One of the most amazing abilities of opera is allowing the listener to feel waves of emotion, many times without understanding the language being used. Our contributors this week experienced something truly amazing during their stories, and we felt it was only right to share them with you.
I am a long-time subscriber to the COC and have had many wonderful experiences attending the COC’s ever-higher quality programming. However, there is one event which stands out in the recent past, and one which I would like to share.
Four years ago I lost my father rather suddenly, and was still in the raw, painful, recently bereaved state when I attended the marvelous production of Tristan und Isolde at the COC. I am a big Wagner fan but this was the first time I’ve seen the opera on stage, and in addition to being thrilled by the piece I was struck by how the modern production blended perfectly with the music composed in the late 1800s. I was tearful through most of the last act, particularly during the wonderful “Liebestod,” where the large screen visuals showed a body rising slowly up through water, like being brought back to life by the power of love. It was sad, and moving, and beautiful at the same time, and at the end of it I was left with a sense of calm and consolation. Indeed, art heals.
Scenes from our 2013 production of Tristan und Isolde, directed by Peter Sellars with video installations by Bill Viola.
I have been a COC subscriber since forever, it seems, but I was a most reluctant opera-goer for many seasons. In the 1980s, however, I saw Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites on the stage of the horrendous O'Keefe Centre and finally understood the power of this most sublime art.
Dialogues was unlike any opera I had ever seen: the mostly female cast, the brief scenes, the conversations rather than arias. Nothing distracted me from becoming emotionally involved in the lives of the characters, and I recall resenting the intermissions that separated me from them. By the end of the performance, with tears flowing freely, I was convinced that the nuns were walking toward a REAL guillotine off-stage, and resumed breathing only when the audience erupted into applause. I didn't applaud. I couldn't. I still can't whenever I'm in the audience, and it still takes me a long time to return to reality after a performance.
Although 18th- and 19th-century operas will always be my favourites, this 20th-century masterpiece never fails to overwhelm me with its beauty, simplicity, and power. I rejoice whenever the COC announces that Dialogues will be part of its season.
(left - right) Janet Stubbs and Maureen Forrester in our 1986 production of Dialogues des Carmélites, which took place in the former O’Keefe Centre
Tell us about The Opera That Changed Your Life by e-mailing email@example.com your own 100 to 200 word story. It may be featured in an upcoming Parlando post! Learn more here (here for mobile version).
Photo credits (top - bottom): Melanie Diener as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde (COC, 2013), photo: Michael Cooper; (left - right) Janet Stubbs as Mother Marie and Maureen Forrester as The Old Prioress in Dialogues des Carmélites (COC, 1986), photo: Gary Beechey
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Being a young adult can be hard enough, but that time is also an amazing opportunity for exploration and discovery. In honour of this week's release of our Opera Under Thirty presented by TD's nightsOUT packages, we take a look at some of our contributors' moments of discovery that took place in their formative years.
When I was attending Queen’s University in about 1960 I took a course in French Literature from the late Dr. Shortliffe who was a wonderful teacher. He was playing La Bohème one day when we walked in for his lecture. It was beautiful and he responded to our interest by telling us about the opera, describing the characters and pointing out the recurrent musical themes. It was transporting, unforgettable.
Now I am a psychiatrist, and finding the themes of opera everywhere in the stories I hear. I attend the COC as a loyal subscriber and make trips to the Met as well to listen to what I love. It’s a lifetime joy.
I am 81 years old. Up until the time I was 17 or 18 I hated opera. To me, it was just loud noise and screaming. Then, my best buddy lent me his recording of Turandot and said, “Try it, you'll like it.” I did, and it's still my favourite opera. But, more than that, it introduced me to a new and magnificent world of music. However, I still don't care for Wagner, with one or two exceptions.
Franco Corelli singing "Non piangere, Liù" from Turandot
At 15 years old, I did not have too much of an idea what opera was. My friend from my Catholic school played for me some beautiful arias, so at a Sunday matinee I got a stand-up ticket in the fourth ring. No subtitles at that time. It was The Marriage of Figaro—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 … many other legends I’ve had the honour to see. Also spent a few years studying classical dance with one of the maestros of this opera house. I can't live without music ... Now taking vocal lessons at my age, 67, and discovering my strong bass... A long time I have had season tickets at the COC.
Photo credits (top - bottom): (l – r) Lisa DiMaria as Papagena and Rodion Pogossov as Papageno in The Magic Flute (COC, 2011), photo: Michael Cooper; (l – r) Eric Margiore as Rodolfo and Joyce El-Khoury as Mimì in La Bohème (COC, 2013), photo: Michael Cooper
Expo 67: This historic event was the highlight of Canada’s Centennial celebrations in 1967. Expo 67 saw more than 50 million visitors pour onto a new man-made island in the heart of Montreal, built specially for the major international exhibition, over the course of 183 days. It was a defining cultural moment in Canadian history and left a lasting legacy, including for two of today’s contributors. They share their stories of falling in love with opera after experiencing productions at the Expo.
As a 15-year-old boy, then living in Toronto, I was taken by my mother to hear my first opera. It was 1967, and among the many musical events that took place at Expo 67 in Montreal, the Royal Swedish Opera performed Tristan and Isolde. Isolde was sung by Birgit Nilsson, Tristan by Ken Neate, and Brangäne by Kerstin Meyer. It is hard to imagine a more legendary cast.
My mother had been trained in Montreal as a Wagnerian soprano by the famous teacher, pianist, and composer Alfred Laliberté. Although she never sang on stage, she knew all the major roles: Isolde, Brünnhilde, Kundry, etc. The tickets were a gift from my uncle. He wanted her to see and hear Nilsson, and I was her lucky date. My father didn't care for opera. Honestly I do not remember much, but the performance created a life-long opera lover of me, and that particular Wagner opera has remained my great favourite. It still brings tears to my eyes and a depth of emotion to my heart unlike any other operatic work.
Birgit Nilsson singing "Liebestod" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde
April 1964: I am taken to see our church's production of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde. This is the first of, to date, 16 productions of the opera I have seen, in four countries. The most recent was at Britten's home church, St. Margaret's, in his hometown of Lowestoft, Suffolk, on his centenary weekend in November 2013. Dame Felicity Palmer sang Mrs. Noye. One of the audience members had danced the Raven in an early production, very possibly the first, and was here to see his grandson do the same thing. I have heard this piece, live and on recording, upwards of 150 times, and I still am overwhelmed by it. Surely it is the greatest 20th-century work written for children.
A CBC presented excerpt of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde, with Gary Relyea as Noah and Marcia Swanston as Mrs. Noah
June 1967: As part of Expo 67 in Montreal, the Royal Swedish Opera is invited to perform. They bring with them Ingmar Bergman's celebrated staging of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. My parents and I are seated in the fifth row in the house. A trumpet quartet plays the very brief Prelude, and I am hooked. The designer has taken great pains to replicate William Hogarth's engravings, the visual source for the piece. Act I, Scene ii, Mother Goose's brothel, captivates me, and I shed tears (I am in my mid-teens) at the ending, Tom Rakewell visited by Ann Trulove in Bedlam. The auction scene with Sellem is sharp and incisive. I can hardly talk of anything else for one year, until my father brings back from London the recording of the opera conducted by Stravinsky himself. After 50 years I can still hear and see this production in my mind's eye.
There have, of course, been other operas which have been memorable; these two, as a perceptive friend declared, "have gone into my soul."
An excerpt from the overture of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress
Photo credits: Expo 67 (Montreal, 1967), photo: Laurent Bélanger
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001