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Ben Heppner as Tristan in a 2009 production of "Tristan und Isolde"

Bill Cooper

Ben Heppner's name is on the cast list for the Canadian Opera Company next season for the first time in 17 years.

The Canadian tenor will star in a revival of an acclaimed Paris Opera production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, with designs by video artist Bill Viola and direction by Peter Sellars.

At least, such is the plan announced yesterday, though Heppner has been a risky bet in Wagner roles of late. Last year he dropped out of the Metropolitan Opera's Ring cycle and retired the role of Siegfried from his repertoire. In 2009, he cancelled performances as Tristan at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

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Though COC general director Alexander Neef said there was "not a lot to fear" in casting Heppner in a notoriously demanding part, the company has insured the show by double-casting, with Burkhard Fritz sharing the role of Tristan, and sopranos Melanie Diener and Margaret Jane Wray alternating as Isolde.

The season as outlined is light in new productions and heavy in rentals from other houses. The only show the company will create in-house in 2012-2013 will be a Christopher Alden realization of Johann Strauss Jr.'s operetta Die Fledermaus, starring tenor Michael Schade as Eisenstein. This season, by contrast, the COC is offering three new productions and four company premieres.

Alden and his twin brother David handle the staging for three of seven COC shows next year, including Donizetti's Lucia di Lamermoor (David, with soprano Anna Christy in the title role, in a rental from English National Opera), and Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito (Christopher, in a production rented from Chicago Opera Theatre, with Schade in the title role).

Atom Egoyan will revisit his 1996 production of Richard Strauss's Salome. In a video statement, Egoyan said his Salome would be "not a remount, but a new interpretation of this production," which was last done 10 years ago at what is now the Sony Centre.

Canadian director Robert Carsen and designer Michael Levine, who collaborated on this season's Iphigénie en Tauride, return for a Nederlandse Opera production of Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. The cast includes sopranos Isabel Bayrakdarian and Adrianne Pieczonka, and mezzo-soprano Judith Forst.

The season opens with an Opéra de Marseilles production of Verdi's Il Trovatore,featuring tenor Ramon Vargas and Canadian baritone Russell Braun, in his Verdi opera debut.

COC music director Johannes Debus will conduct four productions. Guest conductors include Jiri Belohlavek in Tristan, Stephen Lord for Lucia and Marco Guidarini for Trovatore.

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Neef said he has no current plans to book his main stage for any Canadian operas, including two works commissioned by the COC under the regime of the late Richard Bradshaw. "We have to believe that they stand up with the rest of our season," he said, referring to Canadian works in general. The company has not performed any Canadian music on its main stage since 1999.

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