Parlando: The COC Blog


Travels with Alexander Neef: Part 2

By Alexander Neef, General Director

In my last post I mentioned that I was off to Europe for a few weeks – a combination of vacation (visiting my family) and work.

As much as I look forward to seeing old friends and colleagues as well as meeting new ones, I don’t especially like spending so much time in airports and on planes, so I try to make it as useful as possible. Between trips, I collect articles, documents, resumés – all kinds of reading material – and it is my “next time I’m on a plane for a long time” pile. I am never without a stack ready to go. It’s daunting, but at least I know I have some dedicated time to get it done.

That pile is helpful in other ways too. Travelling, especially with the time difference overseas, is some of my only uninterrupted planning time, when I can think creatively about possible productions, repertoire and casts for the future. (I’ve got ideas in my head for as far forward as 2021.) It’s a very satisfying way to spend a flight or waiting at an airport.

Long flights have one other advantage: I’m able to watch movies. I have so many evening and weekend obligations during the year that doing normal social things – like going to the cinema – is not possible, so I use plane trips to catch up on current culture.

In the last three years, I’ve become a very good suitcase-packer. It really helps when you know the cities and especially the hotels you’re staying at, because you can plan accordingly. If at all possible, I keep my luggage as a carry-on because it’s just too easy for your bag to get lost between flights. Last fall I was in five cities in Europe over seven days (not my favourite kind of trip), and my suitcase was one day behind me for the entire time. I lived out of my briefcase for the first two days and was fortunate to find a department store near my hotel in Madrid where I could buy a change of clothes. I certainly hope that my bag will accompany me every step of the way this summer!

Another thing I’ve learned the hard way is to always make sure my cell phone charger is in my carry-on bag. Getting stuck at an airport with a dead phone is not ideal. And, not that I want to do a commercial for iPhone, but I have to say that since I got one, it’s made my life so much easier. It’s such a small device, but I can do all my work-related tasks and also have access to a complete entertainment station. Plus, it works great with WiFi, so that saves a lot on roaming charges, and I never feel out of touch.

I’m off in a couple of days, and although I won’t be able to write another post while I’m gone, I promise to tweet as much as possible! Follow me on Twitter @alexanderncoc

Photo Credits: (top) Alexander Neef. Photo:; (bottom) Laura Aylan-Parker, Executive Assistant to the General Director, and COC General Director Alexander Neef. Photo: COC.

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


Oh Canada: Canadian Artists in the Fall Season!

Happy almost-Canada Day! To celebrate our nation's 146th birthday, we're highlighting all of the talented Canadian artists you will find this fall in our mainstage productions of Puccini's La Bohème and Britten's Peter Grimes. The list includes some familiar faces, several COC Ensemble Studio graduates and some highly anticipated COC debuts.


Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury is a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and has performed multiple roles at the Metropolitan Opera and all over the world. Most recently she has performed with companies like Palm Beach Opera, Netherlands Opera, Opéra Théâtre Saint-Étienne, Opera Lyra Ottawa and Welsh National Opera. This fall, Joyce makes her COC debut in La Bohème in a rare double casting in the roles of Mimì and Musetta! The talented soprano will sing Musetta alongside Italian soprano Grazia Doronzio's Mimì, and will sing Mimì alongside fellow Canadian soprano Simone Osborne's Musetta.

Vancouver soprano and our other Musetta, Simone Osborne graduated in June 2012 from the COC's Ensemble Studio and has been quite busy ever since she left. Over the past year Simone has travelled to Japan, Zurich, Los Angeles, Dubai and back home again! In the last year, Simone has performed at Vancouver Opera as Pamina in The Magic Flute (with fellow Ensemble Studio graduate Teiya Kasahara)  as well as made debuts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel as Barbarina in Christopher Alden’s production of Le nozze di Figaro and at Carnegie Hall with pianist Warren Jones as a part of the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration. You can also catch Simone performing as Oscar in Un ballo in maschera in our winter season.

Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins last performed at the COC as Morales in our 2005 production of Carmen, and his return as one of our Marcellos in La Bohème has been highly anticipated. But this isn't his first time performing in this co-production! The young star baritone recently performed the role in the Houston Grand Opera production and was praised for his "firm, focused baritone". The Pembroke, Ontario native is a graduate of the Houston Grand Opera studio and has performed all across North America at houses including the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Vancouver Opera, and overseas at Glyndebourne and the Verbier Festival.

Fellow Canadian baritone Phillip Addis makes his COC debut while also doing double-duty in this production of La Bohème. He shares the role of the painter Marcello with Joshua Hopkins, and the role of Schaunard with Cameron McPhail. The Atelier Lyrique de L'Opéra de Montréal graduate enjoys a highly successful career at home and abroad. In 2010 he made his Paris debut as the titular character in Pelléas et Mélisande with l'Opéra Comique and has since performed with De Vlaamse Opera, Calgary Opera, l'Opéra de Montréal, Opera Atelier and more. 

Canadian bass-baritone Tom Corbeil made his COC debut in 2010 in Death in Venice and returns to Toronto to share the role of Colline with American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn. A graduate of the Merola Opera Center, Tom has performed at the Florida Grand Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, and has received acclaim for his performance as Colline at Opera Omaha and Opera Sacramento. This season, Tom will be doing double-duty, as he is also cast to perform as Swallow in Peter Grimes. Trivia time: In 2011, Tom took some time away from the opera treadmill to perform as Lurch in The Addams Family on Broadway!

Hailing from Brandon, Manitoba, current Ensemble Studio member Cameron McPhail starts his second year of the program with a mainstage role as Schaunard! In his first year, Cameron performed as Jacob Grimm in the Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour of Dean Burry's The Brothers Grimm, and was an Officer in the critically acclaimed production of Dialogues des Carmélites. This season, Cameron revives his performance as Jacob Grimm in The Brothers Grimm, performs the role of Guglielmo in the Ensemble Studio performance of Così fan tutte, and will understudy a number of mainstage roles.

Also joining Cameron onstage for La Bohème are fellow Ensemble Studio members Owen McCausland, Clarence Frazer and Gordon Bintner, performing the roles of Parpignol, Customs House Sergeant and Customs Officer respectively.


Renowned Canadian tenor Ben Heppner wowed audiences last winter with his performance as the tormented Tristan in the COC's 2013 production of Tristan und Isolde, and promises to do the same as the title character in Peter Grimes. An illustrious graduate of the COC Ensemble Studio, he was born in Murrayville, British Columbia, attended the University of British Columbia and is known as one of the world's finest dramatic tenors. On top of everything, in 2008 he became a Companion of the Order of Canada — how much more Canadian can you get?

Performing alongside Ben Heppner is a fellow ensemble Studio graduate, soprano Ileana Montalbetti as Peter Grimes' tragic love interest Ellen Orford. Ileana was last onstage at the
Four Seasons Centre in our 2011 production of La Cenerentola, and has recently performed the role of Leonore in Michigan Opera Theater's production of Fidelio, and Antonia in the Edmonton Opera's production of The Tales of Hoffmann. The soprano from Saskatoon even has an operatic connection in her family  her mother is the artistic director of the Saskatoon Opera.

Tenor and Ensemble studio graduate Roger Honeywell returns to the COC in the role of the ever-vengeful Bob Boles. The actor-turned-opera singer is currently performing the title role in Peter Grimes at the Des Moines Metro Opera and will also understudy the role when he comes to the COC in the fall. Since graduating from the Ensemble Studio, Roger has performed with Seattle Opera, Vancouver Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Opéra de Montréal and has become known for his role of James Nolan in the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Metropolitan Opera productions of Dr. Atomic

Ensemble Studio graduate baritone Peter Barrett recently performed as the Jailer in Dialogues des Carmélites in May, and joins the cast of Peter Grimes in the role of Grimes's poor friend Ned Keene. Hailing from Newfoundland, Peter has also performed with the Metropolitan Opera, Vancouver Opera, and Brooklyn Academy of Music and has performed as a soloist with the Windsor Symphony, Aldeburgh Connection, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Ottawa Choral Society. He also has a musical family: his brother Michael Barrett is a fellow Ensemble Studio graduate, and his wife Lindsay Barrett is a member of the COC chorus.

You can also catch Canadian bass Robert Pomakov returning to the COC in the role of Hobson. Robert last performed at the COC as Monterone in our 2011 production of Rigoletto. Three Ensemble Studio members join the cast as well: soprano Claire de Sévigné and mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan perform as the Nieces, and tenor Owen McCausland will sing the role of Rev. Horace Adams. 

Subscription packages that include La Bohème and Peter Grimes are on sale now. Multi packs and single tickets to our 2013/2014 season go on sale in August. Visit our performance pages or contact Ticket Services for more information.

Photo Credits: (top) Joshua Hopkins as Marcello in the Houston Grand Opera production of La Bohème, 2012. Photo: Felix Sanchez;  Joyce El-Khoury. Photo: Dario Acosta;  Simone Osborne. Photo: Kevin Clark; Joshua Hopkins. Photo: Dario Acosta;  Phillip Addis. Photo: Kristin Hoebermann; Tom Corbeil; Cameron McPhail; Ben Heppner. Photo: Kristin Hoebermann;Ileana Montalbetti;  Roger Honeywell. Photo: Tim Leyes; Peter Barrett.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in 2013/2014 / comments (0) / permalink


Parlando Asks: Opera for Beginners

As we continue to prepare for our 2013/2014 season, one of the most common questions we hear from patrons at the Canadian Opera Company is "What is a good opera for a beginner?" We put the question to our staff, some of our artists and our social media followers to see what the results would be!

We polled our Facebook fans about the best opera for a beginner and the answer was The Magic Flute, followed by Carmen and La Bohème! Other interesting suggestions included Lakmé and Rusalka! Read on to see what our staff had to say.

Gianmarco Segato, the COC's Adult Programs Manager agreed somewhat with the Facebook poll. "I often get asked this question – and the answer is deceptively difficult! My first go-to opera would be something like La Bohème or another Puccini tearjerker like Madama Butterfly. Certainly musically these pieces have immediately appealing, memorable melodies which are often very emotionally-affecting for a first-time listener. However, not everybody is comfortable with the over-the-top emotions that Puccini can supply! I’ve had more success taking people like that to a spectacularly produced opera, and not necessarily a piece one would immediately think of as “easy.” A prime example is a non-opera-going friend I brought to see the COC’s Siegfried a few years ago. She was completely mesmerized by the François Girard production (see image below) which I think she related to strongly as a visual artist herself. So, it really depends on the type of person you’re introducing to opera, and repertoire choices should be made accordingly!"

Vanessa Smith, School Programs Manager. "Start with whichever production piques your interest! Personally, coming from a theatrical background, I most enjoy operas when I enjoy the entire production. My first two operas were the first two on the mainstage when I started working here – Aida and Death in Venice. While I doubt many people would recommend Death in Venice as a “beginner” opera, I was so enthralled with the production that falling in love with the music followed suit. It may just be the visual learner in me, but when it comes to attending opera, I enjoy it most when the whole picture comes together."

Ensemble Studio member Clarence Frazer chimed in with a popular vote. "I would say most operas by Mozart would be great because (a) many people have heard of the composer so there already is a sense of familiarity in some capacity, (b) the majority of his music tends to be "lighter", very beautiful and have a memorable "tune" or melody which one might be able to sing themselves or hum once they're home, and (c) a lot of the librettos Mozart uses are stories which we all can relate to so understanding the opera and what is going on (with the aid of SURTITLES™) is not a dilemma."

Kristin McKinnon, our Assistant Publicist was also quite decisive. "Mozart’s The Magic Flute, without a doubt. Its catchy tunes and fun story make it the ideal introduction for opera newbies of all ages. Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?"

Danielle D'Ornellas, Digital Marketing Assistant, added "I think I lucked out with my first opera, Le nozze di Figaro! I was very familiar with Mozart's music, but never really had a chance to explore opera. When I heard the familiar Mozart tunes tied in with the comedy onstage, I finally understood the unity of opera. It also didn't hurt that Ensemble Studio graduate Robert Gleadow played a mischievous and charming Figaro!"

Communications Assistant Claire Morley replied, "I think one of the best operas for beginners has to be Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. It’s a familiar fairy tale to many, it is not epically long, and the music is whimsical and beautiful. There is a fantastic and darkly comic production that Richard Jones directed for Welsh National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, and it’s captured beautifully on DVD in the Met’s HD Series. The Met production stars some faces familiar to the COC these days (Alice Coote as Hansel and Alan Held as the father, Peter), and both give tremendous performances. Particularly notable is the wonderfully hilarious and terrifying Witch, sung by the late Phillip Langridge (see image above). The opera is wonderful for both adults and kids, and every time I see it, I swoon!"

When it came to recommending specific operas, Jennifer Pugsley, our Media Relations Manager went tragic. "Jenůfa by Leoš Janáček wasn’t the first opera that I ever saw, but it was the first one that made me love opera.  It was intense, thrilling and captivating from start to finish. What more could you want when exploring an art form for the first time?"

Gianna Wichelow, Senior Communications Manager, Creative. "I’d advise anyone who wants to experience opera for the first time to commit to a few experiences. I mean, if you see one movie and it doesn’t impact you, do you give up on all movies? No one opera can sum up the entire operatic experience. You can ask an opera-loving friend’s advice bearing in mind the sort of music and drama that you already find the most compelling. Having said all that, if I had to pick one, La Bohème is a generally good first opera. Carmen was mine, and it worked all too well!

Blanche Israel, Children and Youth Programs Assistant countered with "I say – go big or go home. I used to think a short, light Italian opera buffa would be the best way to introduce someone to opera, but ever since seeing the COC’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (which left me figuratively sprawled out on the floor) I’ve revised my opinion. Opera is designed to awe and inspire, so a beginner should feel that right off the bat."

And Phil Stephens, our Senior Manager, Customer Service and Sales had the final word! "It depends on the beginner. Understand your personal tastes as an audience member… are you drawn to dark dramas, light comedies or something in between? A great leap towards connecting with opera is to attend a few plays, musicals and live orchestral events beforehand. After that, trust your instincts and don't hesitate to attend your first performance on your own. La Bohème has the music, young singers and storyline that makes it easy for newcomers to get on board, but pieces like The Flying Dutchman, Elektra and Ewartung/Bluebeard's Castle are my personal favourites because they’re gritty, twisted and violent (don’t judge me!). Tosca is another good one for its unbridled Italian passion and sharply defined characters (argh, that Scarpia!) Finally, Box Office staff are a wonderful resource, so use them. Let them know what you might be looking for, and they can help with some great suggestions. Ask lots of questions about seating and sightlines before you commit to the tickets. Then take a deep breath, and dive in."

What do you think is the best opera for a beginner? Something beautiful and melodic like La Bohème? Something challenging like Siegfried? Something dark like Peter Grimes? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credits: (top) Adina Nitescu as Cio-Cio-San and David Pomeroy as Pinkerton in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Madama Butterfly, 2009. Photo: Michael Cooper; (middle) Laura Whalen as the Forest Bird and Christian Franz as Siegfried in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Siegfried, 2006. Photo: Gary Beechey; (middle) Phillip Langridge as The Witch in the Metropolitan Opera's 2008 production of Hansel and Gretel. Photo: Metropolitan Opera; (bottom) Melanie Diener as Isolde in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Tristan und Isolde, 2013. Photo:Michael Cooper.

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