Ahh, the European getaway, new and inspiring sights, smells, and sounds; the discovery of beautiful things. In this week's tales of life-changing operatic events, we hear from two patrons of the COC who fell in love with opera while taking a trip across the pond.
My most memorable opera experience was in France in June last year (2015). I was visiting my French boyfriend who was living in Paris at the time and he told me to dress up for an evening surprise. I had no idea what to expect, so I put on a dress and got whisked away in his little Fiat out to the Parisian suburbs of Sceaux. When we arrived, we walked through a beautiful manicured park until we reached the destination. Turns out, he surprised me with an outdoor performance of La Traviata by Verdi with the Château de Sceaux serving as the backdrop. I thought I was dreaming. It was magnificent. I’ve attached a photo taken on my BlackBerry. It absolutely doesn’t do it justice.
In the summer of 1995, before my final year of university, I flew to Germany for a couple of weeks of travel. I devoted three days to exploring Berlin, and the city was filled with tourists and excitement that summer since artists Jeanne-Claude and Christo had wrapped the Reichstag parliament building in incandescent white and silver fabric in a statement of environmental art. The Berlin Wall had come down only six years prior and the former East Berlin neighbourhoods still looked decidedly different from those in the West. I admired the famous Brandenburg Gate and strolled Unter den Linden Boulevard, passing the Berlin Opera House. An impulsive stop at the ticket counter resulted in last-minute tickets to La Traviata that evening. The combination of the fascinating city, the beauty of the opera house and Verdi's magic was perfect for the creation of a lifelong opera lover.
Since that chance opportunity in Berlin, I have attended many different productions by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, and was happy when my 12-year-old daughter decided to test out "this opera stuff" and accompanied me last fall. While I'm not sure she gets the same goosebumps I do, and she would never freely admit that her life had been changed by attending her first opera, she did stay awake and say it was "ok;" I'll call that an early win and get to work on spreading the magic to her younger sister and brother. I've seen firsthand how early, repeated exposure to sports has turned them into little Leafs and Jays fans—I plan to use that same logic and method for Verdi, Mozart and Puccini.
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Photo credits (top - bottom): Roberto Gleadow as Dr. Grenvil and Ekaterina Siurina as Violetta in La Traviata (COC, 2015), photo: Michael Cooper; a scene from La Traviata at Château de Sceaux (2015), photo: Kyla Cham
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When did you first listen to opera? For this instalment of The Opera That Changed My Life, we look at two submissions that found the music that changed their lives during (arguably) the most dramatic time in anyone's life: the teenage years.
La Bohème as a high school student. Act IV, orchestral chords before Mimì sings "Sono andati." That one moment caused me first to shiver and then to weep. Changed my life. I decided this was my career path. And I am fortunate to continue that choice.
P.S. That musical moment causes the same reaction today, 50 years later. Every time I walk on stage, that moment so long ago is still in my head. I wish I could remember who sang that Mimì. I do remember it was Richard Tucker as Rodolfo.
Angela Gheorghiu as Mimì and Roberto Alagna as Rodolfo sing "Sono andati? Fingevo di dormire" from La Bohème
When I was in grade 10, I always wanted to become a classical singer, and, if granted by chance and prayers, I wanted to become an opera singer too. Over the years, my voice teacher decided to take our vocal class on a field trip where we watched the COC’s production of Madama Butterfly. That was the very first opera that I watched and I fell in love with it, and ever since then I became more dedicated to classical singing and pursuing my dreams of becoming a classical singer. Apart from Madama Butterfly, the opera Tosca also changed my life because of its famous aria “Vissi d’arte.” Now, that line from Tosca is my inspiration in singing and remembering that I live for two things in this world: for love and for music.
Sondra Radvanovsky singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca (See her on stage at the COC this fall in Norma.)
Photo credit: Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly (COC, 2014), photo: Michael Cooper
The first instalment of our new The Opera That Changed My Life series features COC General Director Alexander Neef's story of the opera that changed his idea of what opera was. It also happened to be his first!
(Transcribed from a conversation with Alexander Neef.)
The opera that changed my life? Fidelio, Beethoven, Staatstheater Stuttgart.
I was one of the first in my family to really go to the opera. I didn’t really see much opera in my youth, but when I started going everyone started going!
This Fidelio was a very striking production, directed by a very famous Russian director, Yuri Lyubinov. At the time, Lyubinov had been given a leave by the Russian government to stage a play in London, and he didn’t go back. They wanted him to go back, but he just didn’t. He was in a legal limbo. He stayed in Europe and started directing a lot of opera, and among the operas that he staged was the Fidelio at Stuttgart.
It was a very contemporary interpretation, in the way that he did not make it about an 18th-century prisoner. The auditorium itself is very small, and they had supers dressed as police officers or KGB people standing at every door, and they just came in with a bang! It was incredibly striking—the effect of the stage design was so chilling.
The whole design and direction was so politically charged—it made the opera so incredibly relevant. The things that are expressed in the opera—it’s about a prisoner, and the liberation of that prisoner, and what the wife does for him—made it more than just a story. It seemed to be something that was actually about us, about the audience. In those days, that situation was quite real, and it could have happened to any of us. That is what made it so special.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Alexander Neef (2012), photo: Bo Huang; Opera program and ticket (2016), photo: COC
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001