Season announcements have been coming in fast and furious over the past week, including the Canadian Opera Company (COC), who has just unveiled a 2019–20 season featuring six productions at Toronto’s Four Season Centre on Monday night.
The biggest take away is not so much the operas themselves, but the COC’s exploration of productions of well-trodden repertoire supported by a mixture of Canadian and international casting and creative direction.
As COC General Director Alexander Neef tells it, “this season, we have curated a selection of operas that are magnetic for their extraordinary scores and vivid storytelling — and remarkable for their ability to tap into the emotions and motivations that unite us.”
Fall (Turandot and Rusalka)
The COC launch the 2019–20 season on September 28 with Puccini’s Turandot.
Directed by Robert Wilson with design by Stephanie Engeln, the mood is described as modern with clean lines and reserved means.
Soprano Tamara Wilson will share the title role of Turandot with soprano Marjorie Owens — both COC role debuts. Russian tenor Sergey Skorokhodov and Bulgarian tenor Kamen Chanev also debut in the shared role of Calaf with bass Stefan Kocan singing the defeated King Timur, and father of Calaf sung by tenor Sergey Skorokhodov.
The second opera of the season is Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka, which opens on October 12 for seven performances at the Four Seasons Centre.
Last seen at the COC in 2009 with director Dmitri Bertman, this new production will be lead by Scottish opera and theatre director Sir David McVicar with superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role. Czech tenor Pavel Černoch will play the Prince who takes her heart. Soprano Keri Alkema, who performed alongside Radvanovsky in the COC’s 2018’s Anna Bolena, is cast as the Foreign Princess.
The cast also includes British bass Matthew Rose and Slovak bass Stefan Kocan sharing the role of Rusalka’s father, Vodnik. They are joined by Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina as the witch Ježibaba.
Winter (The Barber of Seville and Hansel & Gretel)
Rossini’s crowd-pleasing The Barber of Seville returns after a four-year absence at the COC — this time as a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, Opéra National de Bordeaux, and Opera Australia.
Directed by Joan Font, the founding member of Els Comediants, we can expect a larger than life approach, especially with the ever-entertaining Italian baritone Vito Priante as Figaro. COC Ensemble Studio alumni Emily D’Angelo will sing Rosina. Other cast members include tenor Santiago Ballerini, baritone Renato Girolami and bass Brandon Cedel.
The production runs for eight performances starting January 19, 2020, with Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci leading the COC Orchestra in her COC mainstage debut.
Arguably one of the most looked forward to productions of the season is Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel, directed by Toronto’s own Joel Ivany.
Co-produced with the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the new production will begin a seven-performance run starting February 6, 2020.
The Grimm fairy tale cast includes Canadian baritone Russell Braun as Peter, American mezzo-soprano Emily Fons as Hansel, and soprano Simone Osborne as Gretel. Toronto favourite mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó will sing the role of Gertrude, and tenor Michael Colvin will play the diabolical witch.
Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra and the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.
Spring (Aida and The Flying Dutchman)
Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida makes a surprise return in the spring season with Tim Albery’s stark take on the war-time epic about love gone wrong. According to the COC, set designer Hildegard Bechtler will set the opera from it’s original ancient Egypt, to the modern-day Middle East.
Faithful opera patrons will recall COC’s production of Aida in 2010 with Albery and Bechtler was largely panned by critics and audience members alike. Seeing it return is a curious surprise, and a rare second chance to redeem the original production.
Cast members to look forward include soprano Tamara Wilson, in the title role, tenor Russell Thomas as Radames, bass Goderdzi Janelidze as the high priest Ramfis, and mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine as the princess Amneris. The cast also includes Richard Wiegold as the king of Egypt, and baritone Roland Wood playing Amonasro.
Conductor Jader Bignamini makes his COC mainstage debut with the COC Orchestra. Aida runs seven performances, April 18 through May 8, 2020.
Any traditionalist would agree that no opera season is complete without Wagner, and the COC are taking heed. Closing out the season will be a revival production of The Flying Dutchman, which opens May 1.
The seven performance revival brings director Christopher Alden and designer Allen Moyer back together with promising voices: Vitalij Kowaljow (Dutchman), soprano Marjorie Owens (Senta), mezzo-soprano Ewa Płonka (Mary), bass Dmitry Ulyanov (Daland) and tenor Miles Mykkanen (Steersman). Powerhouse German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade completes the cast with his role debut as Erik.
COC Ensemble Studio
Besides the season announcement, the COC has also announced four new artists admitted to the 2019/20 COC Ensemble Studio. They are tenor Matthew Cairns, bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian, mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote, and pianist and intern coach Alex Soloway. They will join the Ensemble Studio in August 2019.