Best of Fall #1: Renowned mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as an anguished princess in Iphigenia in Tauris
Once upon a time we didn’t get international stars at the Canadian Opera Company. We settled for good singers. We didn’t get great ones. We do now. We also get inventive, often startling productions in an opera house whose intimacy and warm acoustics attract both star voices and capacity audiences. The COC is at the top of its game this season, with a roster of boldface operatic names. Among the singers: Lawrence Brownlee, making his COC debut as the prince in Cinderella; Sondra Radvanovsky—that rarest of rarities, a true Verdian soprano—who made her role debut as Aïda, in a production that qualified as a succès de scandale (some patrons walked out on a production that updated ancient Egypt to the contemporary Middle East and depicted the Ethiopian princess as a cleaning lady); tenor Alan Oke, who was a superb Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice; Adrianne Pieczonka, Jane Archibald and Alice Coote, who delivered a revelatory Ariadne auf Naxos; and now, Susan Graham. The reigning mezzo steps onstage in September for the first of seven performances in a signature role—the titular heroine in Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris, a character she has played to universal acclaim in the world’s leading houses (critics cite the “creaminess and dramatic plangency” of her voice and the “tragic grandeur” she brings to her interpretation). As the anguished Greek princess doomed by her Taurisian captors to preside over human sacrifice—only to discover that the next victim is to be her long-lost brother, Orestes (played by baritone Russell Braun, a Canadian with a stellar international career)—she is almost never offstage. That the production is directed by Robert Carsen, with his usual paring away of stage frippery in the interests of dramatic focus, clinches it as this month’s must-see—all the more so given that Iphigenia is something of a rediscovery, at least in North America. Until its revival at the Met in 2007, the opera had not been staged there since 1917. It is almost unrelievedly dark. It moves at the stately pace of much 18th-century opera. The happy ending comes courtesy of a deus ex machina. There’s no car chase. Yet, if you have the best singer in the world (and we do), this archaic Greek myth can still make an irresistible claim on your heart.
Iphigenia in Tauris
Sept. 22 to Oct. 15
Canadian Opera Company