Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The Canadian Opera Company is in its 60th year of existence and in its fourth season at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. The new venue may not have put Toronto on top of the operatic world but it can probably stand its ground against most opera houses. The new opera house is almost completely sold out for most performances and it is a world away from the old, unlamented O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre.

The seven operas offered for the 2009-10 season are nicely spread out over the year instead of the old method of feast or famine. Full houses have resulted in additional performances and the present looks bright.

The COC offers Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Igor Stravinsky’s The Nightingale for the fall season which runs from September 26 to November 5, 2009. The next two operas, Carmen and Otello will be shown from late January to the end of February, 2010.

Madama Butterfly is a familiar favourite whereas The Nightingale is a new creation by Robert Lepage. It premieres on October 17 and with Lepage as the force behind it, the tickets for the eight performances are all but completely sold out.

Butterfly is an approachable work and can be enjoyed by the neophyte as well as the opera aficionado. In fact there was a little girl sitting on a seat booster across the aisle from me. The COC’s revival of its 2003 production makes it an even greater pleasure to see and hear the opera. Director Brian Macdonald has opted for a simple and very attractive production. He eschews any attempts at making it ‘different’ and the result is a terrific night at the opera.

The COC has two casts for the main characters. The night I saw it the role of Cio-Cio San (Butterfly) was sung by Romanian soprano Adina Nitescu in her COC debut. What one notices again is that Butterfly is an opera for a soprano with a bunch of visitors thrown in. Pinkerton, Sharpless, Suzki and Goro come and go – Cio-Cio San is on stage most of the time and she has a job to do. Nitescu has the vocal and acting equipment with which to do it. From “Un bel di” to her dramatic farewell to her son and suicide she delivered a moving and beautifully sung performance. She is physically suitable for the role. She does not exactly look like a 15-year old Japanese girl but if she did she would probably not be able to sing or act.

Newfoundlander tenor David Pomeroy was the swaggering Lieut. Pinkerton who is a heartless naval officer in the first act and a remorse-ridden man in the final act when he finds out that he fathered a child with the child geisha. Puccini does not overwork the tenor in this opera but Pomeroy gave a fine account of himself from the Act I aria and duet to the final trio. No doubt we will see more of him.

Baritone James Westman was a very sympathetic and well-done Consul Sharpless. He sang well and interacted very effectively with Butterfly. The pain and sympathy he felt for her was palpable and that is high praise for a singer who may be more interested in the notes than in the acting.

Puccini’s plush music was brought out by the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra conducted by Carlo Montanaro.

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