Jenna Simeonov

There’s beauty in the Canadian Opera Company’s freshly-announced 2020-21 season. It’s symmetrical; there are three revivals - pretty recent-history ones, too - and three Interesting Productions. Of course, there are interesting things about each production, but the three new items on the season line-up have a special sort of intrigue.

The fall starts off with what’s probably the most Interesting of them all: Richard Wagner’s Parsifal (Sept. 25-Oct. 18, 2020). François Girard directs, Michael Levine designs (#gocanada), and it’s going to be huge - literally. The orchestra (conducted by COC Music Diretor Johannes Debus) will be twice its usual size, a cast of more than 100, and the opera will last nearly six hours - very hardcore. Christopher Ventris sings the title role, alongside Johan Reuter as Amfortas and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as Kundry. I remember Reuter well from the COC’s Die Walküre, but I’ve not yet heard Ventris or Baumgartner live. Frankly, a Parsifal casting is something I’d gladly leave in the hands of Alexander Neef, the COC’s General Director for one more season.

The next biggie is also a rarity in Canada: Leoš Janáček’s Katya Kabanova (February 6-20, 2021). The production is by David Alden, and Johannes Debus conducts; one can safely anticipate bleakness onstage, but that seems fitting for this desolate version of a psychological thriller. I don’t know this opera at all, really, but I’m completely curious. Janáček’s music is stunning (Jenůfa, anyone?) and this Katya Kabanova will mark the COC debut of American soprano Amanda Majeski in the title role. She’s fab, I’m excited. Also, Susan Bullock! Alain Coulombe!

I’m sort of baffled by this La traviata happening in the spring, though.

Finally, I can’t wait to see the dense drama of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (May 1-15, 2021). It’s the stark, striking production by Robert Carsen, conducted by Bernard Labadie. Three great singers making up the compact cast: Iestyn Davies as Orfeo, Anna-Sophie Neher as Euridice, and Mireille Asselin as Amore. Perfect. I love this opera because it’s the opposite of indulgent, very straightforward and ahead of its time. It’s one of those operas where taking away one scene or one line would make the whole thing crumble.

(clockwise from top left) The cast of the COC's 2021 production of Orfeo ed Euridice: Iestyn Davies, Mireille Asselin, and Anna-Sophie Neher.

Interspersed with the Interesting Productions are three revived productions, all of which seem like they haven’t yet had enough distance from the COC stage to be properly missed. Claus Guth’s Le nozze di Figaro is back, Oct. 20-Nov. 7, 2020; this is the one where Cherubino has a strange twin who doesn’t sing but is also Cupid. Not terrible, but definitely German. The singing should be good, with Josef Wagner returning to sing Figaro, and Emily D’Angelo as Cherubino.

That Carmen is back, too, Jan. 23-Feb. 21, 2021. It’s the production adopted by Joel Ivany, and Johannes Debus will conduct. I’m surprised it’s back so soon (it was only just at the COC in 2016), but it must be a sure-thing hit. In this revival, it’s also a vehicle for great young talent, like J’nai Bridges as Carmen and Michael Fabiano as Don José. Pretty great.

Anyway. I’m excited for Parsifal.

I’m sort of baffled by this La traviata happening in the spring, though (Apr. 17-May 16, 2021). I do love a Traviata, and I don’t hate this production by Arin Arbus. But it’s a weird flex for the COC to have Sondra Radvanovsky sing Violetta, Joseph Calleja as Alfredo, and Artur Ruciński as Germont. I almost don’t want them in these roles; they’re maybe too old, and there’s a big risk of opera-by-numbers, where seasoned pros phone it in with standards like Traviata (not all seasoned pros, of course). If you’re opting to see it, I’d even suggest checking out one of the two final performances (May 6 and 16), where Violetta is sung by up-and-comer Vanessa Vasquez.

Also, the COC very quietly added that Stephen Lord will be conducting this Traviata. This opera is certainly in Lord’s sweet spot of conducting style, so it makes sense… except for the unsavoury fact that last year Lord was faced with “more than two dozen” allegations of sexual harassment, and he subsequently left his positions at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Michigan Opera Theatre. I don’t actually know what that means for this job. He’ll conduct it like a dream… but it does feel icky that the COC obviously had him ready for this contract when the allegations happened, didn’t replace him, and then just casually went all, Oh, and Stephen Lord is conducting, don’t worry about it…

Anyway. I’m excited for Parsifal.

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