Hurry September

In the middle of a driving rainstorm, my doorbell rang this morning.  The mailman, bless his heart, was dropping off a bundle just as the heavens opened to drench the guy,  and my mail.

COC logoAmong the wet items was –oh no—my new COC tickets, apparently soaked.  But no, it appears the minds behind choosing and casting operas have also figured out how to keep our precious tickets safe from buckets of rain.  Hallelujah! Inside the wet envelope, the contents were surprisingly dry.

And so I discovered that this year the Thursday nighters  – possibly the loudest gang of operaphiles if I do say so myself—are being rewarded with the season’s opening night on September 22nd.  I also attend other nights, noticing how sleepy those other audiences sound compared to the boisterousness Thursday throng.

Thanks Alex, Johannes, Sandra, Gunta…! (…and the rest of you.)  We will surely be just as vocal on September 22nd.  And how could we fail to applaud, when the COC begins our season with their version of the Fantastic Four…?  No, they’re not superheroes, per se.  Even so, I’m very confident we will Marvel (excuse the pun) at their work…  Who are these four? Count down with me.

#4 is Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, who led the COC orchestra in their sterling readings of Adams’ Nixon in China last winter.  I wish I had watched his mini-analysis last year before seeing the opera, as his observations would have helped me… Oh well, better late than never.

Director Robert Carsen

#3 is perhaps the one to whom Toronto opera-goers are most attuned, namely Canadian Robert Carsen.  Toronto is a funny opera town, because this is a crazy theatre city, highly competitive in a way that might make sense on Broadway, but with one tenth the population seeing a ton of shows.  Opera does probably capture music fans, but it seems to me that we go to opera more for the theatre than the music.  Why? First because we suffered a theatre with abominable acoustics —the O’Keefe Centre— for decades, and now have our reward in the Four Seasons Centre, an intimate space that elevates any performance.  Carsen’s production of Orfeo ed Euridice took the city by storm last year.  For my money, the Ariadne was more extraordinary because of the voices & the musicianship, but it was Carsen’s minimalist show that won the awards.  This is a city that’s regularly fascinated by challenging interpretations, a home-away-from-home for Robert Lepage, an opera company regularly pushing the dramatic envelope.  And so in this bookish town, Carsen is a major drawing card.


#2 is a newcomer, ostensibly the star of the opera playing the title role, namely Susan Graham as “Iphigenia.”  No that’s not a misspelling.  Remember what I said about Toronto as a theatre town, even for opera? As a result Toronto promotes this opera as Iphigenia in Tauris, not Iphigenie en Tauride.  Graham is synonymous with French opera the past few years.  She was Lepage’s Marguérite in his Damnation de Faust, her features literally catching fire in the CGI as she sang D’amour l’ardente flame.  And then there’s “nuit d’ivresse” from Les Troyens

Yes I know Berlioz is a century removed from Gluck…(i’ve been listening to Berlioz a lot lately, and am in love with this DVD). Perhaps a better and more relevant example is this one promoting the opera we’re seeing in September.  Notice that the Met used Graham’s voice to go with visuals of Domingo as their drawing cards.

#1 for me is the man playing what I believe to be the most interesting character in this opera.  The character is Oreste (or Orestes, as he’s usually known), and the singer is Russell Braun, the same Russell Braun who starred in the Met’s Nixon in China last season, after being the rock-solid anchor in such COC productions as Billy Budd about a decade ago, Andrei in War & Peace, Count Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro, and a probing interpretation of Pelléas.  You get some idea of the combination of voice & acting in this little clip from Roméo et Juliette (subtitles in German, but if you know your Shakespeare it’s not a problem, right?).

September means TIFF, it means cooler weather, and right after TIFF, it means Iphigenie en Tauride at the COC.  August can’t end soon enough.

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