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The COC’s 2016-17 season

J. Debus (© Michael Cooper)

The Canadian Opera Company has announced its 2016-17 season (its eleventh in the Four Seasons centre), with the now-customary six operas given a total of 53 performances. Casting is one of COC General Director Alexander Neef’s strong suits and the season is replete with the return appearance of favourite singers, the casting of former members of the Studio Ensemble in suitable roles, plus intriguing new names.

The season announcement has grown from a rather dry press event to a bit of a gala held in the Four Seasons Centre’s main hall. The COC Orchestra was on stage for the event (as was Michael Levine’s mind-boggling set for Siegfried which opens next week). The orchestra under the company’s music director, Johannes Debus, treated us to the overture to Bellini’s Norma, which led to the announcement of the season opener with Sondra Radvanovsky as the Druid heroine, a role she will share with Elza van den Heever. Isabel Leonard will sing Adalgisa and Russell Thomas, Pollione. Dimitry Ivashchenko will be Oroveso. Stephen Lord will conduct in Kevin Newbury’s production shared with San Franciso, Chicago Lyric Opera and the Gran Teatro del Liceu of Barcelona. The COC last performed the work in 2006 during the final season at its former performing home.

Also in the fall we will see Handel’s Ariodante in a co-production with the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Dutch National Opera and, once again, Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Directed by Richard Jones and conducted by Johannes Debus, the singers will be Alice Coote (Ariodante), Jane Archibald (Ginevra), Varduhi Abrahamyan (Polinesso), Ambur Braid (Dalinda), Owen McCausland (Lurcanio), and François Lis (The King).

This opera has never been staged in Toronto. It will be the sixth Handel opera staged by the COC. Audience favourite Jane Archibald made a surprise appearance to sing Ginevra’s Act I aria ”Orrida a gl’occhi miei”.

Diane Paulus’s delightful production of Die Zauberflöte will open in January, 2017, for twelve performances conducted by Bernard Labadie. Most roles are double cast, with Elena Tsallagova and Kirsten MacKinnon as Pamina, Andrew Haji and Owen McCausland as Tamino, Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis as Papageno, Kathryn Lewek and Ambur Braid as the Queen of Night, Goran Juric and Matt Boehler as Sarastro. This production, premiered during the 2010-11 season, is easily the most successful of the eight Mozart productions we have seen thus far in the Four Seasons Centre. Andrew Haji was on hand to give a meltingly beautiful performance of Tamino’s ”Das Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön“.

Sharing the winter season will be Götterdämmerung, a repeat of Tim Albery’s production that so triumphantly concluded the Ring cycle that opened the Four Seasons Centre in 2006. Debus will conduct, with Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde (role debut), Andreas Schager as Siegfried, Ain Anger as Hagen, Robert Pomakov as Alberich, Ileana Montalbetti as Gutrune, and Martin Gantner as Gunther.

The year 2017 is Canada’s sesquicentennial and the spring season will open with a work commissioned by the COC in the country’s centennial year, Harry Somers’ Louis Riel. The work on the life of the ever-controversial Métis leader has had more of a performing history than many new operas, having been performed by the company in 1967, 1968 and 1975, and toured to Montreal, Ottawa, and Washington, D.C. It was also televised and recorded. The prolific Somers (1925-1999) also composed Mario and the Magician (1992) for the COC.

Russell Braun will perform the title role, joined by Simone Osbourne, Allyson McHardy, James Westman, John Relyea, and Michael Colvin. The production will be shared with Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. Peter Hinton will direct and Johannes Debus will conduct.

This production will help counter the justified criticism the COC has received for failing to perform Canadian works. The door was opened after a long hiatus earlier this season with Barbara Monk Feldman’s Pyramus and Thisbe and upcoming seasons will see at least two new commissions. Given the attention Louis Riel received in the past, here is widespread curiosity about how well it holds up.

The season will wind up with 12 performances of Tosca, the third appearance of this production (also seen in 2008 and 2012). Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson will make her COC debut. Adrianne Pieczonka will repeat the title role (she was terrific in 2012) and Keri Alkema will sing four performances. Ramón Vargas and Andrea Carè will share the role of Cavaradossi, and Markus Marquardt will perform Scarpia. I am sure the 12 performances will sell well, although the work is being revived too soon, especially when one considers the season has no Verdi work (he is also good box office - right?) The company has yet to perform Nabucco and has a wonderful chorus eager to sink its teeth into it.

One other announcement greeted very favorably was that Johannes Debus’s contract has been extended to 2021. This matches Alexander Neef’s current contract.

Over the past several seasons the members of the company’s Ensemble Studio have been featured in a single performance of one of the season’s main stage productions and these events have become among the most anticipated of the season. I have noticed that not every member of the ensemble can be cast to best advantage in even a large cast work. This problem will be dealt with next season when they will be performing an evening of scenes and arias. Feb 23, 2017 is the date with all seats a very affordable $35.

To cap the evening off Christine Goerke (in town preparing Siegfried) sailed on stage and delivered a stunning performance of Ortrud’s Curse (”Entweihte Götter”) from Lohengrin. It might seem a bad omen to end such an event with a curse, but in the opera world such fervent delivery is a harbinger of delight.

Michael Johnson



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