Parlando: The COC Blog


Louis Riel: A First Look

A new production of this uniquely Canadian contribution to the opera world is being conceived by one of Canadian theatre’s most acclaimed and inventive directors, Peter Hinton, with the COC’s celebrated music director, Johannes Debus, conducting. This production of Louis Riel is presented by the COC and its co-producer, National Arts Centre (NAC), in anticipation of Canada’s sesquicentennial and the 50th anniversary of the opera’s premiere. Louis Riel is sung in English, French, Michif and Cree with English, French, Michif and Cree SURTITLESTM.

Telling the history of Louis Riel is ever more important in this period of Truth and Reconciliation. It is the COC’s intention that an inclusive and expansive history shall be restored with the 2017 production. Throughout the conceptualization of the 2017 production of Louis Riel and in preparation for the rehearsal period, Hinton and his creative team have followed the guidance and wisdom of members of the Indigenous community.

“What struck me from the very beginning about this piece is the motivation for its creation. It is a contentious and provocative ‘celebratory’ work,” says Louis Riel director Peter Hinton. “When composer Harry Somers and librettist Mavor Moore were commissioned in 1966 by the Floyd S. Chalmers Foundation to write an opera to commemorate the centennial of Canada, Somers and Moore chose the subject of Louis Riel. Their choice to show Canada’s history of struggle and representation in the west, against colonialist and centralist objectives, is not only a metaphor for the conflicts which forged the idea of confederation, but also serves as a challenge for present and future understandings of our country.”

“We asked Peter Hinton to direct this production of Louis Riel because of his long-standing relationship and involvement with Indigenous artists and his knowledge and experience in mounting a theatrical project of this scale,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef.  “His involvement brings an informed and culturally sensitive approach to the interpretation of Louis Riel that we are sharing on the stage.” 

In 1967, Louis Riel was the first opera written by a Canadian to be presented by the COC, and the COC is the only professional opera company to date to have ever performed it. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here.

Photo credit: Peter Hinton, photo by David Cooper

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The Opera That Changed My Life: Hearing is Believing

Sometimes it really is all about the music. Here is the latest edition to our blog series which explores life-changing moments when opera lovers were born.

Szeben Ági 

I was about nine years old when I first heard an excerpt from Faust performed by the incomparable Feodor Chaliapin. He sang the Rondo "La Veau d'Or.” The recording was a scene from the opera where Mephistopheles enters the festivities and offers to sing. I have never heard a performer (before or after) who could vocally dominate a scene so completely—that the focus on him was so complete. His interpretation was so effective that, as of today, I still get shivers from hearing this particular selection. Furthermore, I am convinced that if there is a Devil it would sound exactly like Chaliapin.


Above: a recording of Feodor Chaliapin singing "La Veau d'Or" from Gounod's Faust.

Don Kawaja 

Some of my early memories of classical music came from a friend’s dad playing 78 vinyls of Enrico Caruso. However, the real turn-on came when, at 10 or 11, I first saw Risë Stevens of the Metropolitan Opera sing and dancing the “Habanera” from Carmen in a movie with Bing Crosby. As I look back, I realize that I inherited a love of Latin music from my mother, an accomplished pianist who played for silent movies in a small theatre in Nova Scotia. This was all the more surprising as she was a MacDonald of Scots and Irish decent, but by then Xavier Cugat had brought to North America many catchy Latin melodies, as did Edmundo Ros in England. My love affair with the opera Carmen, especially the “Habanera,” has expanded to many mezzos, much to the consternation of my cousin and retired soprano, Jeannette Zarou of Düsseldorf. Though not a full-fledged subscriber, I do attend several COC performances each year, as well as a number of noon Free Concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.


Above: (left) acclaimed Canadian soprano Jeannette Zarou in La Bohème (COC, 1976), photo by Robert Ragsdale and (right) Stephen Hargreaves and Clémentine Margaine performing in the Free Concert Series, photo by Lara Hintelmann.

Banner image: Alain Coulombe and Anita Rachvelishvili in Carmen (COC, 2016), photo by Michael Cooper

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The Opera That Changed My Life: The Power of Opera

Enjoy our next instalment in our blog series: The Opera That Changed My Life! The power of opera is a combination of many factors and goes far beyond the singing. These two stories showcase several other important aspects to life-changing operatic moments: lighting, costuming, and sets.

Philip George

Back in the days of the COC's tenure at the O'Keefe Centre, I grabbed a ticket in the 1990s to a performance of Ariadne auf Naxos. Having just arrived in Toronto and living on a rather spartan advertising agency salary, the ticket broke the week's budget. However, I have subsequently come to the conclusion that it was some of the best money I have ever spent. I believe the production came from the US—perhaps Houston? The singing was stellar; Richard Bradshaw and the orchestra were at the top of their game. The opera within an opera was reaching its end. I was enthralled—and then it happened. Nearing the end, as Ariadne and Bacchus sing their duet and the audience (both on stage and in the house) are collectively immersed in the singers' expressed love, a thousand twinkly stars appear. My gasp of pure joy was echoed by everyone in the audience. The use of a lighting element at precisely the right moment of a delightful performance created a transformative experience. Can opera have the power to change a life? Those tiny points of light made a compelling argument that it can.


Above: a scene from Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Tom Diamond, in the COC's 1995/1996 season.

Susan Callaghan

Many years ago I worked in a junior capacity at the Sadler’s Wells (now the English National) Opera. One day I was offered a free ticket to the dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier, my very first Strauss opera, at Glyndebourne that afternoon. With my boss’s encouragement, I hurried over to Victoria Station for the train to Lewes, and thence to Glyndebourne. As I walked into the intimate, old Glyndebourne theatre, I sensed that this was going to be something special, and I was right. Before the performance began, we were warned that there might be a few glitches—this was, after all, still a rehearsal. But there were no glitches; it was superb. There was a dream cast: Régine Crespin, Elisabeth Söderström, Anneliese Rothenberger, Oscar Czerwenka. The singing was wonderful, and Oliver Messel’s rococo sets and pastel-shade costumes were spectacular. This production didn’t receive universally favourable reviews from the critics, but for me it was perfection. I must have gotten back to London very late that night, but I didn’t care. I’d fallen in love with Strauss and his operas that day, a love that still endures many decades later. I'm a COC subscriber, as well as a frequent participant in the COC Opera Tours.


Above: set model by Oliver Messel for a hall in the house of Faninal, Act II of Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne Festival, 1959 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Photo credits (top - bottom): Dimitri Pittas and Grazia Doronzio in La Bohème (COC, 2013), photo by Michael Cooper; Russell Braun, David Watson, Tracy Dahl, Alberto Sanchez, and Ya Lin Zhang in Ariadne auf Naxos (COC, 1995), photo 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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