This week on The Opera That Changed My Life, our contributor discusses two distinct operatic experiences in his life—nearly 70 years apart! We also learn about the importance of memorable recordings, and not just live performance, to the development of a true opera lover.
I was 13 years old (in 1949) and my parents took me to the Metropolitan Opera to see a production of Carmen—primarily because Wilfrid Pelletier was conducting and Raoul Jobin sang Don José. Risë Stevens sang Carmen and, if I recall, Rose Bempton sang Micaëla. I was hooked forever. My parents got me a vinyl recording of the opera with Stevens and within a year it was worn out. My thirst for vinyl never ended and my folks obliged.
Then I met a kindred soul and we got married; my wife’s grandmother was one of the founders of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Montreal Festival which produced operas in the summer.
We travel to NYC, Toronto, Montreal or other places to see special productions, not to mention the Live in HD which we have attended since it started 10 years ago. Recently, we enjoyed the Live in HD performances of Elektra and Roberto Devereux so much that we caught the last performances live at the Met. Radvanovsky’s last 20 minutes were worth the trip.
Above: Sondra Radvanovsky in a scene from the COC's 2014 production of Roberto Devereux
Photo credits (top - bottom): the Metropolitan Opera Company's program from its 1945 production of Carmen; Leonardo Capalbo and Sondra Radvanovsky in Roberto Devereux (COC, 2014), photo: Michael Cooper
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As the sun sets on the summer of 2016, the staff of the COC have been reminiscing about our various opera-themed journeys over the past few months. Enjoy a selection of photos and stories from our staff travelling abroad!
Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager
I had the great fortune of travelling to Central Europe in May, partaking in an opera marathon seeing performances every night for 18 days straight! In this picture, I’m at Prague’s gorgeous National Theatre just before a performance of a Czech rarity, Bohuslav Martinů’s Julietta.
Then in July I traveled with the choir of Toronto’s St. Simon-the-Apostle Anglican Church to England where we sang Evensong and Sunday services at Lincoln and Chester Cathedrals—two magnificent examples of English Gothic architectural splendour. The picture below is of me in the Chester Cathedral.
Francesco Corsaro, Senior Development Officer, Institutional Gifts
I spent two weeks over June and July visiting friends in Rome. One of my friends is the director for the Teatro di Roma, housed in historic Teatro Argentina. The Teatro Argentina is where Rossini’s The Barber of Seville premiered on February 20, 1816. Working at the COC makes visits like this extra interesting as I get to see how a large Italian theatre company (close to 700 curtain calls per year between two venues!) operates from the top down. Working in fundraising brings another interesting perspective to these visits. Italians and Romans do not have the same culture of philanthropy as we do in Canada, which highlights, for me, the importance of connecting with our audience, donors and the larger community to ensure we can produce excellent, relevant productions for our patrons.
Behind the scenes at Teatro Argentina.
Claudine Domingue, Director of Public Relations
Unfortunately, on my trip to London last May I wasn’t able to see any opera, but I did visit the house where Handel spent much of his life. Located just a few streets from Oxford Circus is the Georgian building where Handel made his home from 1723 until his death in 1759. Which means that this is where Handel composed the Messiah, The Royal Fireworks and so many other pieces and operas, including this season’s Ariodante. After his death and over two centuries of renovations and structural changes, the house has been restored to its former layout and design reflecting Handel’s era. Little did he know that 200 years after his residency, another musician, Jimi Hendrix, would move in right next door. The Handel Hendrix Museum has connected the two flats so you can see both in one visit. Needless to say, Hendrix’s bedroom looks a bit different from Handel’s!
Keith Lam, Ticket Services Representative
This August, I headed up to the beautiful county of Haliburton again for my fourth season with the Highlands Opera Studio. This year I sang various roles in Dean Burry's The Brothers Grimm and The Bremen Town Musicians, two operas the COC performs regularly through its annual school tour. I played six different characters in total. What a challenge, but quite thrilling too! I had some scary quick costume changes, one of them was only 10 seconds. The double-bill was directed by my mentor, Canadian tenor Richard Margison, and on the piano was the incomparable Julie Gunn. Another highlight for me was having Dietlinde Turban Maazel from the Castleton Festival on faculty. She held acting classes for the participants which were quite invaluable. As an actor, nothing makes me happier than to be able to dissect monologues and sonnets.
Keith Lam as Rumpelstiltskin (right) in The Brothers Grimm, photo: John Martens.
Gianna Wichelow, Senior Manager, Creative & Publication
I spent a month in Florence, Italy, and visited the site of the first opera performance ever, which was Jacopo Peri's Dafne in 1597. This momentous event took place at the Palazzo Tornabuoni on Via de' Tornabuoni, now Florence’s fashion avenue. In its current iteration the palazzo is an upmarket residence managed by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (who also named our opera house, coincidentally!).
I also took a side trip to Venice and saw Robert Carsen’s beautiful La Traviata. His production marked the re-opening of the Teatro La Fenice in 2004, after it was rebuilt following its destruction by arson in 1996. This production is available on DVD and I recommend it highly. I cried like a baby through Act II!
Steve Kelley, Chief Communications Officer
The first time I met Jamie Barton was when she sang Suzuki in a production of Madame Butterfly at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. It’s a spring to summer festival, informal, with picnics before the opera and after every performance, the artists and audience mingle “under the tent.” I’ve been a fan of hers ever since that night in late May of 2008.
Photo credit: Tiziana Caruso as Desdemona and Jamie Barton as Emilia in Otello (COC, 2010), photo: Gary Beechey
I was thrilled when she won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in both opera and art song a couple of years later, so imagine how happy I was to read that she would be appearing at Koerner Hall last summer. I read the press release, logged onto the web and bought a pair of tickets. It was wonderful to listen to this gorgeous instrument again—and a real treat to hear Jamie sing songs. (Not that I don’t love arias!) And when she kicked off her heels to sing the last part of the recital, it was great to know that my pal from OTSL is still an “anti-diva,” a real artist who hasn’t forgotten where she came from.
Photo credit: Jamie Barton as Adalgisa and Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in Norma (San Francsico Opera, 2014), photo: Cory Weaver
Meighan Szigeti, Associate Manager, Digital Marketing
June, I travelled around Hungary and managed to make a quick day trip from
Sopron to Vienna to see the sights of the traditional music capital of Europe.
Joining the long rush line outside to hear Anna Netrebko in Manon Lescaut
not an option, but I did manage to enjoy a tour of the Wiener
Staatsoper. The house has a very complex history owing to both world wars. Most of the house did not survive an American bombing during the last months of the Second World War,
but the front entry and salon were somehow saved from the fire and destruction. The rebuild
began after the war, and you can see a slight difference in style between the 19th-century main
staircase and entrance,
and the rebuilt boxes, auditorium and stage. One minute you’re enjoying the ornate, classical
style typical of older European opera houses then you realize your surroundings
feel a bit more contemporary and modernized.
neat bit of information to keep in mind if you’re ever enjoying a performance
at Wiener Staatsoper and feel like being a bit fancy: if you have an extra 500
Euros lying around, you can reserve the Emperor’s Tea Room for yourself and other
guests during the intermission!
Photo credit (top image): a scene from Hercules (COC, 2014), photo: Michael Cooper
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The Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre takes place in one of Toronto's most breathtaking and intimate spaces. The diverse city that inspires and unites us is the ever-changing backdrop seen from the beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, where artists from around the world share their talent and passion in six series: vocal, chamber, world music, piano, dance, and jazz.
From September to June, you can discover exciting artists, both established and emerging, and experience the joy of live performance in an incredible variety of genres—and it's all free! Below is a small sample of what our 2016/2017 season has to offer.
October 11, 2016
Darkness and Love
Dimitry Ivashchenko, bass and Rachel Andrist, piano
Russian bass Dimitry Ivashchenko (Oroveso in the COC's Norma) joins forces with pianist Rachel Andrist in a program celebrating Russian song that includes Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and works by Rachmaninov, Borodin, and Tchaikovsky.
November 10, 2016
Against the Grain Theatre
Against the Grain Theatre returns with their new presentation of Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov's celebrated song cycle, Ayre. Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil and a cohort of 11 instrumentalists unleash the lush fusion of Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, and Sephardic folk melodies and texts. A thrill to experience, Ayre is a brilliant example of 21st-century cultural counterpoint.
May 9, 2017
Women on the Edge
Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano and Rachel Andrist, piano
Canadian mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy (Julie Riel in the COC’s Louis Riel) teams up with pianist Rachel Andrist in a concert about women “on the edge.” The program includes Schumann’s Poèmes de la reine Marie d’Ecosse, Zemlinsky’s Six Songs after Poems by Maeterlinck, and the Ophelia songs by Berlioz, Chausson, and Saint-Saëns.
May 17, 2017
Dawn Always Begins in the Bones
Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio
Multi-award-winning Canadian composer Ana Sokolović premieres her Canadian Art Song Project-commissioned cycle, Dawn Always Begins in the Bones. She has earned international acclaim for her orchestral, vocal, chamber, operatic and theatrical pieces. COC Ensemble Studio artists will perform songs and ensembles based on texts from across Canada, celebrating our country and the richness of its artistic traditions.
Above (l-r): Dimitry Ivashchenko; Miriam Khalil in a preview of Against the Grain Theatre's Figaro's Marriage, 2013, photo: Chris Hutcheson; Allyson McHardy, photo: bohuang.ca
Chamber Music Series
October 13, 2016
Quartet for the End of Time
Artists and Friends of the COC Orchestra
Artists and friends of the COC Orchestra will perform Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. Captured in 1940 by the German army, Messiaen composed this piece while imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp. Among his fellow prisoners were a violinist, cellist and clarinetist, and Messiaen’s quartet premiered in January 1941 at the camp, outdoors and in the rain. Seventy-five years after its premiere, four stellar musicians join forces to perform this stirring work. This piece was on the program of the first ever Free Concert Series performance and the performance was dedicated to Richard Bradshaw.
April 20, 2017
Métis Fiddler Quartet
Join the siblings of the Métis Fiddler Quartet on a musical voyage across the trade routes of the Northwestern frontier. Clap, jig and sing along with this award-winning group and discover the history of the Métis people in Canada through fiddle tunes and songs passed down by elders from across the country.
Above (l-r): Olivier Messiaen in 1946 and the Métis Fiddler Quartet
World Music Series
October 12, 2016
Music of Ethiopia
Yeti Yetunde Ajasin & the Jay Danley Quartet
Ethiopian-born, Toronto-based vocalist, composer and krar player Yeti Yetunde Ajasin explores the rich musical textures of Ethiopia. Joined by the Jay Danley Quartet, this concert showcases the incredibly diverse worlds of both Ethiopian traditional music and Ethio-Jazz.
January 3, 2017
The People's King: A Musical Tribute to Bhutan
Noam Lemish Quartet
The Noam Lemish Quartet will perform a tribute to Bhutan. The People’s King is a musical tribute to the Himalayan nation, its king, its culture and people—all of whom touched pianist and composer Noam Lemish during his residence as a volunteer music teacher in Bhutan's capital city of Thimphu in 2009 and 2010. Arranged for jazz quartet (along with recorded chanting monks from the Dechen Phodrang Monastery in Thimphu), this multi-movement suite integrates jazz, classical Western music, and traditional Bhutanese folk music.
Above: an excerpt from Part I of The People's King by the Noam Lemish Quartet
Piano Virtuoso Series
April 26, 2017
Testament of Youth: The Early Piano Music of Harry Somers
Dynamic, Toronto-born pianist-composer Adam Sherkin presents a program that showcases the brilliant early music of Canadian composer Harry Somers (the opera Louis Riel) juxtaposed with Sherkin’s own works for solo piano. The program includes Somers’ First Sonata: Testament of Youth, written in 1945.
Above: Adam Sherkin, photo by Chris Hutcheson
January 17, 2017
Dance Ontario's Dance Weekend Preview
Gadfly Dance will share excerpts from their latest innovative and exciting pieces to be performed at Dance Ontario's upcoming Dance Weekend. Creating movement at the junction where urban dance styles (house hip-hop, b-boying) meet jazz, contemporary and classical, Gadfly's distinctive choreography breathes with an energy and spontaneity found only in urban dance culture.
March 21, 2017
Highlights from Swan Lake
Canada's Ballet Jörgen
Canada’s Ballet Jörgen will present highlights from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, one of the world’s most magical, beloved ballets—a story of true love, the union of two souls and the ultimate sacrifice to be set free. Also on the program are new works from a variety of innovative Canadian choreographers.
Above (l-r): Gadfly Dance in Arkemy, photo: Chris Hutcheson; dancers from Canada's Ballet Jörgen, photo: Kevin Lloyd
November 15, 2016
From the Inside Out
Ineke Vandoorn & Marc van Vugt
Dutch jazz duo Ineke Vandoorn and Marc van Vugt bring their jazz quintet to Toronto as part of their Canadian tour. Vandoorn and van Vugt explore the boundaries of both improvisation and lyrical songs, creating their own world with their funky arrangements and modern music. Full of rich harmonies and haunting melodies, theirs is an original amalgamation of a variety of musical expressions.
January 4, 2017
Toronto jazz drummer Ernesto Cervini leads his newly formed sextet, Turboprop, in a concert that features highlights from the band’s latest recording. Cervini is joined by Kelly Jefferson (tenor sax), Adrean Farrugia (piano), Jim Vivian (bass), Tara Davidson (alto sax) and William Carn (trombone).
Above: Turboprop performing "Red Cross" by Charlie Parker
For more information and the complete listings of all 2016/2017 Free Concert Series performances here.
Photo credit (top image): Chris Hutcheson
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001