As we continue closer to the opening of the 2016/2017 season, we have a story of how Handel's Rinaldo on CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera made COC Adult Programs Manager Gianmarco Segato a true blue opera aficionado.
COC Adult programs manager
Like many Canadians of my generation (born in the '60s, grew up in the '70s, started listening to classical music in my early 20s), my introduction to opera was via CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. I can pinpoint the broadcast that really turned me onto the art form—it would have been Handel’s Rinaldo transmitted live from the now late-lamented Ottawa Summer Festival in 1982. I’m quite certain I knew next to nothing about opera at the time but there was something about Handel’s jaunty melodies that grabbed my attention. I remember (and boy does this date me!) subsequently finding a cassette tape of highlights from Rinaldo in my university’s bookstore and listening to it obsessively.
Those fantastic arias are still embedded in my brain, though after 25 years of opera-going, I’ve still not seen Rinaldo live! Little did I know at the time but that Ottawa production was historic: the great mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne was singing the title role; Benita Valente, a soprano I later became a big fan of, sang the ingénue role of Almirena, and legendary bass Samuel Ramey was the villainous Argante.
The production became Canada’s gift to the Metropolitan Opera on the occasion of its 100th anniversary where it played in 1984 with much the same cast. As things have turned out, I wouldn’t choose baroque opera as my favourite style of opera [though there’s still hope!] but it was certainly what triggered my lifelong love of this fabulous art form.
(l-r) Benita Valente as Almirena and Marilyn Horne as Rinaldo in the Metropolitan Opera production of Rinaldo.
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Photo credits (top to bottom): Getty Images.
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In anticipation of the 2016/2017 season (and with single tickets going on sale this Monday!), we're looking at a special memory of Norma that was part of a very exciting weekend at the Met!
For our 10th wedding anniversary we received a weekend at the Met as a gift. It was a full weekend: The Flying Dutchman, Billy Budd, Norma, and Eugene Onegin. All were good performances, but Norma was the most memorable. The arias were breathtaking. After that weekend I went from being a passive listener to becoming an avid opera fan, endeavouring to become familiar with the operas of a given season. This was good practice because in the production of Werther, the tenor singing the part of Werther couldn’t reach the high notes of his arias. Had I not heard the recording of this opera, I would have considered it a dud, not worth hearing. However, knowing what the results should be, I consider it pleasing, if not great and wouldn’t mind hearing it again.
Photo credits (top to bottom): Marco Berti as Pollione and Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma in Norma (San Francisco Opera, 2014), photo: Cory Weaver.
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
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
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001