Near and far, the force of opera is global. Here is the next instalment in our blog series which explores the moments when normal people became opera lovers.
It was 1951 and I was 18 years old. As part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, Kirsten Flagstad sang Isolde in Liverpool. It was only two performances and I booked tickets for both. What I did not know was that these were to be her final two performances of that role. I can still hardly believe my good fortune.
Above: a recording of Kirsten Flagstad singing "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde in a 1936 performance at Covent Garden with the London Philharmonic Orchestra led by Fritz Reiner.
It was 1967 and I was a 19 year-old university student in Paris for the summer, feeling like I was discovering the world for the first time. Don Carlos was playing at the Palais Garnier and I bought the cheapest ticket for a seat up in the rafters. Walking into that beautiful building took my breath away, but not nearly as much as Nicolai Ghiaurov in the role of Philip. At the end of the performance, I walked home in a state of ecstasy. A few months later, back home in Montreal, my dad managed to get me a ticket to Nabucco, again with Ghiaurov. More magic! Since that summer, I have been to many wonderful performances in various opera houses around the world, but nothing has equaled that night in Paris. To this day, Don Carlos remains my favourite opera and listening to Ghiaurov still excites me beyond measure.
Above: a recording of Nicolai Ghiaurov and Plácido Domingo in a 1983 production of Verdi's Don Carlos by The Metropolitan Opera.
As I grew up with parents who loved opera, answering the question about an opera that changed my life is a bit of a challenge, as I would say opera as an art form itself has changed my life. I cannot remember a time when we didn't listen to the CBC opera broadcasts on Saturdays and most of my parent's record collection were operas. The television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood had a regular guest opera singer that also captured my imagination.
The first opera that I saw live was a production of the Tales of Hoffmann in 1971. We drove from Fredericton to see it in Saint John, New Brunswick. I was seven years old and the theatrical effects were like magic. The image of the portrait of Antonia's mother coming to life and singing is something that I will never forget. I was so enthralled that I insisted on sitting on my mother's lap for the last act because I did not want to fall asleep.
One of my other favourite opera memories was seeing a production of Rigoletto at the ancient arena in Verona, Italy in July of 1981. The historic setting, a full moon, live dogs, the audience holding birthday candles to celebrate Verdi, Sherrill Milnes singing live and not just on a record, all contributed to my lifelong love of opera. As a result I have been going to the COC ever since I moved to Toronto.
Above: Ekaterina Sadovnikova and Quinn Kelsey in Rigoletto (COC, 2011), photo by Michael Cooper.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001