Not everybody was watching the hockey Summit Series in 1972. Some people were busy forming an opera company – Calgary Opera, specifically.
On Oct. 22, the company will hold a celebratory party entitled Where Were You in ‘72?. It’s a rhetorical question. If one was in Calgary five decades ago, one was in a city without opera.
“Calgary was growing and developing, but it was missing something,” says Jonathan Brandani, the company’s artistic director. “There were no opera opportunities for opera lovers, so they created one.”
Recognition of the company’s 50th season began in September with a concert hosted by tenor Ben Heppner, and will continue with the groovy seventies get-together. The actual golden-anniversary season, however, kicks off in November with Carmen, one of several productions of the Bizet crowd-pleaser to be found across Canada.
Here are the details on those shows, and the rest of the country’s fall season operatic highlights.
Canadian Opera Company: The COC opens its season on two fronts, starting with Wagner’s seafaring drama The Flying Dutchman (Oct. 7 to 24), directed by Marilyn Gronsdal. Then comes Carmen (Oct. 14 to Nov. 4), in which American rising star mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and Tunisian-Canadian Rihab Chaieb play the titular vixen. Joel Ivany of Edmonton Opera and Against the Grain Theatre directs what’s being described as a “sun-drenched production.” Oct. 7 to Nov. 4, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.
Pacific Opera Victoria: The B.C. company is also opening with Carmen. Apparently audiences just can’t get enough of bullfights, betrayal, memorable arias and a fiery seductress with zero cares to give. Oct. 12 to 18, Royal Theatre, Victoria.
Opera Atelier: The opera/ballet company returns to the Elgin Theatre for the first time in four years with a one-hour production of Purcell’s beloved masterpiece Dido and Aeneas. Making their role debuts as the ill-fated lovers are soprano Meghan Lindsay and tenor Colin Ainsworth. Oct. 20 to 23, Elgin Theatre, Toronto.
Toronto Operetta Theatre: There are no hijinks like Hades hijinks, and there’s no bouffon like opéra bouffon. Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld has been raising hell since 1858. Oct 21 to 23, St. Lawrence Centre, Toronto.
Edmonton Opera: Puccini’s Tosca is old-school Italian melodrama: love, jealously, revenge, murder and suicide. American soprano Karen Slack is at the centre of it all as the feisty, titular prima donna. Oct. 22 to 28, Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton.
Opera Quebec: You’ll laugh, you’ll hum, you’ll be far out, man. Director Jean-Sébastien Ouellette sets Gaetano Donizetti’s melodic comedy Don Pasquale in a fantasy version of the 1960s. Oct. 22 to 29, Grand Théâtre de Québec, Quebec City.
Vancouver Opera: Trying to appeal to the uninitiated? The melodic “friendship duet” for tenor and baritone in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers is catnip for the opera newbie. Rachel Peake directs the Ceylon-set drama. Oct. 22 to 30, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver.
Against the Grain Theatre: The maverick Toronto company offers two operatic options this fall, neither of which involve sitting in a concert hall. The poetic new film Identity: a Song Cycle, inspired by an emotional social-media post from biracial baritone Elliot Madore, premieres online Oct. 23. For in-person song, the popular Opera Pub series of informal arias expands from Toronto’s Tranzac Club (Nov. 3 and Dec. 1) to Vancouver’s La Fabrique St-George Winery (Nov. 1 and Dec. 6) and Edmonton’s Blue Chair café (Oct. 26 and Nov. 23).
New Opera Lyra: The baritone Bradley Christensen has a role he can sink is teeth into. He’s the stylish vampire in Dracula: The Opera, the savage second installment of Andrew Ager’s gothic trilogy. The world premiere opens the company’s inaugural season. Oct. 28 and 29, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Ottawa.
Manitoba Opera: Last presented by the company in 1996, La Cenerentola stars mezzo-soprano and Celtic-folk musician Lizzy Hoyt as a picked-on protagonist who has an evil stepfather (not a wicked stepmother) and signature jewellery (not impractical, size-specific footwear). Nov. 12 to 18, Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg.
Calgary Opera: Mesmerizing Montreal mezzo Rihab Chaieb was built to be the femme fatale lead in Carmen, directed by Brenna Corner. Nov. 19 to 25, Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Calgary.
Opera Montreal: Celebrated Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard partnered with composer Julien Bilodeau for La beauté du monde, a Second World War-set piece about a daring rescue of artwork from the Louvre. Nov. 19 to 27, Wilfrid-Pelletier Hall, Montreal.