Tosca: Opera Lyra continues in the right direction

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo credit: Opera Lyra/Andrew Alexander

Photo credit: Opera Lyra/Andrew Alexander

One of my all-time favorite operas, Puccini’s Tosca, speaks to us, not only through some of Puccini’s most beautiful music and memorable arias, but also through the tale of tyranny and unrestrained lust in a turbulent time, which is so familiar to all generations. Based on Victorien Sardou’s dramatic play La Tosca, this timeless piece of art deals with the lowest and the highest aspects of human nature. Time-wise it takes less than two days – according to Sardou just between the afternoon of June17th and early morning of 18 June 1800. When the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, love, courage and political repression intertwine in 24 hours of harsh reality. The historical background coupled with the fact that the action is set in three still existing Roman locales – act one is set in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Valle, act two in the Palazzo Farnese, and act three in the Castel Sant’Angelo – bring this opera closer to reality than any other operatic work. Of course, the very contemporary construction of the story helps, as well. It has a movie-like flow: romantic introduction (Tosca’s entrance in the church in the moment when Mario Cavaradossi is helping a runaway political prisoner); thriller-like development (Tosca spots a knife and kills Baron Scarpia); and a tragic culmination (the betrayed promise of false execution and free passage out of Rome, which brings the death of two lovers). (more…)

Madama Butterfly: Soprano Shuying Li shines brightly in this very uneven production of Puccini’s opera.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

butterfly6MB and Pinkerton wedding night - photo by Sam GarciaPhoto Sam Garcia. Cio-Cio-San(Shuying Li)  and Pinkerton (Antoine Bélanger).

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, one of the three most popular operas in the Italian repertoire, was inspired by the true story of John Luther Long which Puccini discovered during a trip to London and which David Belasco turned into a play. The opera opened in Milan in 1904 where it was a resounding failure. However, after some changes, it successfully reopened three months later in Brescia, under the direction of maestro Arturo Toscanini. This story of a marriage between the American Navy lieutenant Benjamin Pinkerton based in Nagasaki and fifteen year Old Cio-Cio-San, foregrounds the romantic longings of the young girl caught in the grip of an underlying colonial relationship set up by Goro, the slippery marriage broker (tenor Joseph Hu)who had some good moments, and American naval lieutenant Pinkerton, seeking to spend his time with a local girl until he goes back to America to have a “real” marriage.


Madama Butterfly: Shuying Li succeeds wonderfully in her multi-layered role.

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Butterfly5hrowing flower petals - Phots by Sam Garcia

Photo Sam Garcia. Shuying li as Cio-cio-San. Arminé Kassabian as Suzuki.

Can anything be as touching as a very young, innocent, and, consequently, naïve love? Giacomo Puccini’s timeless classic “Madama Butterfly” explores this simple, but tragic fact of life. A young geisha, only 15, falls in love with an American Lieutenant and marries him in the hope of everlasting, true love. The lieutenant, B. F. Pinkerton, lusts for his young and enchanting bride, but has no intention of staying with her any longer than the duration of his mission in Nagasaki, Japan. The year is 1905, and very traditional Japanese society does not give any guarantees to a woman; she is someone’s wife just as long as he does not abandon her. That is exactly what Pinkerton, seemingly a selfish and unfeeling sailor intends to do. After going back home, he marries an American girl, but after coming back to Japan, realizes what he has done to Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). Although he is guilt stricken, it does not help – his actions bring death to the woman who cannot see any escape from her situation other than an honourable suicide.


Carmen at the National Arts Centre: A Rousing Finale Makes the Evening Worth Every Minute.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht


Don José (David Pomeroy), Carmen (Alessandra Volpe)

Photo by Wayne Cuddington.

Carmen, based on Prosper Merimée’s novella has been slightly altered by the Meilhac and Halévy libretto but the essence of the melodrama remains. Given all the heart tugging material set in those “exotic” surroundings of Andalucia and the mountains of southern Spain, it is not hard to keep an audience interested during four acts. That is most certainly the case with this Opera Lyra production which, in spite of not being one of their most memorable performances, received a standing ovation when the curtain fell.


Carmen by Opera Lyra: an uneven production where fervour and moments of brilliant singing are paved with pitfalls.

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska


Alessandra Volpe (Carmen), Alain Coulombe (Zuniga). Photo by: Opera Lyra/Sam Garcia

Opera is getting more and more popular in Ottawa. The tickets for the latest Opera Lyra production, Bizet’s Carmen, are selling like hot cakes. I even saw a few women wearing a flower in their hair as an homage to the famous title character. This is well-deserved support, given the organization’s brilliant previous season, which gave rise to the operatic art in Ottawa. Opera Lyra is definitely heading in the right direction. Of course, as the old saying, per aspera ad astra, points out, the road to success is always paved with pitfalls.  Unfortunately “Carmen” proved to be that stumbling block on the road for Opera Lyra. Carmen is one of the most popular operas ever; the one sung and listened to by generations of opera lovers and non-lovers alike. Its attraction lies in its musicality, energy, and the nature of the main character – Carmen.


Ottawa Fringe 2013. La Voix humaine

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

La Voix humaine, libretto by Jean Cocteau, musique by Francis Poulenc

This is a serious opera performance with the beautiful soprano voice of Rachel Krehm (elle) accompanied by pianist Patrick Hansen playing Poulenc’s music. A breath of fresh air in the festival. The set is the woman’s room. Photos of her lover and herself are projected on the backdrop and there are surtitles in English so it is easy to follow. Based on Cocteau’s play, this is a a devastating phone conversation where we only see the woman, and hear her voice on our end but her answers and reactions make the conversation and the image of the man on the other end, very clear. He is in the process of leaving her but she is so much in love that she at first can’t believe it and then as the tragedy sinks in, she keeps taking all the blame as his erratic, often angry reactions show he feels slightly guilty but turns that guilt against her. AS she is trying to reassure him that she is fine and he must not feel upset, she is slowly committing suicide, by drinking water laced with pills. In this magnificent one act performance, the portrait of the absent, self-centred male is just as strong as the portrait of the woman who is slowly falling apart in front of us, while sustaining a voice that tries to avoid tragic tones so that her lover will not hear what is really happening in the room. A very difficult role for a singer and actress/singer Mme Krehm did it beautifully. Her pianist added a level of concert performance that put this on the stage of the NAC ! Certainly not normal fringe fare. This is live performance at its artistic best.

Musical director Maika’I Nash

Stage director Aria Umezawa

A production of Opera 5 , Toronto

Ottawa Fringe 2013. La Voix Humaine by Jean Cocteau, music by Francis Poulenc

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

La voix humaine (Human Voice), a one-act opera for one character, with a libretto by Jean Cocteau set to music by Francis Poulenc is misleadingly simple story. A woman abandoned by her lover cannot imagine living on without him, so she talks to him over the telephone (in this case cellphone) an hour before committing suicide. 

Seems like a simple narrative, but is it indeed so? In this work, Cocteau explores human feelings and needs versus realities of love, relationships and communication. The only tools to convey ideas are voice and facial expressions.  It takes an excellent singer and a gifted actress to revive the desperation and agony of a woman in the last hour of her life. Luckily for the audience, it is Rachel Krehm who is trusted with this extremely demanding role. 


LaTraviata in Concert. Opera Lyra sets higher standards

Reviewed by Jamie Portman


Photo: Eddie Hobson.Jonathan Estabrooks sings Baron Douphol in La Traviata by Verdi for Opera Lya

Concert performances of opera can often be problematic., and you can experience a severe let-down when the performers essentially drop anchor once they arrive on stage, disregard the drama and proceed on the assumption that their only job is to sing the music.

But Opera Lyra happily sets higher standards. They have trotted out that old war horse, La Traviata, and delivered a thrilling experience both musically and dramatically.


Opera Lyra announces a return to Bizet, Puccini and Gilbert and Sullivan!! Something for everyone..

News from Capital Critics Circle

Carmen Crop(1) Carmen at Opera Lyra.

Photos: from Opera Lyra

Today, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Tyrone Paterson announced he has programmed a season filled with passion, love and crime.  Bizet’s Carmen and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly will both be fully staged operas in Southam Hall, NAC.  Rounding out the season is an opera for families and students; Gilbert & Sullivan’s witty

Pirates of Penzance presented in the Arts Court Theatre.


Cinderella: Opera Lyra’s adaptation captures the magic of Rossini’s Cenerentola

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Well-known and admired by young and old, the fairy tale of Cinderella came alive once more on the stage in a production by Ottawa’s Opera Lyra, this time in an abridged and somewhat altered version, to fit a 40 minute show for the younger generation. In this production, the story revolves around a poor and overworked young girl who is despised and greatly abused by her two stepsisters. While working hard all day long, worn-out and shabby, Cinderella never gives up hope of a better life. She sings a beautiful song about a love between a king and a common girl, little knowing that the dream from the song, however improbable, will come true for her. Despite her ragged attire, it is obvious that Cinderella is beautiful, mostly due to the fact that most of her beauty comes from the inside.


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