Beethoven's Only Opera, FIDELIO, Hits The Canadian Opera Company Stage In A Visually Stunning Ode To Freedom

Matthew Ozawa delivers a modern day reflection on wrongful imprisonment.

By: Sep. 05, 2023
Beethoven's Only Opera, FIDELIO, Hits The Canadian Opera Company Stage In A Visually Stunning Ode To Freedom

The Canadian Opera Company's 2023/2024 season launches with Fidelio, the only opera from master composer Ludwig van Beethoven and a work that hasn't been seen on the COC stage in nearly 15 years. The opera, running from September 29 to October 20, 2023, centres on Leonore, a woman who has disguised herself as a man named Fidelio in order to save her husband, imprisoned for his revolutionary political views.

In a stunning Canadian premiere from acclaimed director Matthew Ozawa, the story takes place in a contemporary prison facility – a powerful visual reminder that Beethoven's warnings about the dangers of corruption and tyranny remain as relevant today as they were 200 years ago. 

Ozawa is an inspired and innovative storyteller, whose “strikingly spare productions” (New York Times) are “a vivid demonstration of what opera is all about” (Opera News). In designing the stage for Ozawa's modern vision of wrongful incarceration, set and projection designer Alexander Nichols has created a complex and rotating cage-like structure that highlights, through constantly shifting perspectives, the layers of power that exist within the detention centre. An abundance of video screens underscores the reality of surveillance while imprisoned. Carefully curated costumes from Jessica Jahn and Lynly A. Saunders, combined with dramatic lighting from Yuki Nakase Link, pointedly emphasize the two worlds that co-exist in this staging: the sterile bureaucracy of the prison system staff and the surprisingly vibrant hues that drape the prisoners, like hope.

“I would say the biggest takeaway [I would hope for audiences] is that someone comes away from Fidelio reminded that they have the power, as an individual, to create and ignite change," says Ozawa. "That, facing any sort of injustice or situation in which they feel otherwise powerless, they realize that they, like Leonore, can find the same power to bring about change.”

Making their COC debuts, Finnish soprano Miina-Liisa Värelä brings her “buttery voice” (Los Angeles Times) to the role of Leonore, opposite American tenor Clay Hilley, noted by OperaWire as one “to keep an eye and ear out for” as the prisoner Florestan. Rising Canadian soprano and Ensemble Studio graduate Anna-Sophie Neher returns to the COC, following her Dora Award-nominated performance in COC's The Magic Flute (2022), to sing Marzelline, the daughter of the prison guard Rocco, who is performed by Russian bass Dimitry Ivashchenko; Ivashchenko was last seen on the COC stage in 2016's Norma. 

In two additional COC debuts, German baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle and Canadian tenor Josh Lovell take on the roles of Don Pizarro and Jaquino, governor and assistant jailer at the prison, respectively. Serbian bass Sava Vemić also makes his COC debut as Don Fernando, a local official called to investigate rumours of cruelty in the prison. The powerhouse cast is completed by Ensemble Studio tenor Wesley Harrison and bass-baritone and Ensemble Studio graduate Alex Halliday as First Prisoner and Second Prisoner, respectively.

From its stirring overture, Fidelio promises light at the end of a dark tunnel, providing musical glimpses of the opera's triumphant close. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra through Beethoven's inspired score, with Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst expertly leading the COC Chorus through the opera's huge and deeply moving chorus numbers, including the exhilarating and euphoric opera finale.

Fidelio is sung in German and presented by the COC with English SURTITLES.


Fidelio is a production from San Francisco Opera

Cast and Creative Team


Miina-Liisa Värelä Florestan Clay Hilley


Dimitry Ivashchenko


Anna-Sophie Neher Jaquino Josh Lovell Don Pizarro Johannes Martin Kränzle Don Fernando Sava Vemić First Prisoner Wesley Harrison Second Prisoner

Alex Halliday


Johannes Debus

Assistant Conductor

Derek Bate


Matthew Ozawa Assistant Director Marilyn Gronsdal Set and Projections Designer Alexander Nichols

Costume Designer

Jessica Jahn

Associate Costume Designer

Lynly A. Saunders

Lighting Designer

Yuki Nakase Link
Fight and Intimacy Coodinator Siobhan Richardson

Price Family Chorus Master

Sandra Horst

Stage Manager

Stephanie Marrs

With the COC Orchestra and COC Chorus

Fidelio runs for seven performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on September 29, October 1, 7, 12, 14, 18, and 20, 2023.

Single tickets for Fidelio range from $35 – $250 for adults, with Grand Ring seats available at $290 and $350, and $22 tickets available for guests between the ages of 16 and 29 through the COC's Opera Under 30 program. Tickets can be purchased online at Click Here or by calling the Four Seasons Centre Box Office at 416-363-8231. For more information on booking student groups, standing room, and rush tickets, as well as other specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, please visit


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