC. I was in my last year of undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto and had, by that time, decided to pursue a master's degree with the University of Toronto’s opera school. Watching this incredible—and incredibly charming—production made me even more excited to be pursuing opera as a career. Now, to be able to perform in that very same production, I couldn't be more thrilled!
"The Magic Flute transports the audience into a fantasy world, where anything is possible. It's sort of like the Harry Potter series, in that it gives your mind the license to imagine and to dream. Many other operas exist in 'the real world' and as such aren't able to really bring the audience to that special place. That's also why it's accessible for people of all ages—imagination has no age limit!
"The music in The Magic Flute is sublime—some of Mozart's best work. It's beautiful to listen to, but also a great pleasure to sing. My very first aria, "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön," is one of the most beloved in the tenor repertoire. And there are some really fun duets and ensembles sprinkled throughout the piece, which makes the opera a great joy to perform!"
Elena Tsallagova – Pamina
"I was 12 when I first heard The Magic Flute. I wasn't familiar with opera and had never been to one before. My parents are musicians and I suppose they knew the best way to introduce a child to the complex art form of opera. I saw my first opera on DVD and it was a famous recording from the Met in 1991, with Kathleen Battle singing Pamina and James Levine conducting. I remember I watched it breathless and now I can listen to Flute with no less great anticipation—each time I discover something new.
"The secret of The Magic Flute, as it seems to me, is in the simplicity of perception; there are no complicated melodies or special effects—everything is brilliant and simple, from the music to the storylines. Perhaps it is what makes Flute more accessible to future opera lovers. It is important for the audience to take pleasure from what they see and hear, and for older audience members, it can be a different experience and as the opera’s more complex issues are revealed.
"Some may look at it as a story of great love which overcomes all difficulties and, for some, a beautiful fairy tale with a happy ending and funny adventures of heroes.
"I just love Pamina's character a lot. This is one of my favourite heroines. Pamina is a guardian of love, and is brave and purposeful. She goes through all the trials together with her beloved one and aims to win. Being a woman, it is normal for her to have some failures and doubts but she finds herself encouraged and motivated to fight further and she wins again.
"She is not the one who would be hovering in the clouds, and reacts according to unfolding circumstances. Honestly, I think I could learn from some of the features of Pamina's character in my own life, because I'm very much fond of her as an ideal example of a loving, strong personality."
Phillip Addis – Papageno
"I believe my first experience of The Magic Flute was the Ingmar Bergman film, probably on PBS. The first live performance I saw would have been by Opera Atelier, here in Toronto. In both cases, the tone of the storytelling acknowledged the humanity behind the theatrics. It's hard to resist genius that doesn't take itself too seriously.
"Personally, I am still struck by the juxtaposition of the grand and the intimate, in both the story and the music. I think Mozart hoped to create something that was at once endearing and universal. So, no matter what expectations a new audience brings with them, they'll be both satisfied and surprised.
"I love how simply Papageno wants to live his life, and how honest he is about his hopes and desires. I think this is the life Mozart himself wished he could have had."
Matt Boehler – Sarastro
"The first time I heard the opera was during my years as a theatre major in undergrad. I was cast as Sarastro in my college's opera production that year, and, aside from beginning to work on the arias with my voice teacher, I hadn't listened to it before in its entirety. I was immediately drawn in by its whimsical sense of humor.
"The world of The Magic Flute is a place where reality is turned on its head, and where anything is possible. With fantastical characters and music that veers from light comedy to sincere tragedy, it has something for everyone.
"Honestly, singing all of those low notes is just great fun."
The Magic Flute is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until February 24, 2017. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
Photo credits (top - bottom): A scene from The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Chris Hutcheson; Andrew Haji in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Elena Tsallagova in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Phillip Addis in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper; Matt Boehler and Kirsten MacKinnon in The Magic Flute (COC, 2017), photo by Michael Cooper.
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001