Parlando: The COC Blog


The Opera That Changed My Life: The Tale of SURTITLES™

New technologies constantly allow us to absorb information and ideas where we had previously lacked exposure. In this regard, the opera world has become much more accessible in the past several decades. With the company's invention of SURTITLES™, the technology which provides a simultaneous translation of an opera’s text projected over the proscenium arch, the Canadian Opera Company transformed the opera-going experience.

Michael and Linda Hutcheon

Going to the opera once meant a lot of work: first, you had to read the libretto (and often in translation); then you had to listen to recordings (vinyl, of course); then you had to listen to the recording with the libretto; then you were ready. All of that changed in January of 1983. Our date with a one-act, two-hour violent domestic squabble in German was accompanied by something brand new—a running translation projected across the top of the proscenium. SURTITLES™ had been invented for the COC’s production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra. What would have been quasi-incomprehensible without the above preparatory work became a riveting drama in real time that kept us on the edge of our seats. Despite the rear-guard disapproval of some conservatives who saw themselves as opera “purists,” SURTITLES™ quickly spread around the world, making the art form newly accessible, no matter one’s language limitations. SURTITLES™ are now a significant part of what makes ours a “golden age” of opera.


Above: the first ever use of SURTITLES™ in the COC's 1983 production of Elektra.

Michael and Linda Hutcheon are both long-time supporters of the COC, with Linda currently serving on the Board of Directors. Michael is a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and Linda is university professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto. Together, through their diverse professional backgrounds and shared love of opera, they have written several books on opera and medical culture.

Photo credits: Scenes from Elektra (COC, 1983), photos by Michael Cooper.

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The Opera That Changed My Life: Subscriber Stories

Our subscribers are truly dedicated to opera as an art form, and certainly have some interesting experiences! From a teenager seeing Faust with his football buddies, to distant memories of the incomparable American mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens, life-changing opera moments have been occurring in our own backyard for decades. 

Jim Farley

I was born and raised in Guelph, as was Edward Johnson of Metropolitan Opera fame as singer and then General Manager. Guelph had the Presto Music programs to which I believe Johnson steered excellent talent. I had the privilege of attending, with my fellow students, warm-up sessions by the various performers. Marion Anderson was my favourite, but she was not my first exposure to opera. My mother took me to Rigoletto (on film) at the Capitol Theatre in Guelph. When I was four, sports on Saturdays were in the morning and the Texaco sponsored Metropolitan Opera broadcasts in the afternoon.

Above: (left) Edward Johnson as Radamès in Verdi's Aida; (right) Edward Johnson as the title character in Gounod's Faust.

At age 15, together with three of my football buddies, I saw my first live performance of an opera—Faust at that marvel of acoustical halls: Maple Leaf Gardens. Since then I have enjoyed 60 more years of opera with the COC (a subscriber for over 30 years), as well as performances in the USA, Argentina, Iceland, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Russia, France, Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, China, and Australia. More music to come! We are fortunate to have the COC.

Gloria Lepofsky

I saw my first opera when I was 15 years old. I attended a Metropolitan Opera production of Carmen with my mother in Toronto. Risë Stevens sang the title role, for which she was famous. It was wonderful. Toronto then was not the city it is today. The opera was performed at Maple Leaf Gardens! I am currently a COC subscriber.


Above: Risë Stevens as the title character in Carmen (PBS, 1951).

Banner photo: A scene from ​Rigoletto​ (COC, 2011), photo by Michael Cooper.

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The Opera That Changed My Life: Magic Flute Memories

As we prepare for our production of Mozart's The Magic Flute this winter, we decided to share some stories in our The Opera That Changed My Life series about one of the highlights of the opera repertoire.

Joanna Gertler  

Ingmar Bergman's film of The Magic Flute blew me away. I loved the way the director drew the viewer into each scene so you forgot you were watching a film of an opera. He'd then break that intimacy by reverting back to the proscenium stage between acts, and show the actors/singers playing a board game or peeking out behind the curtain to check out the audience. I thought the casting was brilliant but I couldn't believe that Sarastro was evil—as depicted by the Queen of the Night—based on his singing/voice/acting—and it turns out he's not. I've watched it over and over, purchased a copy of the opera, and seen it in person many times. I'm willing to overlook aspects of the story that aren't politically correct, as the music is so compelling.


Above: The wonderful Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård as Papageno in a scene from Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute.

Joseph Sexsmith

In London during graduate school, my experience at the Proms brought me to The Magic Flute and Wozzek. Such willing bookends for me to begin filling with new experiences! I'm completely hooked.


The Magic Flute will be on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from January 19 to February 24, 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Photo credits: (top) A scene from The Magic Flute (COC, 2011); (bottom) Michael Schade in The Magic Flute (COC, 2011). Photos by Michael Cooper.

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



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