Frankfurt conductor Johannes Debus named COC music director
Robert Lepage, Ben Heppner return for 2009-10 season
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 | 4:19 PM ET
By Susan Noakes CBC News
The 2003 COC production of Madama Butterfly starred, from left, Allyson McHardy as Suzuki, James Westman as Sharpless and Xiu Wei Sun as Cio-Cio-San. (John Currid/Canadian Opera Co.) Johannes Debus, who conducted a sellout performance of War and Peace with the Canadian Opera Company in 2008, has been named music director of the Toronto-based opera company.
Debus, 34, has been with the Frankfurt Opera for the last 10 years as assistant conductor and resident conductor.
His appointment to the COC was announced Wednesday, at a press conference to release details of an ambitious 60th anniversary season.
The 2009-10 season includes a production of Nightingale by Canada's master of spectacle Robert Lepage and a solo concert by Canadian tenor Ben Heppner.
The season also includes:
- Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini, featuring the COC debut of Romanian soprano Adina Niteseu and the return of former COC ensemble member David Pomeroy.
- Carmen by Georges Bizet, featuring mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton as Carmen, returning to the COC for the first time since 1998.
- Otello by Giuseppe Verdi, with Clifton Forbis in the demanding tenor role and Italian conductor Paolo Olmi leading the COC orchestra.
- A revival of The Flying Dutchman, by Richard Wagner, featuring the COC debut of Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin, a specialist in Wagner.
- Maria Stuarda by Gaetano Donizetti, the COC premiere of this opera to be conducted by Anthony Walker of the Pittsburgh Opera.
- Idomeneo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with French director François de Carpentries, who helmed Peter Grimes for the Royal Opera House, making his COC debut.
Lepage, the super-director behind Quebec City's 400th birthday installation and the current hit Lipsynch, is to direct his new creation of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables. Stravinsky's music is set to fairy stories by Hans Christian Anderson.
It is the first time since 1993's Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung that the innovative director has worked with the COC.
Nightingale is being co-produced with Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and Opéra national de Lyon and Lepage's Ex Machina and will star Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko as the Nightingale.
Search for music director expedited under Neef
Johannes Debus, 34, has been named music director of the COC. (Michael Cooper/Canadian Opera Co.)Heppner, the internationally renowned Canadian tenor, will give a solo concert one night only, Nov. 7, 2009, performing a romantic French and German repertoire.
It takes years of planning to book artists such as Lepage and Heppner, and the important anniversary season was mapped out by late COC head Richard Bradshaw, with new general director Alexander Neef taking over the detailed planning.
Neef's decisive hand can be seen in the rapid hiring of Debus as music director.
Neef said he had thought he would undertake a two to three-year search process for a music director, but that Debus's work on War and Peace presented a new alternative.
"Even before I arrived, I started speaking with several people and saw the hunger for leadership was very strong," Neef said. "Waiting two or three years and going through a search process would not be good for the company."
Neef said he consulted with members of the ensemble and the musicians of the COC orchestra before deciding Debus was the right fit.
"What we were looking for is not only a good conductor but someone who has exceptional chemistry with the orchestra," Neef said.
German-born Debus, who is in demand as a freelance conductor, said he was delighted and honoured by the appointment.
'I'm looking forward with utmost joy to working with a company of such a high reputation and of such high quality," Debus said.
He conducted Philip Glass's Satyagraha for the English National Opera and Elektra for Opéra national de Lyon as well as The Excursions for Mr. Broucek for the Frankfurt Opera.
In the 2009-10 season, which begins Sept. 26, 2009, with Madama Butterfly, he will conduct the solo concert with Heppner and the revival for The Flying Dutchman.
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