On Wednesday evening the Canadian Opera Company announced its 2015-2016 season in Grand Opera style. No exclusive little cocktail party for a handful of press here – instead General Director, Alexander Neef went straight to his public and pulled out all the stops. Over a 90 minute programme he offered the crowd of over 1700 an ‘event’ overflowing with informal chat, Q & As, video segments, interviews, live music, surprise guest singers, a full orchestra conducted by COC Music Director, Johannes Debus – and the complete Act II finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Brent Bambury, the affable CBC Radio One host, functioned as moderator and kept the various elements moving along in a quick and orderly fashion. With the massive set for Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre in the background, all that was missing was the chorus.
Cue the elephants.
As it turned out, Alelxander Neef had much more to say beyond simply announcing the 2015-2016 main stage events. As he has been under repeated attack by certain factions of the music community for his apparent disinterest or disregard for home-grown Canadian opera (he decries nationalism in music), Neef seemed intent upon silencing his critics once and for all.
The last Canadian opera to be mounted by the COC was Randolph Peters’ and Robertson Davies’, The Golden Ass. That premiere took place in 1999 – 16 years ago. Not a very impressive statistic by any standard. In a bold move, however, Neef announced that the Company has commissioned the Serbian-Canadian composer, Ana Sokolović, to write a new opera with a libretto by playwright, Michel Marc Bouchard based on his play, La Reine-Garçon (about Queen Christina, the 17th century Monarch of Sweden). “Ana,” says Neef, “is one of Canada’s greatest composers and Michel Marc is one of this country’s greatest playwrights, and we take great pride as a company to have brought them together to create this new Canadian opera.” No argument here.
David Jaeger, composer and former executive producer of CBC Radio’s new music programme, Two New Hours, says, “Ana’s a capella opera for women’s voices, Svadba-Wedding is a brilliant work, displaying that Sokolović knows how to write for the voice with complete confidence and great creativity and imagination. It also shows her as a composer who understands what works on stage.” La Reine-Garçon is scheduled for the 2019-2020. I, for one, can hardly wait.
Neef also announced that next season the COC will premier another Canadian opera – this one by Barbara Monk Feldman. Although not commissioned by the COC, Monk Feldman’s short opera , Pyramus and Thisbe, will be paired with works by Monteverdi.
Last year it was announced – amongst much uproar – that the COC had commissioned a new opera – Hadrian – by Rufus Wainwright for the 2018-2019 season. To still the sceptics, Neef announced that he had received the libretto for Act I of the controversial opera just this past week. So we will have to wait further to see if the emperor Hadrian has no clothes.
Other news on the new music front included the announcement that Russell Braun will sing the title role in Harry Somers historic opera, Louis Riel, This co-production with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa will be mounted in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the opera’s premiere.
It was in January 2008, that the COC announced the commission of Donna by composer James Rolfe and librettist Anna Chatterton, but it seemed to disappear off the radar. According to Neef, Rolfe’s opera is currently under development and – as they say – ‘information will be released as details become available.’
And that leaves Alexina Louie’s opera, The Scarlet Princess – a COC commission given a single concert performance in 2002 and then summarily dropped. No mention of the opera was made on Wednesday evening, although it has been rumored that there has been some communication between composer and company.
As for the main event, this is how next seasons is shaking down:
The 2015-2016 season opens on October 8, 2015 with Verdi’s La Traviata – a new co-production with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. The production will be double cast with Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina and Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury as the consumptive courtesan.
The COC’s unique pairing of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Lamento d’Arianna with Canadian composer Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe opens on October 20, 2015. Although not a COC commission, the Feldman is a World Premiere. It will star Krisztina Szabó and Phillip Addis.
January 23, 2016 will see the return to the COC of its own production of Siegfried, the third of Wagner’s Ring operas starring German tenor Stefan Vinke – one of the reigning Siegfried’s of his day. Alan Held sings the Wanderer and Christine Goerke returns as Brunnhilde.COC Music Director Johannes Debus will conduct his first ever Siegfried.
This production of Mozart’s evergreen, The Marriage of Figaro, was originally designed for the Salzburg Festival but is now owned by the COC. It opens on February 4, 2016. With a Canadian all-star team including Russell Braun and Erin Wall as the Count and Countess, and the lovely Jane Archibald as the ever resourceful Susanna. One performance – February 22 – will be sung by members of the COC Ensemble Studio.
Bizet’s Carmen returns to the COC stage on April 12, 2016 after a hiatus of only five years since her last Habanera in Toronto. The production will be double cast and will run for 13 performances.
Another new COC production (originally from Santa Fe Opera) is Rossini’s Maometto II starring the Italian bass-baritone, Luca Pisaroni, in the title role. It opens on April 29, 2016 with Toronto favourite, Harry Bicket, on the podium.