Enjoy our next instalment in our blog series: The Opera That Changed My Life! The power of opera is a combination of many factors and goes far beyond the singing. These two stories showcase several other important aspects to life-changing operatic moments: lighting, costuming, and sets.
Back in the days of the COC's tenure at the O'Keefe Centre, I grabbed a ticket in the 1990s to a performance of Ariadne auf Naxos. Having just arrived in Toronto and living on a rather spartan advertising agency salary, the ticket broke the week's budget. However, I have subsequently come to the conclusion that it was some of the best money I have ever spent. I believe the production came from the US—perhaps Houston? The singing was stellar; Richard Bradshaw and the orchestra were at the top of their game. The opera within an opera was reaching its end. I was enthralled—and then it happened. Nearing the end, as Ariadne and Bacchus sing their duet and the audience (both on stage and in the house) are collectively immersed in the singers' expressed love, a thousand twinkly stars appear. My gasp of pure joy was echoed by everyone in the audience. The use of a lighting element at precisely the right moment of a delightful performance created a transformative experience. Can opera have the power to change a life? Those tiny points of light made a compelling argument that it can.
Above: a scene from Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Tom Diamond, in the COC's 1995/1996 season.
Many years ago I worked in a junior capacity at the Sadler’s Wells (now the English National) Opera. One day I was offered a free ticket to the dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier, my very first Strauss opera, at Glyndebourne that afternoon. With my boss’s encouragement, I hurried over to Victoria Station for the train to Lewes, and thence to Glyndebourne. As I walked into the intimate, old Glyndebourne theatre, I sensed that this was going to be something special, and I was right. Before the performance began, we were warned that there might be a few glitches—this was, after all, still a rehearsal. But there were no glitches; it was superb. There was a dream cast: Régine Crespin, Elisabeth Söderström, Anneliese Rothenberger, Oscar Czerwenka. The singing was wonderful, and Oliver Messel’s rococo sets and pastel-shade costumes were spectacular. This production didn’t receive universally favourable reviews from the critics, but for me it was perfection. I must have gotten back to London very late that night, but I didn’t care. I’d fallen in love with Strauss and his operas that day, a love that still endures many decades later. I'm a COC subscriber, as well as a frequent participant in the COC Opera Tours.
Above: set model by Oliver Messel for a hall in the house of Faninal, Act II of Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne Festival, 1959 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Photo credits (top - bottom): Dimitri Pittas and Grazia Doronzio in La Bohème (COC, 2013), photo by Michael Cooper; Russell Braun, David Watson, Tracy Dahl, Alberto Sanchez, and Ya Lin Zhang in Ariadne auf Naxos (COC, 1995), photo by Michael Cooper
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001