#Roundup2016: Greg & Jenna's Top 10

#Roundup2016: Greg & Jenna's Top 10

Jenna Simeonov Greg Finney

Can you believe it, readers? It’s nearly the end of 2016! What is this insanity?

Many of you likely feel like there’s plenty to forget about this year (like losing David Bowie, Robin Willians, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Leonard Cohen, Prince, and oh god make it stop). But at the opera, at least, Greg and I have certainly seen some excellence. As 2016 starts to wrap up, and with all the fab shows and conversations with artists, the time is right for each of us to make a Top 10 list (because trying to narrow them down to a Top 5 seemed cruel).

So here goes, our respective Top 10 lists of 2016, in a rough order that doesn’t really mean much:

Number 10:

Jenna: François Girard’s production of Siegfried at the Canadian Opera Company was one of my most staggering evenings of stage and sound. The design by Michael Levine was unreal, Christine Goerke and Stefan Vinke sang the pants out of Brünnhilde and Siegfried, and I’ll never forget that scene with Fafner the Dragon.

Greg: Squeezebox at Soundstreams. Known for being at the forefront of avant-garde music here in Toronto, Soundstreams continued this great tradition with a concert featuring some really neat music and instruments. It also featured one of our favourite sopranos (in any genre), Carla Huhtanen.

Number 9:

Jenna: I totally loved interviewing baritone Sidney Outlaw. He has a peace and wisdom about him that translates into his work. He answers every tough question about the industry with some form of “take it to the practice room.” He was easy to talk with, and funny enough to make me wish we could have done a podcast out of it.

Greg: Carmen at the Canadian Opera Company. Indie darling Joel Ivany, Artistic Director of Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre made his mainstage directing debut at the COC, working with mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili in the title role. A colourful explosion of drama and finesse, this cast shows why Carmen is always a welcome addition to any season.

(l-r): Charlotte Burrage (Mercédès), Iain MacNeil (Dancaïre), Anita Rachvelishvili (Carmen), Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure (Remendado), Sasha Dhijanian (Frasquita) in the Canadian Opera Company production of Carmen, 2016, photo: Michael Cooper.

Number 8:

Jenna: A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the perfect way for me to spend my first visit at the Glyndebourne Festival. The production by Peter Hall was iconic, the singing excellent, and it felt as though the experience started as soon as I got off the train at Lewes. Plus, gardens, gardens everywhere!

Greg: The Hobbit with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. Canadian composer Dean Burry tackled the J. R. R. Tolkien classic and set it as an opera for kids, sung by kids. Watching the next generation take to the boards in rehearsals, and chatting with them after left this opera singer excited for the talent of tomorrow.

Number 7:

Jenna: Boys of Paradise, presented by Tête à Tête and workshOPERA, was a fun, polished night of integrative opera. The story of the young Twink whose flame burns too brightly on the London gay club scene had beautiful symmetry in the Phoenix myth, and the cast was full of young, exciting singers. And really, there was no other way I was going to check out a club called Egg besides to go see an opera.

Greg: Norma at the Canadian Opera Company. Pretty much every die-hard opera fan knows when they heard their first “Casta Diva” in real life. I was lucky enough to have Sondra “La Wowza” Radvanovsky be my first. In this production La Wowza was a tour-de-force (as one needs to be in the role) never once relinquishing her enthralling grasp on the audience. Not to mention her dreaded wig was pretty dope.

Number 6:

Jenna: I’m so pleased that I heard Elgar’s gorgeous Dream of Gerontius performed by Allan Clayton, Alice Coote, Gerald Finley, and the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder. It was one of those evenings that left me happily sunken into my seat. Coote was completely stunning (as per usual), and Clayton secured his spot as my current favourite tenor.

Greg: Talking about “Bad B*tches in Charge” with soprano Lucia Cesaroni. In my first (of hopefully many) long-form interviews, I sat down with Toronto-based Cesaroni to talk about the state of opera today, what’s going on south of the border, and why it’s important to tell the stories of strong female characters from a female perspective. There was also whiskey and Thai food. #CilantroIsThePoorMansMint

Number 5:

Jenna: Love it or hate it, you probably read “Audition season, or the annual Festival of Shattered Dreams”. The anonymous author asks tough questions: is the opera industry rigged? Are singers trying to impress people who are impostors? The anonymous article went viral, as the kids say, and it was so exciting to read the feedback (which ranged from utterly enthusiastic to thoroughly miffed).

Greg: Opera 5 brings us a Die Fledermaus for the 21st century. This was one of the most fun nights I’ve had at the opera in a while. Outlandish characters in an outlandish plot with outlandish costumes made for an unforgettable ride through Johann Strauss’ perennial classic. When you get the chance to use a drag queen of Pearle Harbour’s charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, you know you showed up at the right party.

Erin Lawson as Oksana Orlofsky, Michael Barrett as Eisenstein, and Pearle Harbour in Opera 5’s Die Fledermaus. Photo by Emily Ding.

Number 4:

Jenna: Richard Jones’ new production of Don Giovanni at English National Opera was exciting, because it was the first staging of the complicated score that made beautiful, organic sense. After solving the problems that make this show a director’s Everest, Jones still found room for shocking twists and turns. Plus, Christopher Purves was a sexy Don.

Greg: Against The Grain’s #ATGAyre. Along with Squeezebox, this wasn’t exactly an opera, but a night of exquisite song. Soprano Miriam Khalil was unforgettable in her delivery of Osvaldo Golijov’s cycle, Ayre, which lent its name to the evening of the Argentinian’s works. This is one of those nights when you go to a show and immediately wish you could see it again after the curtain call. One can only hope for a recording.

Number 3:

Jenna: A big, beautiful voice and a big, beautiful smile were what I remember about Jamie Barton’s recital at Wigmore Hall. With pianist James Baillieu, Barton sang an exceptionally polished programme of objectively beautiful music. Non-singing memory of the night: wanting an(other) encore, the audience cried for an aria from Don Carlo; Barton promptly shot back, “YOU sing Eboli!” before entirely cracking herself up.

Greg: Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside. In an exciting double-team effort, Tapestry and Scottish Opera produced this amazing work at the Harbourfront Centre. World-class singing coupled with an accessible modern score were part of what brought this show to the top of the list. As Tapestry is known for, The Devil Inside was a demonstration on how to sing a beautiful score beautifully, while still providing your audience with a layered portrayal of every character in the story.

Ben McAteer and Nicholas Sharratt in The Devil Inside, Tapestry Opera, 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Number 2:

Jenna: To be honest, the first time I stepped into the house at the Royal Opera was a special moment for this opera lover. The history of the place, and the lovely mix of red velvet and gold, is pretty overwhelming. That first ROH show was a threefer in Puccini’s Il trittico, by the way.) My favourite night there to-date, though, was seeing Barrie Kosky’s insane production of Shostakovich’s The Nose. Three words: tap. dancing. noses.

Taken before a performance of Les contes d’Hoffmann at the Royal Opera House. Photo by Jenna.

Greg: Tapestry Opera’s Rocking Horse Winner. An exhilarating new work that highlights the exploitation of a young man with special needs, Tapestry continued to uphold its standard of top-quality productions of new works. With a stellar turn by tenor Asitha Tennekoon, we were told a story of love, devotion, bad luck, and dark choices. One can only hope that this Opera becomes part of the canon of beloved works as quickly as Nixon in China or Doctor Atomic. The music is gorgeous and that chorus was creepy AF.

Number 1:

Jenna: I love talking with opera singers. They’re such amazing folks. If you’ve ever heard a stereotype about singers’ diva behaviour, forget it: in our experience, the better the singer and the bigger the star, the kinder you’ll find them. So it makes sense that sitting down to interview Sondra Radvanovsky was total highlight of my year. She was so earnest and candid, and she’s the kind of person who really can make high art connect with even the greenest of opera-newbies.

Greg: Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy. It may not surprise a lot of people to see this one at the top of my list. Joel Ivany’s “transladaptation” of Così fan tutte is one for the history books. Transforming the setting into a blind dating/engagement reality TV show and performing in an ACTUAL TV STUDIO with ACTUAL COMMERCIALS and ACTUAL CAMERAS and ACTUAL EVERYTHING. It was a night out that few companies have been able to parallel here in Toronto. That being said, it only takes one person to open the floodgates.

l-r: Shantelle Przybylo (Felicity), Rihab Chaieb (Dora), Clarence Frazer (Elmo), Aaron Sheppard (Fernando), in Against the Grain Theatre’s A Little Too Cozy. Photo: Darryl Block.

Have a happy and safe holiday, readers! If you have operatic highlights of the year, let us know in the comments below!

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