The launch of the Canadian Opera Company’s 2015-2016 season felt like a genuine celebration, a special occasion because of the performances, and a moment when the COC appears to be looking boldly forward.
Speaking as a subscriber, though, I feel it’s a kind of reconciliation, a return to more familiar territory and a coy peek over the shoulder at where we’ve been. It’s very Canadian, very dramatic, and sure to be enjoyable. For this subscriber it will be easier to persuade my partner to renew in a house where there has been some disagreement and resistance to adventurous stagings. And so I’m both enthusiastic and relieved at the same time. It’s a good news season, likely to be good at the box office.
We’re looking at six operas again, three being among the most popular, namely La traviata, Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro, while a fourth—François Girard’s production of Siegfried—continues the current Ring cycle survey begun this season, and opening at month end with Die Walküre and again starring Christine Goerke.
Goerke was a big part of the celebratory atmosphere, contributing a hypnotic reading of the song “Traüme”, aided by a large close-up on the big screen of her amazing eyes. Hers was one of several sparkling performances tonight, accompanied by the COC orchestra & Johannes Debus .
Another reason for the excitement was the commitment to new opera & Canadian talent. Barbara Monk Feldman’s new opera Pyramus and Thisbe shares the bill with two brief Monteverdi pieces, the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, and Ariadne’s brief Lament (the only fragment, alas, that remains from this opera about Ariadne). We heard of the progress of Hadrian (a libretto being workshoped etc), of a revival of Somers’ Louis Riel for the Canadian sesquicentennial in 2017 (yay!), and a new opera from Ana Sokolovic concerning Queen Christina of Sweden, for the 2020 season.
And with all the hints in the media of late I wasn’t even a tiny bit surprised to hear that Joel Ivany will be directing Carmen, a development that rewards true merit. Ivany’s recent work is the most exciting seen in Toronto of late, if you think of his work with Against the Grain, namely Messiah, Pelléas, and the first two we’ve seen so far of his Da Ponte trilogy. Given that the COC was involved with the Banff Centre in those productions I wondered if Ivany might get an opportunity to direct with the COC.
I have no opinion about the sixth opera, except that it intrigues me, namely Maometto II an opera seria by Rossini that I understand – from what I heard tonight—to be a vehicle for a bass baritone. We were told that Luca Pisaroni is apparently really good in the role, although I have no idea. I do know that Elizabeth DeShong is a fabulous bel canto singer that is always welcome in this town, and that anything conducted by Harry Bicket is likely to be wonderful. Recalling Roger Norrington’s CD of Rossini overtures, I’m willing to bet that this music will benefit from his edgy leadership.
I don’t want to babble on at length, except to remark about the other performances. We heard a wonderful finale to conclude the evening, the whole massive Act II finale from Figaro, including some luxury casting with Jane Archibald as Susanna & Russell Braun as the Count, and Gordon Bittner of the Ensemble Studio standing tall as a very funny Figaro. And be still my heart, Aviva Fortunata sang, one of the genuine talents in the Ensemble, taking a small part in that finale, but also unveiling that lovely line and fabulous top in a bit of the Rossini that’s completely new to me.
And to give us a small idea of Barbara Monk Feldman –whether or not her opera will sound this way or not—we heard a lovely performance of “Verses for five”, a somewhat minimalist piece with lots of colourful percussion (marimba, celesta, piano, gongs, piano and some winds), delicately suggesting magic.
And so the new season sounds safe but exciting, edgy where it matters, and likely to be very watchable.