Our spring season opens with Verdi’s searing adaptation ofMacbeth, and while the highly anticipated production is new to the COC, it’s certainly not the first time that Shakespeare’s work has been featured on the COC stage!
In anticipation of Macbeth’s opening night on Friday, April 28, read on for a list of iconic COC operas that took their inspiration from the Bard’s great tragedies and comedies.
Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, was the product of a fortunate collaboration with the Italian librettist Arrigo Boito, who brought an impressive sense of poetry, wit, and dramatic insight to the challenge of adapting Shakespeare’s text for the operatic stage. Boito and Verdi combined source material from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, to chronicle the romantic misadventures and exploits of Sir John Falstaff.
This Robert Carsen production of the Verdi-Boito-Shakespeare comedy was a major triumph for the COC: from the intricately detailed sets and costumes evoking the materialism of post-war Britain, to the gleeful performances by the all-Canadian cast. Johannes Debus made his Falstaff debut with this show, leading the COC Orchestra, Chorus, and cast on an exploration of the opera's immense humour and life-affirming humanity. The production also marked star bass-baritone Gerald Finley's return to the COC mainstage following a 20-year absence; his interpretation of the irrepressible title role was a defining moment, which he would follow in a few years with another towering performance in a Verdi-Shakespeare piece.
Giuseppe Verdi's Otello (2019)
The COC’s 2019 production of Verdi’s Otello featured a dream cast comprising American tenor Russell Thomas in the titular role of the tragic general; Gerald Finley as the scheming Iago who slowly and deliberately poisons Othello’s mind with jealousy; and American soprano Tamara Wilson as the innocent Desdemona, caught in the middle of a malevolent web.
The production by David Alden was set in the late 19th century (evoking a time period around the opera’s original 1887 premiere) and conjured a pitch-perfect atmosphere for Verdi’s dark masterpiece, placing the action at an isolated Byzantine outpost somewhere at the edges of an empire in decay. Conducted by Johannes Debus and mobilizing the full forces of the Orchestra and Chorus, this was a psychologically insightful and electrifying take on Verdi’s Otello. Among its many spine-tingling moments, perhaps nothing was quite so captivating as the opening storm sequence.
Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2009)
Benjamin Britten’s 1960 opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based on the Shakespeare play of the same name, had its company premiere in 2009. A large, impressive cast included American coloratura soprano Laura Claycomb as Tytania and American counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon, the king and queen of the ethereal fairies respectively. The performers singing the four young lovers of Shakespeare’s piece were Irish soprano Giselle Allen as Helena, Canadian tenor Adam Luther as Lysander, American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Hermia, Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair as Demetrius; each delivering glowing, charismatic portrayals. Conductor Anne Manson led the COC Orchestra, Chorus, and cast through Britten’s glittering score, conjuring all the ethereal magic and joy of Shakespeare’s comedy.
Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet (1985)
The company opened its 35th season with a musical rarity: French composer Ambroise Thomas’ five-act, grand opera version of Hamlet, which had its original premiere in Paris in 1868. While Thomas’ opera was an initial success, it gradually faded from the repertoire throughout the early 20th century, and by the time Hamlet launched the COC’s anniversary season in 1985, it had been scarcely performed anywhere in the world over the preceding 50 years.
As an added moment of significance, the COC’s performance of Hamlet constituted the company’s 1,000th-ever performance as an opera organization. The piece was chosen partly as a creative vehicle for the legendary Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, who had recorded the part of Ophelie but never sung it in live performance. The occasion brought her together with conductor Richard Bonynge and director Lotfi Mansouri for a ravishing performance in an unusual opera that brought the house down.
Join us for Macbeth this spring, April 28 to May 20! Tickets now on sale.
Header photo: Ken Howard
Falstaff and A Midsummer Night's Dream photos: Michael Cooper