No big surprises at the Four Seasons Centre last night. In my prediction post I called five out of six and I knew the sixth last night before I even got my first glass of red! So what are we getting?
Bellini – Norma
The season kicks off with the Kevin Newbury production already seen in San Francisco. There are eight shows with the title split between Sondra Radvanovsky, as expected, and Elza van den Heever, not so expected. It’s a interesting pairing as I see them as very different singers. Sondra is the reigning queen of “big bel canto” whereas I see Elza, who admittedly is very good in this rep, as more of a dramatic in training. We will see. Russell Thomas is Pollione and Isobel Leonard is Adalgisa, in a role debut for her. Stephen Lord, who seems to be the COC’s go to for bel canto, conducts.
Handel – Ariodante
Not a surprise either. This is the Richard Jones “fish and sweaters” production from Aix. Alice Coote headlines with Jane Archibald as Ginevra, Ambur Braid as the hapless Dalinda, Owen McAusland as Lurcanio, François Li as the King. Interestingly, Armenian contralto Varduhi Abrahamyan sings Polinesso. I’m more used to this as a counter-tenor role and am curious. Johannes Debus conducts. This gets a regulation seven performances with, perhaps appropriately, a Sunday matinee opening.
Mozart – Die Zauberflöte
The winter season kicks off with Diane Paulus’ production of the crowd pleaser. This was the only surprise to me and not really a terribly shocking one! Billed as “feminist” when last performed, I thought it was more “Disney princess”. Simone Osborne and Fredéric Antoun showed it could, at least, be quite charming so we will see what revival director Ashlie Corcoran and her two casts can do with it. There are twelve performances split seven/five between two casts. Pamina is sung by Elena Tsallagova and Kirsten MacKinnon, neither of them known to me. Andrew Haji and Owen McAusland, rather more familiar, share Tamino. Kathryn Lewek and Ambur Braid will sing Die Königin der Nacht, so the crazy lady with the knife is back! Joshua Hopkins and Phillip Addis take on Papageno and Goran Juric and Matt Boehler are Sarastro. Bernard Labadie conducts in a COC debut.
Wagner – Götterdämmerung
Again no surprise that Tim Albery’s Götterdämmerung is back with Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde. Andreas Schager is Siegfried, Ain Anger is Hagen and Robert Pomakov is Alberich. Johannes Debus conducts a regulation seven performances.
Somers – Louis Riel
Spring brings the well advertised but nonetheless welcome return of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, last seen in 1975, in a new production by Peter Hinton. This is a co-pro with the NAC in Ottawa which is, I think, a positive move. Russell Braun heads up a strong all Canadian cast including James Westman, Simone Osborne, Allyson McHardy, John Relyea and Michael Colvin. Johannes Debus conducts and, again, there are seven performances. This is a “must see” for anyone with an interest in Canadian opera.
Puccini – Tosca
The season finishes with twelve performances of Paul Curran’s serviceable Tosca. The most notable thing here is the extremely rare appearance of a female conductor at the COC. In this case Keri-Lynn Wilson. The title role and Cavaradossi are split with Adrianne Pieczonka and Ramón Vargas singing seven shows and Keri Alkema and Andrea Carè the rest. Markus Marquardt is Scarpia.
In other news we were told that the annual Ensemble Studio production will be replaced with a semi-staged concert as so many of them are involved in Zauberflöte anyway. And, much more important, that Johannes Debus will stay until 2021, which is also the date that Alexander Neef has committed to. That’s good news in my book as they are one of the most solid leadership teams in world opera.
So, final thoughts on the upcoming season. It’s a decently balanced season though once again it seems that the nod to Canadian modernism precludes anything else that could be called remotely modern. Monk-Feldman, Somers etc always seem to bump the likes of Berg and Janacek rather than Puccini! Casting is short on international superstars this time but showcases an amazing array of local talent. There are more meaty roles for local singers than I’ve seen in a while.