For Toronto opera fans, mid-January is a particularly exciting time, because of the announcement of the upcoming Canadian Opera Company’s new season. Over the years, it has evolved from an essentially media-focused event at the Company headquarters on 227 Front Street East, to a big production with all the bells and whistles, taking place in the Four Seasons Centre, where all subscribers are invited and treated to a reception and musical entertainment complete with singers and full orchestra.
Well, it’s not happening this year, folks! For whatever reason, we are back to a season announcement via a press release.
As in previous years, six productions divided into three pairs, for the fall, winter and spring seasons. It’s a particularly well-balanced season, with operas in Italian, German, Russian, and English; a smorgasbord of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky, plus a world premiere.
Fall Season (Eugene Onegin and Hadrian)
The fall season opens on September 30 with Eugene Onegin. It’s the Robert Carsen production originally staged for the Metropolitan Opera. The largely Canadian cast features bass-baritone Gordon Bintner in the title role; Joyce El-Khoury, last seen as Violetta, returns as Tatiana; Joseph Kaiser is Lensky. The Armenian mezzo Varduhi Abrahamyan, last seen in Ariodante, returns as Olga. Also returning is American mezzo Helene Schneiderman as Madame Larina. Making his COC debut is Moldovan bass Oleg Tsibulko as Prince Gremin. Johannes Debus conducts. Sept. 30 – Nov. 3 (8 performances)
Paired with the Tchaikovsky is the world premiere of the COC commissioned piece, Hadrian, by Canadian songwriter/singer/composer Rufus Wainwright. For this show, the COC is sparing no expenses with big-name casting — making COC debuts will be American baritone Thomas Hampson in the title role, and Finnish soprano Karita Mattila (Plotina). Canadians include tenor Isaiah Bell (Antinous) and Ambur Braid (Sabina). As if that’s not enough, the COC entices retired Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner to return to the stage in a cameo role as Dinarchus. Johannes Debus conducts. Oct. 13 – 27 (7 performances)
Winter Season (Elektra and Cosi fan tutte)
It opens with Elektra, with not one but two Brunnhildes! American soprano Christine Goerke, a fantastic Brunnhilde in Götterdämmerung last season, returns as Elektra. British soprano Susan Bullock, a former Elektra and Brunnhilde at the COC, sings Klytemnestra. Canadian soprano Erin Wall sings her first Chrysothemis. German bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer makes his COC debut as Orest, and Canadian tenor Michael Schade is Aegisth. This is a revival, directed by James Robinson. Johannes Debus conducts. Jan. 26 – Feb. 22 (7 performances)
The dreary Toronto winter demands some light entertainment, so there’s always a comic piece in the winter season. This time it’s a revival of the Atom Egoyan production of Cosi fan tutte. The sisters are Canadians — soprano Kirsten MacKinnon and mezzo Emily D’Angelo, both Met Auditions winners and both with flourishing international careers. Russell Braun, last season’s Louis Riel, retuns as Don Alfonso. His partner in crime is Tracy Dahl as Despina. American tenor Ben Bliss is Ferrando, and German baritone Johannes Kammler is Guglielmo, both making their debuts. Mozart specialist Bernard Labadie conducts. Feb. 5 – 23 (9 performances)
Spring Season (La bohème and Otello)
The perennial favourite, the Puccini warhorse La bohème is back for a run of 11 performances, with all principals double-cast. The fast-rising American soprano Angel Blue makes her COC debut as Mimi, sharing the role with Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil, a COC Ensemble graduate. Musetta is shared by Canadian sopranos Andriana Chuchman (last seen as Olympia in Hoffmann) and Danika Loren, currently an Ensemble Studio artist. Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan makes his COC debut as Rodolfo, sharing it with American tenor Joshua Guerrero, currently in town to sing the Duke of Mantua. American baritone Lucas Meacham and Polish baritone Andrej Filonczyk shares Marcello. Conductor is Italian maestro Paolo Carignani. April 17 – May 22 (11 performances)
The season concludes with the Verdi masterpiece, Otello, starring American tenor Russell Thomas, last season’s Pollione, in the title role. The great Canadian baritone Gerald Finley takes on his first Iago. Finley seems to be moving into the bad guy’s territory these days. Just two days ago in Covent Garden, he sang his first-ever Scarpia, opposite Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca. His Iago at the COC is a major event for the legion of fans of this great singer. American soprano Tamara Wilson, last heard as Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, returns as Desdemona. The production comes from ENO and is directed by David Alden. Johannes Debus conducts. April 27 – May 21 (8 performances)
There you have it, a well-balanced season, a combination of the familiar and the new, basically a bit of everything for every taste. To be sure, there’s no French opera and no Baroque, but that’s bound to happen when you only have six operas to work with. It’s nice to see Hampson and Mattila finally singing opera in Toronto.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO