Canadian Opera Company announces rather more than just the 2015/16 season

Last night was the “event” at which the COC brass and guests, with a bit of help from Brent Bambury, announced the upcoming season to a packed house of subscribers and friends.  What struck me was how much news was packed in.  It was far more than the usual schedule presentation with announcements of several major new projects.  But first the season.  

travFall 2015 will see Arin Arbus’ production of Verdi’s La Traviata.  It’s a co-pro that’s already been seen in Houston and Chicago and seems to be mostly about the frocks.  We’ll see.  There are twelve performances split between two casts.  The opening line up is Ekaterina Siurina, Charles Castronovo and Quinn Kelsey so some serious star power there.  Three performances go to a second cast of Joyce El-Khoury, Andrew Haji and James Westman. Both line ups are well worth seeing.  Marco Guidarini conducts.

It will be paired with the one show Dylan Hayden and I failed to predict.  It’s a new commission of an opera on the ancient love story Pyramus and Thisbe.  Barbara Monk Feldman is the lucky composer.  I am not at all familiar with her music andd the extract from a minimalist piece, largely for tuned percussion, that we got last night didn’t give much indication of how she might write for voice.  The new piece will be paired with two short Monteverdi works; Ariadne’s lament, the only surviving fragment from a lost Ariadne opera, and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda which is an intriguing miniature.  David Alsen directs and Johannes debus conducts.  Singers include Krisztina Szábo, Phillip Addis and Owen McCausland.

siegThe winter 2016 run continues Wagner’s Ring cycle with François Girard’s production of Siegfried.  Johannes Debus conducts.  Christine Goerke, of course, will continue as Brünnhilde with Stefan Vinke in the title role and Alan Held as The Wanderer.  There’s a company debut, I think, for Chris Purves as Alberich.

figIt will run with Claus Guth’s excellent production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.  I’m really looking forward to seeing this unmediated by Brian Large’s quirky video direction!  Russell Braun sings the Count, Erin Wall is the Countess and Jane Archibald role debuts as Susanna.  The Figaro, Josef Wagner, is somone I’m not familiar with.  There will be eleven performances and Johannes conducts eight with three going to Jordan de Souza.  Herr Debus will have a busy few months.  This one will also be the annual Ensemble Studio main stage show.

maoThe spring sees one of the most intriguing choices; Rossini’s Maometto II in a production by David Alden previously seen at Santa Fe.  This seems to be very much a vehicle for Luca Pisaroni in his company debut but an Alden production with Harry Bicket conducting could be quite interesting, whatever one feels about Rossini opera seria.  The cast also includes Liz DeShong and Leah Crocetto.

CarmRounding things out is Bizet’s Carmen.  It’s the 1940s Latin American production that’s had several outings in Toronto as well as Vancouver.  The big news here is that Joel Ivany will direct.  He’s certainly earned a chance to direct in a major house and I’m delighted that Alexander Neef has recognised that.  It’s double cast with Anita Rachvelishvili and Clémentine Margaine sharing the title role opposite Don Josés from Russell Thomas and David Pomeroy.  Christian van Horn and Zachary Nelson are the Escamillos with Simone Osborne and Karine Boucher as Micaëla.  Paolo Carignani conducts.

So, there you have it; a quintessentially Neefian blend of the conservative and the rather daring.  Dylan and I got five shows out of six right which seems like pretty decent sleuthing and well done to all concerned for keeping the big surprise just that.

There was more last night.  Rather a lot more in fact.  There’s another new commission and again it’s a female Canadian composer.  Ana Sokolovic will provide music for an adaptation, by the author, of Michel Marc Bouchard’s play La Reine-Garçon, about Queen Christina of Sweden.  We’ll see this in 2019/20.  With Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian, now scheduled for 2018/19 if I heard right that will mean three new Canadian works in five seasons which represents a rather dramatic shift after a fifteen year hiatus.  It’s even more striking given we were also told that there will be a new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel in 2016/17 with Russell Braun in the title role.  That’s a lot of Canadian!  And there’s more James Rolfe’s Donna, long in the making, will be workshopped in Banff in summer 2016(?) by Against the Grain with COC support.  Anyone’s guess what happens after that.

The focus on new work is very welcome but it does make me wonder how the COC is going to fit in modern classics and recent work from outside Canada.  There seems to be a tacit rule that there’s only one “modern” work per season and if that holds one wonders when we will see the classics of Berg and Janáček and Henze let alone newer works by people like Adams, Birtwistle or Reimann.

We alsso got to hear about new additions to the Ensemble Studio. There are two new singers, both tenors, Charles Sy and Aaron Sheppard plus pianist Hyejin Kwon.  Even with Owen McCausland graduating that will leave the Ensemble with four tenors.  Are they planning to do Rossini’s Armida?

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