Parlando: The COC Blog


The Opera That Changed My Life: Call for Submissions

Did a particular opera or operatic experience change your life? Tell us how and why and we’ll post your stories on our blog! 

It could be the first time you heard/saw an opera; a singer who made your hair stand on end; an experience you had during a night at  the opera; a production that astounded you, or one that you just couldn’t get enough of. If an opera impacted you, we want to know about it!

Send your stories (approximately 100 – 200 words in length) to or message us on Facebook and your memory may be selected to appear in our series! Be sure to also include your name and if you’re a COC subscriber along with your message. 

We’ll be posting your stories on a regular basis, so stay tuned! 

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Behind the Scenes: COC Spring 2016


Last chance to see Carmen and Maometto II is this weekend, May 14 and 15! See ticket availability and buy online at

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Carmen Full Circle



This spring’s Carmen marks the closing of a circle for Joel Ivany, the acclaimed Canadian director and founder of Against the Grain Theatre collective. In 2005, when the COC premiered the production that audiences are seeing again this season, Joel was building his directing career after studying theatre and music theatre. His friend Brent Krysa was assistant director for the 2005 Carmen, and he advised Joel to take a closer look at the world of opera, to see if it appealed to him. So Joel joined the roster of supernumeraries (extras) for that production, and was hooked. Eleven years later, he returns to direct it.


The young photographer in the Act II crowd in the COC’s 2005 Carmen was to become the director of the 2016 production.

“It was exciting because Carmen was my first real experience of live opera—and I was in it! I saw everything, including how an opera director works. I saw how people treated each other, as groups and individuals—and supers. And that had an impact: for me, whether it’s Carmen herself or the one kid who is on stage for a moment and doesn’t sing, they’re all an important part of the show.” 

At that time, the COC was performing in the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The following year the company moved into its own home, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Since then Joel has been assistant director on many productions in the COC’s opera house. 

“I love this space so much; it’s such a beautiful hall. I’ve had the opportunity to explore every part of it from every angle. I know the sightlines, and how the stage looks and sounds from all parts of the auditorium. I’ve experienced how the space has been utilized in different productions, whether it was Iphigenia in Tauris, where a singer was positioned above the curved ceiling of the auditorium, or the proscenium-high videos for Tristan und Isolde. Now, during this rehearsal process, I’m asking myself how we can bring the audience into Carmen in a way that hasn’t been done with Carmen, or this production, or in the Four Seasons Centre before.“


“I love this space so much; it’s such a beautiful hall. I’ve had the opportunity to explore every part of it from every angle.” — Joel Ivany

At the heart of Carmen is a crime of passion that could happen anywhere and any time. Joel approaches this cautiously but with great enthusiasm. He asks, “Why do you need to tell the story? Why tell the story over and over again? Why is it important? How can it be told differently?” Joel has been working with two casts so the plot, of course, remains the same but, with different performers, the way the story is told is altered. “We have two incredibly different but talented Carmens so that’s a great start, but with the way rehearsals are scheduled we didn’t start off with everyone in the same room, and we have real time to work with the two groups individually. The other important factor is that everyone in this cast has done this opera more times than I have so they have more experience with these characters than I do, which is pretty great! I’ll learn a lot from them and hopefully I’ll bring an angle that’s new to them. They also haven’t worked with each other and that will bring added excitement to the process. It’ll also be wonderful to work with some of the same people from 2005: Alain Coulombe is back as Zuniga and Mike Lewandowski is back as part of the stage management team. Some of the same choristers and supers will be there, so it’s going to be fun!”

After his initial experience as a super, Joel knew he wanted to direct opera. He went on to complete two formative years at the University of Toronto Opera School studying opera directing with Michael Albano. From there, not having immediate access to a large company and the infrastructure that provided, he thought to himself, “‘If I want a company, why not just start one?’ It kind of exploded from there. When we were forming Against the Grain [AtG] in 2010, there was maybe one other indie opera group in Toronto at the time. And now there are something like 10 or 12. Thankfully I had other opportunities to work with other directors elsewhere and I kept AtG going, but assistant directing gave me directing and administrative skills and I got to experience productions on a big level. It made me less nervous about handling large productions, and gave me a lot more confidence to make AtG what it is today.”

AtG had an immediate resonance for Toronto opera lovers with its first productions, such as a bold, pared-down La Bohème performed in a bar, and a startling The Turn of the Screw in an attic space at the University of Toronto. What makes Joel’s work consistently intriguing and illuminating is what his approach attempts to reveal and unearth: “I try and attack everything and ask, ‘What new thing can be said about this? Everything has been done this way, so—within the parameters that we have—what can we do differently, to say something new?’ Other people will always do it the way most people want it done. Does it mean that my way is THE way? No, it’s just something different.”

One of Joel’s great hopes is that there will be more opportunities for opera artists to work in Canada. His own career is country-wide now. He will return to Vancouver Opera in 2017 to direct Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. And, once again this summer, he is program director for Banff’s Open Space: Opera in the 21st Century. A partnership between Banff, AtG and the COC, the program is a performance-based collaborative training experience for emerging opera professionals and brings in faculty members such as Russell Braun, Paul Curran and Judith Forst, as well as staff from the COC. Having these resources available allows the faculty to work with young artists, and “dream and plan without having to worry about raising funds at the same time!”


But before then, AtG remounts A Little Too Cozy in Toronto, which opens tonight and runs until May 21, 2016. As he did for the other two Mozart/Da Ponte operas, Joel developed the production last year at Banff, taking the score and basic idea of Così fan tutte and writing a new libretto around a modern-day wedding reality TV show. “It’s taking place in Studio 42 at the CBC Building. We all get to go to a live studio experience in one of the city’s coolest venues.”

As for the future: “There’s been so much greatness before us, like developing all these companies across the west. We need to find people who love this art form enough to understand that they’ll have a few rough years, but if they can commit to it, they’ll be investing in something very worthwhile. You plant seeds and bear fruit later. We see that with AtG. I can’t wait to find the next person who says, ‘Joel did this,’ but they do it better than me. Where is that person now? Are they in theatre or accounting? What is it that’s going to change them to follow that dream? Young directors need as much experience as they can get in small companies and big companies.”

In 2005, Joel would watch from the wings each night as the singers walked off the stage at the end of the final, devastating duet. “They would be exhausted. They put everything into it, the singing and acting was so physical. To witness that is huge—it just grips you. That duet is so beautiful and strong and the performers have to be so powerful in their focus, their intention, and their musicality. With our Carmen there will be some audience members who are experiencing this opera—or any opera—for the first time, and that’s one of the reasons it has to be excellent because it could stick with them, change their life, you never know. Standing in the wings as a super, seeing that final duet every night… that stuck with me.”

Carmen is on stage at the Four Seasons Centre until May 15, 2016. To buy tickets, visit

Gianna Wichelow is Senior Communications Manager, Creative and Publications at the COC.


Photo Credits (top to bottom): A scene from Carmen (COC, 2016), photo: Gary Beechey; (centre) Paulo Szot as Escamillo in Carmen (COC, 2005), photo: Michael Cooper; Joel Ivany (2016), photo: Nikola Novak; (centre) Clémentine Margaine as Carmen and Alain Coulombe as Zuniga in Carmen (COC, 2016), photo: Michael Cooper; (l-r) Charlotte Burrage as Mercédès, Clémentine Margaine as Carmen and Sasha Djihanian as Frasquita in Carmen (COC, 2016), photo: Michael CooperAnita Rachvelishvili as Carmen in Carmen (COC, 2016), photo: Michael Cooper 

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



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