The Culture Lover's Guide to Opera in Toronto
Whether you’re an aficionado or new to the wonderful world of opera, you’re in for a treat in Toronto.
Top opera in Toronto
The internationally recognized Canadian Opera Company (COC) is the largest opera company in Canada and one of the largest producers of opera in North America. Its success stems from the calibre of talented singers, musicians, producers, conductors and designers it attracts. Emerging members in the arts scene have also benefited from COC’s artist development programs such as the Ensemble Studio, Orchestra Academy and Company in Residence. Because COC productions vary from classic baroque opera to contemporary works, there’s sure to be a production that will appeal to most interests and age groups.
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts has been the home of COC since 2006. This venue has been lauded by some of the most elite artists for its state-of-the-art acoustics. Just steps away from Osgoode subway station in downtown Toronto, it is also a short walk from Union Station. Limited parking is available for vehicles and bicycles.
Toronto’s only professional operetta company is just a few blocks away from Union Station at 27 Front Street East. Operettas are known as lighter, feel good, toe tapping operas that are interjected with short dialogue. Toronto Operetta features performances that are whimsical, humorous and witty. Previous TOTS shows include Gilbert and Sullivan productions and the light-hearted The Importance of Being Earnest. There are various TOTS packages available so families can introduce children to this wonderful entertainment.
For over 50 years CCOC produced operas specifically for kids. Members of CCOC reflect a diverse group of children who receive vocal and music training. The singers from the Canadian Children’s Opera Company have collaborated with various other artistic communities. In the past, they participated in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) Lord of the Rings concert, and numerous shows at the Canadian Opera Company that require young voices. The Canadian Children’s Company has six groups of choruses. The youngest members are the Butterfly Chorus for ages 3 to 4. The oldest choristers are in the youth chorus featuring young people 16-19. The Children’s Opera Company performs seasonally at various Toronto locations.
A soprano, a baritone, a pianist and a cellist walk onto a stage and open up the world of opera through humour and storytelling to a group of school children. In addition to school appearances, this Toronto based quartet also perform in theatres across the country. Previous performances include the Shoestring version of Mozart’s Magic Flute and the Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel.
Originally an opera workshop at Toronto’s Central Technical School in 1946, Toronto City Opera ultimately transformed into an opera company that mentors emerging artists. Future initiatives for the company include bringing the brilliant operas of Gioachino Rossini to a Toronto audience in the upcoming season.
The main attraction are the voices of up and coming young Canadian talent in the rawest form as they perform rarely heard music without costumes and an extravagant set. Familiar alumni of VOICEBOX include tenor Ben Heppner, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and CBC personality Stuart Hamilton, who was the company’s founding director. Performances occur at various locations in the city.
There are many companies in Toronto that are showcasing their innovation of reinventing the classic opera with new and fresh perspectives to a wider audience. Many Toronto opera houses are flexing their artistic muscles to reinvent the classic opera at various locations around the city.
Dedicated to the creation of original Canadian Opera that reflects the modern times we live in and stimulates conversations for change, Tapestry Opera has produced over 18 world premieres of full-length Canadian works and 160 world premieres of short opera works. Tapestry has also been the recipient of many awards. Familiar names like Atom Egoyan have worked on Tapestry projects.
Opera storylines are explained in entertaining and hilarious bite size pieces from its critically acclaimed Opera Cheat, a modern reenactment of popular performances. Science fiction nerds will also get the one liners and zingers featured in Threepenney Submarine animation on series online, another entertaining series to get you in the mood and find out what Opera 5 has in store for its live performances.
Members of Against the Grain have made appearances at numerous Toronto pubs to introduce a wider and a diverse audience to opera. They have also been active in outdoor productions. If this tickles your fancy, it’s worth your time to take in a show. AtG recently collaborated with TSO and other partners and artists to perform a modern reimagination of the holiday classic Handel’s Messiah infused with a Canadian perspective in 6 languages, featuring 12 soloists and 4 choirs.
FAWN commissions and produces music from Canadian composers. FAWN is also committed to help create a connection between Canadian opera and other artistic disciplines in an effort to knock down silos and bring various arts communities together. These creative productions serve as novel ice breakers and interesting conversation pieces that naturally engage audience to discuss perspectives of their shared experiences during intermission.
Known around some club circles for its hilarious opera improv Whose Opera is it Anyway?, Loose Tea Music Theatre also promotes inclusive projects and recently launched a development program to support BIPOC composers and librettist to encourage more diverse perspective and representation in opera. Loose Tea Music Theatre was also the nominee of Toronto Art Award, for an original opera inspired by the life of Anne Frank.
Tips and etiquette
- We suggest the first opera you attend is something familiar. Perhaps something you heard about through popular culture and you are curious about the production. Most theatres also provide booklets that allow you to follow the storyline.
- Arrive early to the opera. There are often insightful and informative pre-performance chats, which take place 45 minutes before the show starts. This is a great way to learn about the upcoming performance and better understand the narrative of the program.
- Don’t worry if the opera is in another language. COC uses subtitles text during the performance. Translations are above the stage in the language predominately used where the opera is performed. This was pioneered by COC almost 40 years ago and adopted by many opera houses around the world.
- Traditionally the opera has been an occasion to step out in your finest attire. Today, you’re not required to don a formal tuxedo or ballgown when attending the opera – but still welcome to. COC advise dressing for comfort, keeping in mind flair is always in fashion.
- The opera is not suitable for babies and toddlers, but many of Toronto’s opera companies offers excellent opportunities to introduce kids and teenagers to opera. Just check in advance if the subject matter is appropriate for children. COC also offers some shorter programs designed specifically for young audiences.
Last updated: November 17, 2023