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Koerner Hall: With clever lighting, an instant opera house
March 18, 2010 | John Terauds | Toronto Star
Koerner Hall makes operatic debut in rare Canadian production of Massenet's Cendrillon

'Clever lighting is all Graham Cozzubbo needs to turn a sleek new concert hall into an opera house.

As we stand in six-month-old Koerner Hall, the director tells lighting designer Robert Thomson to dim the house lights.

In moments, the square plaster archway placed mid-stage has become an arbor in a forest clearing, reflecting tree branches in light and shadow. LEDs set in the stage walls bathe the undulating surfaces in a green glow, helping whisk us into the fairytale world of Cendrillon, Jules Massenet's 1899 operatic take on the Cinderella fairytale.

This grand, French-style opera (meaning that it is amply padded with musical interludes for dancers) opens Saturday for a four-performance run at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Telus Centre.

Koerner Hall's open stage is surrounded by public seating, eliminating the separation of performer and audience created by a traditional proscenium arch. So, instead of concentrating on sets, Cozzubbo and Thomson have co-opted architect Marianne McKenna's sculpted building surfaces into the story.

"It took us three hours to build a sequence of five or six lighting cues," Cozzubbo explains of a five-minute span of this two-hour, four-act opera.

While most of the action takes place on stage, the Fairy Godmother hovers up in a world of spirits and fairies previously known as the second balcony.

Operatic debutante Koerner Hall could be the real star of this show, featuring advanced vocal students at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Glenn Gould Professional School, and members of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra. They are joined by the Opera in Concert Chorus under the baton of conductor Uri Mayer.

"My biggest challenge was to work in a hall that is visually stunning and acoustically beautiful," Cozzubbo explains. He couldn't imagine trying to cover or transform one of the world's finest new venues. "You can't fight a space, but you can enhance it," he says with a smile. "We've painted the stage with light."'

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