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THE PLAGUE YEARS

OPERA

It's a highly unusual "compound" work with which the Canadian Opera Company will open its 1997-98 season in Toronto's Hummingbird Centre. It's the brainchild of film director Francois Girard, best-known for "Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould," who will direct the novel production in which Stravinsky's 1927 opera-oratorio "Oedipus Rex" will be "prefaced" by his choral-orchestral "Symphony of Psalms." It's described as "a multimedia event combining powerful voices with drama, dance, film and visual display. More than 75 extras form a moving, living set." Sung in Latin with English Surtitles, the principal solo roles in "Oedipus" will be performed by Michael Schade, Judith Forst and Victor Braun, with design by the highly imaginative Michael Levine.

The conductor will be COC's artistic director Richard Bradshaw, who observes: " 'Oedipus' is about a plague, and 'Symphony of Psalms' in its mixture of exultation, anger and even curses, is a sort of requiem for that plague. In the third psalm, time is suspended and we find a certain peace that foreshadows the catharsis we feel at the end of Oedipus' terrible ordeal." It opens Saturday at 8 p.m., and there will be five additional performances through Oct. 19.

Running in repertory with the Stravinsky will be the far more conventional yet still spectacular opera "Turandot" by Puccini, sung in Italian with English Surtitles. The ice-blooded Princess Turandot will be sung by Russian soprano Galina Kalinina, with tenor Jon Villars as Prince Calaf and Bulgarian soprano Svetelina Vassileva as Liu. James Robinson, who directed last season's extraordinary "Elektra," returns to stage "Turandot," with Italian conductor Marco Armiliato in the pit. "Turandot" opens at 8 p.m. Thursday and continues with five additional performances through Oct. 17.

-- Herman Trotter

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