Stage Door News
Toronto: The Canadian Opera Company announces its 2020/21 season
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
For the first time in decades, a fully staged production of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal will be presented in Canada, opening the Canadian Opera Company’s monumental 2020/2021 season with a company premiere at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Cast with more than 100 singers, an orchestra of 110 musicians, and a nearly six-hour run-time, this journey of one knight’s quest for the Holy Grail offers Canadian audiences a rare opportunity to experience Wagner’s thrilling final masterpiece in Toronto, in a celebrated COC co-production directed by François Girard.
“Mounting the first Parsifal in Canadian Opera Company history has been a journey all its own,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “To stage a production of this magnitude, dreamed into reality by the creative giants of our industry, says so much about the strength of Canadian opera. Parsifal was a goal that we set as a community of opera lovers and it brings me immense pride to know that what we’ve accomplished already is a direct result of the overwhelming and continued support of our passionate supporters.”
In a remarkable display of community support, hundreds of donors from all across Canada have already stepped forward to help bring Parsifal to the COC mainstage through the company’s monumental fundraising campaign. Individuals can still play a part in bringing this landmark production to Canadian audiences, and enjoy special perks and behind-the-scenes opportunities to enhance the historic experience. Full details can be found at coc.ca/Monumental.
Parsifal anchors a season that moves from sweeping legends to deeply personal stories. In the fall, it is paired with The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a subversive comedy where servants topple their masters and women prove wiser than the men around them. The winter spotlights two heroines who live by their own rules: Carmen by Georges Bizet, one of the most popular operas ever composed, and Katya Kabanova by Leoš Janáček, a rarely performed 20th-century masterpiece that hasn’t been seen at the COC in nearly 30 years. In the spring, audiences are transported from glittering Paris to the shadows of the underworld, with La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, featuring a cast headlined by Sondra Radvanovsky and Vanessa Vasquez, followed by a critically acclaimed production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
For COC General Director Alexander Neef, his final season with the company represents a full spectrum of human experience. “In curating this milestone season, we wanted audiences – whether they are joining us for the first time or as one of our regular subscribers – to come away from each performance as though they have completed a journey of their own,” says Neef. “Our 20/21 operas portray blissful highs and heart-plummeting anguish; they dive into and explore epic and intimate dimensions – sometimes all in the course of a single night.”
The COC welcomes back a number of internationally renowned artists to the Four Seasons Centre next season: Sondra Radvanovsky as Violetta Valéry and Joseph Calleja as Alfredo Germont in La Traviata; Russell Braun and Emily D’Angelo as the Count and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, with Josef Wagner reprising the role of Figaro; Michael Fabiano as Don José and Joyce El-Khoury as Micaëla in Carmen; Alain Coulombe as Zuniga in Carmen and Dikoy in Katya Kabanova; Susan Bullock as Kabanikha and Cecelia Hall as Varvara in Katya Kabanova; and Johan Reuter as Amfortas with David Leigh as Gurnemanz and Titurel, in Parsifal. Directors David Alden, Arin Arbus, Robert Carsen and Joel Ivany also bring theircreative talents back to the helm of upcoming COC productions.
20/21 also marks the COC mainstage debuts of: Christopher Ventris as Parsifal, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Kundry and Mika Kares as Gurnemanz in Parsifal; Louise Alder as Susanna and Johanni van Oostrum as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro; J’nai Bridges as Carmen and Adam Palka as Escamillo in Carmen; Richard Trey Smagur as Tikhon, Amanda Majeski as Katya; Artur Ruciński as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata; and Iestyn Davies as Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice.
The COC is also deepening its commitment to new and young audiences in 20/21 with the launch of Vox, a membership program for patrons aged 19-40. Vox is a way for members to connect with other arts-lovers in the city, offering a flexible, à la carte opera experience that includes behind-the-scenes access and invitations to exclusive post-performance parties with fellow members. Membership begins at $10/month, with details at coc.ca/Vox
20/21 SEASON AT-A-GLANCE
Parsifal by Richard Wagner
Seven Performances: September 25, 27 and October 3, 4, 9, 17, 18, 2020
Co-production with the Metropolitan Opera and Opéra national de Lyon
Sung in German with English SURTITLES™
Wagner’s final opera, based on the medieval myth of the Holy Grail, is an epic saga that transcends sheer musical experience, crossing over into poetic meditation and philosophic reflection. Above all else, Parsifal is a redemption story. The Knights of the Grail are at a loss after the stinging defeat of their king at the hands of a dark magician; Amfortas has been incurably wounded by the Holy Spear, but prophecy has told of a pure, chosen one who will arrive to restore order and heal all. Can young Parsifal – so innocent, he doesn’t even know his own name – be the one to conjure magic and miracles powerful enough to save them all?
Acclaimed French-Canadian film and theatre director François Girard presents Parsifal’s fabled journey through a post-apocalyptic world that has withered to near nothingness under continued global warming. Working with award-winning Canadian set designer Michael Levine and lighting designer David Finn, Girard depicts barren landscapes bisected by rivers of blood, shifting silhouettes against pillars of light and mirrored curtains that invite audiences to literally reflect on their existence as part of a larger community. Clean lines and minimalist costuming from Belgian-born Thibault Vancraenenbroeck inject a sense of timelessness while choreography by Carolyn Choa adds a layer of subtle solemnity. Peter Flaherty is the interactive artist responsible for mesmerizing video projections of glowing red clouds and spinning planets.
British tenor Christopher Ventris, renowned for his performances of the Wagnerian repertoire, takes on the demanding role of Parsifal. Russian-born tenor Viktor Antipenko, known for his effortless, expansive sound, sings the title role for two performances. Danish baritone Johan Reuter sings the role of Amfortas, while German mezzo-soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner is the mysterious Kundry. Klingsor the sorcerer is sung by Canadian bass Robert Pomakov, and Finnish bass Mika Kares takes on the role of Gurnemanz. American bass David Leigh is Titurel and sings Gurnemanz in two performances. Canadian tenor and Ensemble Studio graduate Owen McCausland returns to the COC as the First Knight of the Grail. Current Ensemble Studio artist Vartan Gabrielian joins the cast as the Second Knight of the Grail, also taking on the role of Titurel for two performances in the run.
COC Music Director Johannes Debus leads the COC Orchestra through his first Parsifal. Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst masterfully guides the COC Chorus through some of opera’s largest ensemble pieces.
The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Eight Performances: October 20, 22, 24, 28, 30, and November 1, 5, 7, 2020
Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™
In this wildly popular opera, it’s wedding day for Figaro and his bride-to-be, Susanna. But before these two can get to their vows, they’ll have to get to the altar in this twisting musical comedy –no easy task with Figaro’s boss, Count Almaviva, keen on laying claim to Susanna first. As staff scramble to outsmart Almaviva at his own game, it’s soon clear that, in this house, it’s the servants who outrank in cunning and class.
German theatre director Claus Guth, who draws inspiration from the dramatic works of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, has created a darker take on the opera’s commedia dell’arte origins. Clean, monochromatic sets and classic, tailored costumes by German designer Christian Schmidt, shift focus to the rollercoaster plot unfolding onstage. Dramatic lighting design is by Olaf Winter with video design by Andi A. Müller and choreography by Ramses Sigl, a regular collaborator of Guth.
Austrian bass-baritone Josef Wagner reprises the role of wily Figaro from the COC’s 2016 presentation, opposite British soprano Louise Alder as Susanna and South African soprano Johanni van Oostrum as Countess Almaviva. Seasoned Canadian baritone Russell Braun reprises his role as the Count and rising Italian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo is Cherubino; the two reunite onstage after last co-starring together in the COC’s Cosi fan tutte (2019), with D’Angelo recently earning widespread accolades for her “magnetic” (Toronto Star) performance as Rosina in the COC’s The Barber of Seville (2020). Also reprising their roles from 2016 are Irish-Canadian tenor Michael Colvin as Don Basilio, Canadian bass Robert Pomakov as Dr. Bartolo, and American mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman as Marcellina. American soprano Jana McIntyre sings the role of Barbarina and Canadian baritone and Ensemble Studio graduate Doug MacNaughton completes the cast as Antonio.
The Marriage of Figaro features some of the most recognizable music Mozart ever wrote. British conductor and current Music Director at Santa Fe Opera Harry Bicket returns to lead the COC Orchestra with Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst leading the COC Chorus.
Carmen by Georges Bizet
Nine Performances: January 23, 28, 31, and February 7, 9, 13, 17, 19, 21, 2021
Sung in French with English SURTITLES™
Big emotions and big sound collide in one of the most popular operas ever composed. Carmen is desired by all who encounter her passionate lust for life – but her only desire is freedom. A fateful introduction to the soldier Don José reveals an undeniable spark between the two. However, with the arrival of champion bullfighter Escamillo, suspicion ignites in Don José’s mind, fanning the flames until jealousy and rage threatens to consume them both.
Toronto-based director Joel Ivany has said “Carmen is a spectacle, the Broadway musical of the day” (The Globe and Mail) and paints that picture for audiences in vivid colour. Framed in 1940s Cuba, sets by American designer Michael Yeargan pulse with tension and heat while detailed costumes by François St-Aubin provide added flair, in collaboration with set and costume design coordinator Camellia Koo. Lighting designer Jason Hand splashes colour against moody, blue-toned shadows, dramatically spotlighting characters throughout.
American J’nai Bridges is the “plush-voiced mezzo-soprano” (The New York Times) taking on the title role, in a COC debut. American tenor Michael Fabiano is tempestuous Don José and Adam Palka is Escamillo, in a company debut for the Polish bass. Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury returns to Toronto as sweet Micaëla opposite Ensemble Studio graduates Alain Coulombe as Zuniga and Jean-Philippe Lazure as Le Remendado; both are reprising their roles from the COC’s 2016 production. Three emerging artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio round out the cast: baritone Jonah Spungin as Moralès and Le Dancaïre, soprano Anna-Sophie Neher as Frasquit, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote as Mercédès.
COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts the acclaimed COC Orchestra through Bizet’s vibrant, high-voltage score, full of big vocal numbers for the COC Chorus, under the leadership of Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst.
Katya Kabanova by Leoś Janáček
Seven Performances: February 6, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 2021
Production from English National Opera
Sung in Czech with English SURTITLES™
Nearly 30 years since it was last seen at the COC, this psychological thriller returns for a new generation of Toronto audiences. Katya Kabanova lives life in miserable greyscale – she’s trapped in a loveless marriage, terrorized by a domineering mother-in-law, and subject to the constant watch of her small-minded neighbours. As the monotony bears down, she clings to an affair with tender Boris like a lifeline but fears that nothing stays secret in this town of a thousand eyes.
Prolific theatre director David Alden brings this gripping 20th-century opera to life in a new-to-the-COC production that pulses with quiet intensity. British set designer Charles Edwards creates a stark landscape that emulates Katya’s desolate state of mind. Costumes by Jon Morrell mirror the villagers’ dreary lives while pointed lighting by Adam Silverman hints at the kind of spotlight Katya is desperate to avoid. Movement by English choreographer Maxine Braham lends a sense of urgency to the mounting tension on stage.
American soprano Amanda Majeski makes her COC debut; she takes on the title role that earned her rave reviews at the Royal Opera House in 2019, with the Financial Times declaring Majeski “leaves no emotions unstirred.” American tenor Richard Trey Smagur is Tikhon, Katya’s weak-willed husband and British soprano Susan Bullock is Tikhon’s overbearing mother Kabanikha. German-Canadian tenor Michael König sings the role of Boris, whose advances prove irresistible to lovelorn Katya. American mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall is Varvara, Canadian bass Alain Coulombe is Dikoy, and Canadian tenor and current Ensemble Studio member Matthew Cairns is Katya’s confidant, Vanya.
COC Music Director Johannes Debus last teamed up with David Alden for the COC’s “revolutionary” (Wall Street Journal) Otello in 2019. He leads the COC Orchestra through the folk-inspired score by Czech composer Leoś Janáček, containing powerful swells of sound that echo the natural elements found in opera’s plot. The COC Chorus is led by Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst.
La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Nine Performances: April 17, 25, 28, and May 2, 4, 6, 8, 14, 16, 2021
Co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago
Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™
Violetta Valéry is a celebrated Parisian courtesan and captivating hostess whose famous parties attract the city’s most glamorous residents. She’s also slowly dying and knows she doesn’t have long left but handsome young Alfredo makes a persuasive case for taking a chance on true love. Their romance is short-lived, however, as Violetta is soon forced to choose between her own happiness and that of Alfredo, setting in motion a tragic series of events that’s devastated audiences for centuries.
American theatre director Arin Arbus returns to the helm of this spectacular production, expertly scaling lavish life in the City of Lights into intimate drama. Set designer Riccardo Hernandez frames the narrative highs and lows with sets that alternate between lush opulence and quiet dignity. “Confectionary costumes” (Mooney on Theatre) and puppetry by Cait O’Connor place the action squarely at the centre of 19th-century French society while American theatre veterans Marcus Doshi and Austin McCormick are behind the production’s refined lighting design and lively choreography.
The role of Violetta, one of opera’s best-known tragic heroines, is sung by Canadian-American star soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Radvanovsky last dazzled Toronto audiences with the “silvery lustre” (NOW) of her voice in the COC’s 2019 production of Rusalka. Rising American soprano Vanessa Vasquez returns to the COC to sing Violetta for two performances, following her debut with the company last fall in Turandot. Acclaimed Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja sings the role of Alfredo Germont, with Polish baritone Artur Ruciński making his company debut as Alfredo’s father Giorgio and Canadian baritone James Westman returning to the COC as Baron Duphol. A group of rising young Canadian singers rounds out the stellar cast: mezzo-soprano Jamie Groote is Violetta’s friend Flora Bervoix; baritone Jonah Spungin is Marquis d’Obigny; tenor Matthew Cairns sings the role of Gastone; soprano Midori Marsh is Annina; and bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian is Dr. Grenvil – all five are members of the COC’s 20/21 Ensemble Studio.
American conductor Stephen Lord leads the COC Orchestra through some of Verdi’s finest music and tender arias with Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst leading the company’s acclaimed COC Chorus.
Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck
Seven Performances: May 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 2021
Co-production with Théâtre des Champs-Elysées; Fondazione Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Opera Royal, Château de Versailles Spectacles; and Lyric Opera of Chicago
Created May 22, 2018 at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
Sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™
How far would you go for love? For grieving Orfeo, the answer is quite literally to hell and back. After losing his wife Euridice to a serpent’s poisonous bite, he is spared a despairing death by his own hand when the god Amore takes pity and offers a solution. Orfeo gets one chance to retrieve Euridice from the depths of the underworld – but if he looks back at her even once, he’ll lose his beloved forever.
One of Canada’s most renowned directors, Robert Carsen brings his spare yet striking signature aesthetic to this production, seamlessly integrating his graphic style with lean sets and costumes by German-born Tobias Hoheisel. Powerful lighting by Carsen and Peter Van Praet set an ethereal tone from the start with a slow parade of silhouettes and shadowy figures often looming large and ominous across the set.
Iestyn Davies makes his COC debut in the title role of Orfeo. The Welsh countertenor brings a sense of “otherworldliness and transcendence” (Bachtrack) to his leading role opposite Canadian soprano and current COC Ensemble Studio member Anna-Sophie Neher as Euridice. Neher has previously appeared in a number of COC productions, including Rusalka in 2019 and the world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian in 2018. Canadian soprano and Ensemble Studio graduate Mireille Asselin completes the cast in the role of Amore.
Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie returns to Toronto to lead the COC Orchestra through Gluck’s refined classical score with Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst guiding the COC Chorus.
All repertoire, dates, pricing, productions and casting are subject to change without notice. For more complete casting and creative team information, please visit the production pages at www.coc.ca.
Ensemble Studio Competition
November 4, 2020
Every fall, the COC sets out on a cross-country search of the country’s best young opera talent. Only the very top singers make it to the final round of auditions, held in front of a live audience at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, in a nail-biting vocal competition. With cash and performance prizes on the line, as well as the chance to be invited to the COC’s career-changing Ensemble Studio, this annual event draws opera-lovers and new audiences alike for a fast-moving, always entertaining and high-stakes night of incredible performances.
Centre Stage Gala
November 4, 2020
Held to coincide with the company’s Ensemble Studio Competition, the COC’s premier annual fundraiser is a chance to experience first-hand the direct impact that support dollars have on finding and training the next generation of Canadian opera artists. Gala guests enjoy a VIP cocktail reception, are given premium seating to the night’s competition, and are invited to dine on-stage, taking in a breathtaking view usually only seen by the world’s top opera stars. Sweeping décor, interactive installations, and live music round out the night at Toronto’s glittering opera house.
Opera for Young Audiences: Fantasma
December 2, 3, 5, 6, 2020
Opera for Young Audiences (OYA) is a season highlight for music lovers looking to share that experience with the young people in their lives. This year, the COC presents Fantasma, a COC-commissioned opera created specially for youth by Composer-in-Residence Ian Cusson with libretto by Colleen Murphy. Four shows for school groups will be held on December 2 and 3, 2020 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., with four additional public performances held on December 5 and 6, 2020 at 11 a.m. and 2p.m.
May 20, 2021
Each spring the COC invites arts and culture enthusiasts of all stripes to dress up and let loose for the company’s Operanation fundraiser. This massive annual party combines fashion, music, and interactive art, all in support of the COC Ensemble Studio for young artists. Partygoers are encouraged to explore the night’s curated offerings, with everything from cocktails and treats from the city’s hottest culinary destinations to interactive art and live music included with each ticket.
Ticket Info and Special Pricing
Subscriptions to the 20/21 season are available now and may be purchased online at www.coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person through the Four Seasons Centre Ticket Services team, 145 Queen St. W., Toronto. For this monumental 70th season, subscribe by May 15, 2020 to guarantee your Parsifal seat at subscriber-exclusive prices.
Single tickets to all six mainstage operas are available to the public one month earlier than usual, on July 20, 2020, to accommodate demand for our historic Parsifal.
Opera Under 30 offers $22 tickets to patrons under the age of 30. For $35, under-30 ticket buyers have the chance to be upgraded on the day of performance to best available seating.
Photo: Parsifal directed by François Girard at the Metropolitan Opera. © 2013 Ken Howard.