#COC1819 Clockwise from left: Rufus Wainwight, composer of Hadrian, a new COC commission (Matthias Clamer); Mariusz Kwiecień as Eugene Onegin and Ana María Martínez as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, LOC, 2017 (Todd Rosenberg); Susan Bullock as Elektra and John MacMaster as Aegisth in the COC's production of Elektra, 2007, photo: Michael Cooper.


Greg Finney

It’s that time of year, Schmop-Tops, that time when we all sit back and see what Canada’s largest opera company has set out for us to devour in the upcoming season.

“Opera transforms how we perceive the world and, in our 1819 season, we’re challenging ourselves and our audience to look at a fundamental human experience — love — through an unexpected array of works that has the capacity to reshape how we understand our hearts and minds,” said Canadian Opera Company General Director Alexander Neef via press release.

Their eclectic “season of love” is highlighted by two new productions, some thrilling co-productions, the return of some favourites and few notable company debuts.

Eugene Onegin: Sept. 30-Nov. 3, 2018

This Russian gem will kick off the season, with COC Music Director Johannes Debus in the pit leading rising opera star and COC Ensemble graduate, Gordon Bintner, in the title role. Alongside Bintner will be Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana, Varduhi Abrahamyan as Olga, and Joseph Kaiser as Lensky.

The new-to-COC production, originally created by the Metropolitan Opera, has director Robert Carsen at the helm. Set during a sumptuous fall in the 19th century, this young cast under Debus’s baton will be sure to bring to “Tchaikovsky’s rich romantic score” a brand new life.

A scene from Eugene Onegin (Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2017), photo: Todd Rosenberg.

Hadrian: Oct. 13-27, 2018

“Both its intimate nature and wild grandeur seemed perfectly suited for what opera does best: creating a hyper-illustration of the dark inner lives of people up against formidable outer circumstances while at the same time musically careening through the jagged and surreal dimensions of what lies in between,” says composer Rufus Wainwright. “It is my hope that Hadrian will speak to the danger of the politics of faith, will help to illuminate a history that feels increasingly more current, and will hold up the remarkable relationship between Hadrian and Antinous as a timeless model of love,” adds librettist Daniel MacIvor.

The world premiere of Wainwright’s highly anticipated work brings famed baritone Thomas Hampson to the COC stage for the first time. Joining Hampson is Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as Plotina, one of Hadrian’s biggest supporters. Singing Hadrian’s lover, Antinous, is Canadian-American tenor (and Schmopera contributor) Isaiah Bell. This cast is full of surprises, with Ben Heppner stepping out of retirement to join the production, and David Leigh and Ambur Braid rounding out this star-studded cast. Johannes Debus conducts and Peter Hinton (Louis Riel) directs.

(l-r): Rufus Wainwright, composer of Hadrian, a new Canadian Opera Company commission. Photo: Matthias Clamer; Daniel MacIvor, librettist of Hadrian, photo: Guntar Kravis.

Elektra: Jan. 26-Feb. 22, 2019

“Richard Strauss’ twisted psycho-drama of family dysfunction, Elektra, returns to the COC” in what is sure to be the talk of the town. Soprano Christine Goerke returns to the Four Seasons Centre after wowing audiences this past season in Götterdämmerung. Soprano Erin Wall sings Chrysothemis and Susan Bullock takes on Klytämnestra. Not to be outdone, the gentlemen sport some big voices of their own: Wilhelm Schwinghammer (#StageNameEnvy) plays Orest and Michael Schade sings Aegisth.

Johannes Debus will take the podium again for this production by American director James Robinson (The Elixir of Love).

Susan Bullock as Elektra (foreground) in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra, 2007, photo: Michael Cooper.

Così fan tutte: Feb: 5-23, 2019

Atom Egoyan’s production of Mozart’s classic returns as a natural fit to the larger theme of the season. Originally staged in 2014, the production takes its inspiration from the subtitle, The School for Lovers, and shows the unfolding action being studied by students of Don Alfonso.

Conducted by internationally acclaimed conductor Bernard Labadie, Così features COC Ensemble Studio graduate Emily D’Angelo in the role of Dorabella and returning to sing Fiordiligi is soprano Kirsten MacKinnon. The sisters’ lovers are played by Ben Bliss and Johannes Kammler. This production sees favourite Russell Braun as the scheming Don Alfonso teaming up with the stellar Tracy Dahl as Despina.

A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutte, 2014, photo: Michael Cooper.

La bohème: Apr. 17-May 22, 2019

No opera season that focuses on a theme of love would be complete without - all together, now - La bohème. In a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera, the COC has Paolo Carignani conducting John Caird’s production of this timeless tale of six bohemians stumbling through life and love.

Sharing the role of Mimì are American soprano Angel Blue in her COC Debut and COC Ensemble Studio graduate Miriam Khalil. Tenors Atalla Ayan and Joshua Guerrero share Rodolfo-duty. Sopranos Andriana Chuchman and graduating COC Ensemble member Danika Lorèn will play the fiesty Musetta. Marcello is shared by Lucas Meachem and Andrzej Filończyk and Brandon Cedel and Önay Köse share on Colline.

Otello: Apr. 27-May 21, 2019

Shakespeare’s tale of “The Moor of Venice” gets the Verdi treatment in this lush and dramatic score. David Alden directs this co-production with English National Opera, Royal Swedish Opera and Teatro Real Madrid with Johannes Debus leading the orchestra through Verdi’s complex score.

Singing the title role, tenor Russell Thomas returns to the COC stage, joined by Gerald Finley as Iago and soprano Tamara Wilson as Desdemona. This production set in a Mediterranean garrison was hailed as “flawless” (The Independent) and is sure to thrill and delight.

A scene from Otello (English National Opera, 2014), photo: Alastair Muir.

Another highlight of the upcoming season is the COC’s current media campaign (#COC1819), which features pictures of the company’s creative, administrative and front-of-house teams representing the operas being presented. It’s a fantastic move for the COC to acknowledge those magicians and conjurers that make all this happen behind the scenes, so we can enjoy amazing works on such a grand scale.

There you have it. A season that includes something for everyone from old and new, Alexander Neef has selected an array of works that really encompasses all the different styles and nuances opera has to offer.

See you there, Schmop-Tops.



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