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canadian opera company

Encore! Encore! Theatre, Opera, Ballet and Music Abound in Toronto

CANADA’S COMMERCIAL CAPITAL IS ALSO A CULTURAL ONE. THIS FALL BRINGS AN ABUNDANCE OF OFFERINGS—FROM BROADWAY MUSICALS AND TONY-WINNING DRAMAS TO MELODIOUS SYMPHONIES, OPERATIC ARIAS AND CLASSICAL DANCE. BY LINDA LUONG

The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

IN THE HOOD

The Entertainment District, home to five major performing arts venues, is where much of the singing, dancing and music-making takes place. The area’s two pillar theatres, the Royal Alexandra (260 King St. W.) and Princess of Wales (300 King St. W.), are owned by Mirvish Productions, which regularly stages audience-friendly shows. The grandiose, beaux-arts-style Royal Alex boasts an autumn playbill that includes historical drama Our Country’s Good (continuing to October 26), about the penal colony originally established in Australia, as well as Tom Stoppard’s witty Arcadia (November 4 to December 14) and The Heart of Robin Hood (December 22 to March 1). By contrast, the 2,000-seat Princess of Wales was built in the early 1990s to host mega-musical Miss Saigon. Since then it’s been home to extravaganzas like The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera. The religious satire The Book of Mormon (continuing to November 2) returns after its sold-out 2013 run.

A block east lies Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe St.), home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and host to Toronto International Film Festival galas. One of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, the concert hall is easily recognized by its curvilinear glass exterior. Within, its primary tenant—under the guidance of music director Peter Oundjian—presents innovative programming such as the contemporary-classical New Creations Festival and an annual celebration of Mozart, and has accompanied such guests as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. This month sees David Zinman conduct Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 (October 2 and 4) and Prokofiev’s ballet score for Shakepeare’s Romeo & Juliet (October 22 and 23)—a powerful work. Later in the year, the harmonious efforts of the TSO and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in a rendition of Handel’s Messiah (December 16 to 21) is a holiday tradition not to be missed, and in 2015 Chinese piano prodigy Lang Lang celebrates Chinese New Year (February 21).

Not so far away is the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W.). The country’s first purpose-built opera house opened in 2006 and is home to both the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Inspired by traditional European theatres, the five-tiered horseshoe-shaped auditorium boasts impeccable sight lines, an expansive orchestra pit plus an impressive lobby—featuring a “floating” glass staircase—that adds considerable glamour to the streetscape. Themes of love and romance dominate the COC’s 2014-15 season: Verdi’s comic Falstaff (October 3 to November 1) kicks things off, while Don Giovanni (January 24 to February 21) seduces patrons in the new year. When opera’s not on stage, dance takes the spotlight. Helmed by former prima ballerina Karen Kain, the National Ballet of Canada boasts a dynamic repertoire by 20th- and 21st-century masters ranging from Balanchine to Nureyev. James Kudelka’s rendition of family favourite The Nutcracker (December 13 to January 3)—complete with stunning sets and costumes—is a holiday classic; the whimsical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (March 14 to 29) is a bold new work; and beloved classic The Sleeping Beauty (June 10 to 20) caps off the season.

For a night of laughs, improv comedy reigns at The Second City, which counts the likes of Gilda Radner, John Candy, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara amongst its Toronto alumni. Performed in a cabaret-style theatre, the company’s Fall Mainstage Revue has audiences laughing with its sketches, humourous songs and zany cast.

Soulpepper Theatre Company's production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Soulpepper Theatre Company’s production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

DISTINCTIVELY CANADIAN

A hub for homegrown talent, Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.) was conceived in 1970 to reflect Canadian experiences, and continues to dedicate itself to producing works by this country’s playwrights. This fall, the curtains rise on The Art of Building a Bunker (October 16 to November 2; page 28), a satire about workplace sensitivity training written by Adam Lazarus and Guillermo Verdecchia. Later, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre’s Twisted (February 5 to 22) updates Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and Ronnie Burkett and his 40 eclectic marionettes return with The Daisy Theatre (March 18 to April 5).

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Ln.) anchors one end of the sprawling Distillery District. Primarily home to the artist-founded Soulpepper Theatre Company, the former industrial building features four stages as well as studio spaces. Each season, Soulpepper fulfills its mandate to present classical works within the context of our national culture, as exemplified by Spoon River (October 29 to November 15; page 29), a musical in which members of a rural town recount their lives through their own epitaphs. The following month sees the triumphant return of Kim’s Convenience (November 27 to December 28), Ins Choi’s debut play about Korean immigrants and their Canadian-born children in Toronto’s Regent Park, which just wrapped up a national tour. Simultaneously, Dickens’ quintessential holiday tale, A Christmas Carol (November 27 to December 27) is mounted.

True to its name, Canadian Stage presents modern works—sometimes written by Canucks and often national or Toronto premieres—at both the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) and Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). Helen Lawrence (October 12 to November 1), fuses computer-generated simulation, live action film and visual art in a post‑World War II drama set in Vancouver. After a successful run last season, the sexually charged Venus in Fur (December 18 to 28) is back by popular demand, while beloved Quebec theatre artist—and CanStage fave—Robert Lepage returns with his heart-wrenching Needles and Opium (May 1 to 10).

Another local incubator, the playwright-in-residence program at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.) has produced works by the likes of Morris Panych, Daniel MacIvor, Judith Thompson and Hannah Moscovitch. This season’s lineup includes The Bakelite Masterpiece (October 21 to November 30), in which an art forger is forced to recreate a painting by Dutch master Vermeer, as well as Panych’s Sextet (November 5 to December 14), which delves into secrets and desires of six stranded musicians. The new year brings both hope and fear for the hospital-bound characters of Waiting Room (January 6 to February 15).

Koerner Hall auditorium at The Royal Conservatory. Photo by Tom Arban.

Koerner Hall auditorium at The Royal Conservatory. Photo by Tom Arban.

TUNEFUL SPACES

Toronto’s top concert halls juxtapose old and new. Since breaking ground in 1893, the venerable Massey Hall (178 Victoria St.) has hosted performers spanning generations and genres: George Gershwin, Maria Callas, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Ronnie Hawkins, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Justin Bieber. This month sees contemporary artists grab the mic, including David Gray (October 7), Jason Mraz (October 8 and 9) and Chrissie Hynde (October 30). Then Gordon Lightfoot enjoys a four-night residency (November 26 to 29) before seasonal staples like Sing-Along Messiah (December 21) and New Year’s Eve Comedy Extravaganza (December 31) fill the room.

Koerner Hall (273 Bloor St. W.) is a much more recent vintage. Completed in 2009, the musical jewel of The Royal Conservatory is a visual and sonic stunner: a ribbon of curved oak beams creates the illusion of a canopied ceiling while helping to enhance the venue’s superb acoustics. The 1,135-seat auditorium hosts an array of jazz, pop and world musicians including Rafal Blechacz (October 19), Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway (October 25), Ana Moura (November 5), Idan Raichel and Vieux Farka Touré (November 21), Handel’s Messiah performed by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir (December 17 to 20), and Anne Sofie von Otter and Angela Hewitt (January 9).

MORE TO SEE THIS FALL

Cirque du Soleil's Kurios--Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo by Martin Girard.

Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo by Martin Girard.

Big Top Spectacle The circus is in town! Montreal’s famed Cirque du Soleil has once again pitched its signature blue and yellow tents down at the Port Lands (51 Commissioner St.). In Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities (continuing to October 26), a kaleidoscope of characters—and the talented acrobats, jugglers, cyclists, cortortionists and other artists who portray them—transport audiences to the 19th century to meet an inventor who’s able to defy time, space and gravity. (One spectacular scene occurs at an upside down dinner party, while another features an invisible circus.) With imaginative costumes by Phillippe Guillotel and detailed sets and props by Stéphane Roy, Kurios is one of the company’s most imaginative and visually striking shows.

Jersey Boys. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Jersey Boys. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

More Blockbusters Also part of the Mirvish empire is the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.), a former vaudeville and motion picture house across from the Toronto Eaton Centre. Carefully restored to reflect its Roaring ’20s origins, the venue’s grand staircase and ornate vaulted ceilings set a resplendent scene as patrons arrive for stagings of Wicked (continues to November 2), Jersey Boys (December 17 to January 4) and the endearing musical Once (February 10 to April 12).

Medieval Times, Toronto

Medieval Times

Loyal Subjects For dinner and a show, the live spectacle that is Medieval Times can’t be missed. Join King Don Carlos’s court and watch as knights battle to win the hand of his daughter, Princess Catalina—all while partaking in a four-course (and utensil-free) feast.

Weekend Roundup: October 10 to 13

THESE WEEKEND EVENTS AND PERFORMANCES ARE GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOUR TIME IN TORONTO EVEN MORE MEMORABLE!

Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki, Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio San and Dwayne Croft as Sharpless in the Canadian Opera Company production of Madama Butterfly. Courtesy of Canadian Opera Company.

Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki, Patricia Racette as Cio-Cio San and Dwayne Croft as Sharpless in the Canadian Opera Company production of Madama Butterfly. Courtesy of Canadian Opera Company.

Friday, October 10

Opening tonight, the Canadian Opera Company’s staging of Madama Butterfly is a must-see for opera fans. This beloved tale—with a score by Puccini—follows Cio-Cio San, a young geisha, who falls in love with and marries an American man, only to face heartbreak when, after years apart, he returns with an American wife. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 to $339; visit coc.ca for more information and to purchase.

In his theatrical performance, Helen Lawrence, opening tonight, visual artist Stan Douglas blends theatre, visual art, live-action filming and computer-generated simulation to tell a story about the efforts to reorganize Vancouver following World War II. Bluma Appel Theatre, 7 p.m.; tickets are $30 to $99; visit canadianstage.com or 416-368-3110 to charge.

Not only is Esperanza Spalding a cellist, she also plays the upright bass. Check out the Grammy Award-winning jazz musician’s incredible talent Friday night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at Exhibition Place. Tickets are $49.50; visit livenation.com or call 1-855-985-5000 to charge.

Find one-of-a-kind goods made by more than 50 Ontario artisans at Craft Ontario’s 2014 Craft Show. You’ll fine handmade jewellery, ceramics and textiles, as well as items made with glass, wood and more. Admission is by donation at the door. Friday 11 .m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie St. Visit craftontario.com/craftshow for a full list of exhibitors and other information.

Second City's Rebel Without a Cosmos.

Second City’s Rebel Without a Cosmos.

Saturday, October 11

Everyone can use a good laugh, and you can never go wrong with the pure comic genius of The Second City. The comedy troupe’s latest mainstage show, Rebel Without a Cosmos, combines sketch comedy, songs and improvisation in a performance that irreverently explores how humanity fits in the grand scheme of the universe. Bring tissues—you’ll probably laugh so hysterically you’ll cry. Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Sunday performances are at 7:30 p.m. Weekend ticket prices are $32 for general seating or $52 for premium seats. Visit secondcity.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

After a one-goal loss in their regular season opener, the Toronto Maple Leafs will hit the ice hungry as they take on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburg Penguins this Saturday. The puck drops at 7 p.m. at the Air Canada Centre. Tickets are $40 - $900; visit ticketmaster.ca to purchase.

If classical music is more your tune, don’t miss the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Dvorak New World Symphony, featuring violinist Karen Gomyo, at Roy Thompson Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $33 to $105; visit tso.ca for more information and to purchase.

Louis Boudreault's "TK" is on display at Thompson Landry Gallery. Photo courtesy of Thompson Landry Gallery.

Louis Boudreault’s Steve McQueen is on display at Thompson Landry Gallery. Photo courtesy of Thompson Landry Gallery.

Sunday, October 12

Sunday is your last chance to see “Wanted,” an exhibition of Louis Boudreault’s paper and graphite mug shot portraits of legendary figures at Thompson Landry Gallery. Spanning such notable names as Steve McQueen, Janis Joplin, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Oscar Wilde, this showing of large-scale portraits is not to be missed. The gallery is open noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday; 32 Distillery Lane, 416-364-4955.

Toronto-based experimental turntablist SlowPitch (Cheldon Paterson) is bringing his unique blend of composition and improvisation—during which he often includes field recordings—to Musideum, a musical instrument shop. Beginning at 8 p.m., a demo performance will be followed by a Q&A. Cover is $15, or $10 for students and seniors. Musideum, 401 Richmond St. W., 416-599-7323.

If you’re longing for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, look no further than Casa Loma’s Thanksgiving Feast, with lunch and dinner seatings on Sunday. Reservations are required, and the meal will set you back $55 per person, or $45 for children under 12 (full payment, including added taxes and gratuity, are required upon booking); call 416-923-1171 to make a reservation. Visit casaloma.org for more information.

Betty Who is playing at TK.

Betty Who is playing at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club on Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 13

One more thing we can be thankful for this Thanksgiving Monday: Aussie pop star Betty Who (whose tune “Somebody Loves You” has been on our lips since a certain flash mob proposal video went viral) is gracing the stage at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, with guests Joywave and Great Good Fine OK. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $19.50; visit livenation.com to purchase.

Beers from three local craft breweries—Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, Black Oak Brewery and Junction Craft Brewery—will be flowing at the Evergreen Brick Works from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Thanksgiving for Torontoberfest, the final Brewer’s Backyard event of the season. Admission is free to this family-friendly event. Visit brewersbackyard.com for more information.

The Canadian Opera Company’s Lucia di Lammermoor is a Gothic Tragedy

Canadian Opera Company Lucia di Lammermoor Toronto Anna Christy

Anna Christy stars in the Canadian Opera Company’s Lucia di Lammermoor (photo: Clive Barda)

APRIL 17 TO MAY 24  Powerful feuds, doomed love affairs and shocking confessions—when it comes to drama, Lucia di Lammermoor has it all. The Canadian Opera Company staging of Donizetti’s most famous bel canto work promises romance and tragedy thanks to a marquee performance by American soprano Anna Christy, whose portrayal of Lucia is fragile yet imbued with considerable vocal force. Direction by David Alden takes the gothic masterpiece, based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, to a whole new level of intensity. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $23 to $325; call 416-363-8231 or see coc.ca for showtimes and to buy.  —Anna Marszalek

Heads Will Roll in the Canadian Opera Company’s Salome

Canadian Opera Company Salome Atom Egoyan Toronto

The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Salome is directed by Atom Egoyan (photo: Canadian Opera Company)

APRIL 21 TO MAY 22  A tragedy of biblical proportions plays out as the princess of Judea lusts after a kiss from John the Baptist in the Canadian Opera Company production of Salome. Adapted from the Oscar Wilde play—and original Richard Strauss opera—by Toronto-based auteur Atom Egoyan, this searing show explores themes of eroticism, jealousy and obsession as its characters scheme, seduce and, ultimately, lose their heads. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $22 to $325; call 416-363-8231 or visit coc.ca for showtimes and tickets.  —Macrina Smart

Weekend Roundup: February 1 to 3

These weekend events and concerts are guaranteed to make your time in Toronto even more memorable!

Toronto Weekend Events

An incendiary production of Tristan und Isolde is now on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (photo: Michael Cooper)

Dramatic Duo
A weekend of operatic bliss begins on Saturday with the Canadian Opera Company’s staging of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a story of passion about a knight and maiden who are unwittingly share a love potion—with tragic consequences. Sunday sees Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito tell of an emperor who chooses to forgive a betrayal rather than seek revenge. Both productions unite their classical scores with modern production elements to impressive effect.

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The Canadian Opera Company’s Tristan und Isolde is a Modern Knight’s Tale

Canadian Opera Company's Tristan und Isolde

Bill Viola created video backdrops for the Canadian Opera Company’s performance of Tristan und Isolde

JANUARY 29 TO FEBRUARY 23  A love potion disguised as poison is the catalyst of Tristan und Isolde, a story of passion and betrayal staged by the Canadian Opera Company. Famed director Peter Sellars brings a unique contemporary vision—incorporating dramatic video backdrops by Bill Viola—to Wagner’s adaption of the medieval fable of a knight and a maiden who fall in love despite her betrothal to a powerful king. The big-ticket production also features celebrated Canadian tenor Ben Heppner singing the role of Tristan. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $54 to $390; call 416-363-8231 or visit coc.ca for showtimes and to purchase tickets.  Eva Voinigescu

Hot Date: Take the Kids to the COC’s GrimmFest

A Scene from Dean Burry’s The Brothers Grimm (photo: Anand Maharaj)

DECEMBER 4 TO 8  Once upon a time there were two siblings who collected stories of evil stepmothers and big bad wolves. At least that’s how Dean Burry tells it in The Brothers Grimm, his one-act children’s opera about the pair who brought us the fables of Rapunzel, Cinderella and more. Burry’s work is just one of the highlights of GrimmFest, the Canadian Opera Company’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Brothers’ famous tales. The family-friendly event also includes COC artists singing Grimm-inspired arias, and Juno winner Maryem Tollar recounting legends from Arabic, African and Gypsy cultures. Various venues, The Brothers Grimm tickets $15 to $25, all other shows free; call 416-363-8231 or click here for further details.  —Eva Voinigescu

Weekend Roundup: September 28 to 30

Friday: Louis C.K. headlines JFL42

Friday, September 28
Fresh off of winning multiple Emmy Awards, Louis C.K. rolls in to Toronto to headline Just For Laughs’ JFL 42 festival. The comedy superstar will be performing brand new material at the Sony Centre for a packed house of eager fans.

Don’t miss tonight’s Canadian premiere of director Abdallah Omeish’s award-winning documentary The War Around Us, which opens the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. Alongside film debuts, the ongoing celebration of Palestinian culture also showcases poetry, music, cuisine and art.

Kim Dorland, one of Toronto’s most exciting contemporary artists, returns to Angell Gallery for a solo exhibition entitled I’m An Adult Now. Dorland’s new works may be his most intimate to date—the abstracted figurative paintings depict the artist and his family amid warm-hued wilderness landscapes. (more…)

Hot Date: The Canadian Opera Company Serves Up Revenge

(photo by Christian Dresse)

SEPTEMBER 29 TO OCTOBER 31  A new season for the Canadian Opera Company begins with the emotional wallop of Verdi’s searing Il Trovatore. A tortuous drama about vengeful gypsy Azucena and her son Manrico’s affair with a noblewoman—and his resulting rivalry with a powerful count—this is one of the most celebrated  Romantic-era operas in the Italian canon. The COC’s version, using an acclaimed production by the Opéra de Marseille, features Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas in his debut as Manrico. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $45 to $325; call 416-363-8231 or visit here for tickets and times.

Hot Date: Semele at the Canadian Opera Company

photo by Karl Forster

MAY 9 TO 26 The Canadian Opera Company brings its 2011-12 season to a dramatic close with Handel’s Semele, the story of a mortal woman who falls in love with the god Jupiter, but in doing so enrages his cunning and powerful wife, Juno. Director Zhang Huan weaves Greco-Roman and Eastern mythology in this visually stunning production featuring ornate and vibrant costumes and grandiose set design, the centrepiece of which is a real, 450-year-old Ming Dynasty temple. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $12 to $318; call 416-363-8231 or visit here for showtimes and tickets.

Weekend Roundup: May 4-6

Friday: Kurt Browning and friends skate into the Air Canada Centre

Friday, May 3
Prepare for a night of great music, stunning choreography and superstar skaters as Stars on Ice comes to the Air Canada Centre. Directed by four-time world champion Kurt Browning, this year’s extravaganza of fancy footwork shines the spotlight on such big names as Olympic medalists Joannie Rochette and ice-dance duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Loosen up your laughing muscles for one of the most acclaimed comedians of the 20th century, as Jerry Seinfeld takes the stage at the Sony Centre as part of his Just for Laughs tour. The tour has proven so popular that the sitcom star and observational humorist is playing four shows over a two-night stint.

Experience works by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso—from his enormous personal collection—at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The multi-disciplined master sold hundreds of paintings in his lifetime, but kept thousands more for himself; nearly 150 of these drawings, paintings and sculptures are on display now. (more…)

Hot Date: The COC’s Hoffman Regales

photo by Kurt van der Elst

APRIL 10 TO MAY 15 “A poet walks into a bar”—it’s a line that might open a hackneyed joke, but serves far better as the premise of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman, a virtuosic ode to Gothic-Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffman. Offenbachs’s final, incomplete work is considered one of his most famous, a rumination on lost loves, times past, and the stranglehold of an artist’s creative muse. The Canadian Opera Company production of this brooding, passionate work is not to be missed. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $45 to $318; call 416-363-8231 or visit here for showtimes and tickets.