A year of sharp truths.

Bluebeard’s Castle

A stunningly visionary, excruciatingly intimate portrait of a loving marriage savaged by a wife’s cruel dementia. Originated by West End London’s venturesome Theatre of Sound, scrupulously transplanted to Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre by Against the Grain Theatre, this shattering, unblinkingly contemporary iteration of Béla Bartók’s harrowing one-act opera blazed a spellbinding trail from shadow to darkness and ultimately to a place of immense compassion. Singing a historically problematic role, ingenuously reframed by reconsidered text and metaphor, world baritone Gerald Finley utterly electrified as a startling, intensely poignant, de-mythologized Bluebeard, music director/arranger Stephen Higgins summoning an unexpectedly rich palette of warmth and colour from an excellent 7-piece ensemble, meticulously precising Bartók’s fraught, highly expressive score with enormous sensitivity and attention to detail.


Propelled by a surging current of harsh reality, Algonquin-Anishinaabe composer/librettist Spy Dénommé-Welch and collaborator, co-composer Catherine Magowan, spun a mesmerizing tale of determination and survival, an invincible quest for renewal in a time of fading hope for reconciliation. Heartbreaking and tragic, uplifting and mystical, this altogether original, endlessly eloquent two-act Indigenous chamber opera — an Unsettled Scores production in association with Native Earth Performing Arts, the Toronto Consort and Theatre Passe Muraille — movingly re-contextualized the form, steadily gathering force as it swirled from chronicle to folktale to epiphany. The story of two sisters living at the edge of North, isolated from themselves and one another by dark memories of childhood helplessness and horror, achieved the force of parable, fact and fantasy, the natural world, the realm of dreams all ultimately inhabiting a common space. Wigwaas cheenan on the water. Birchbark canoe. Powerful. Poetic. A glowing declaration of being. A healing prayer for Turtle Island.


Unveiling a graphic, acutely urgent Fidelio, Ludwig van Beethoven’s impassioned assault on tyranny and corruption, the Canadian Opera Company raised the curtain on the the 21st century prison state in all its monstrous dimensions — evil universalized — the unmistakeable shadow of Trumpian politics further darkening an already murky panorama. First presented by San Francisco Opera in 2021, director Matthew Ozawa’s bold, disquieting portrayal of towering oppression — set designer Alexander Nichol’s monolithic two-storey revolving prison adding grimly pointed visual emphasis — seethed with fury, echoing all the immediacy and outrage of investigative journalism. Opera as documentary, choristers as defenceless detainees, arbitrary victims of a self-serving, ruthlessly efficient Orwellian bureaucracy, penned in impossibly cramped steel cages, subjected to endless intimidation, mercilessly surveilled. The Four Seasons Centre pulsed with crescendi, a sprawling COC Orchestra, conducted by music director Johannes Debus, splashing the house with great bursts of symphonic colour, American heldentenor Clay Hilley’s Florestan — opera’s penultimate prisoner of conscience, an unrepentant speaker of truth to power — lending an air of soaring humanity to a ferociously charged evening of gripping music theatre.