• At Home With... Johannes Debus

    By COC Staff

    Over the next little while, we’ll be checking in with members of our Canadian Opera Company family to find out how they’re keeping busy at home during this time of physical distancing. From their latest Netflix binge to testing new recipes to establishing a work-from-home routine, they’ll share what keeps them grounded and entertained.

    Johannes Debus –– COC Music Director


    Reflecting on our situation in this extraordinary moment of time, the panther in Rainer Maria Rilke's poem of the same name came to my mind, as well as the many animals in our zoos around the world that share a similar destiny of captivity. Captured in its small cage, behind bars, the otherwise wild creature full of living will and determination has become a shadow of its former self, forced to indifference by the limitations and restrictions of its unnatural habitat.

    The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke

    His gaze against the sweeping of the bars
    has grown so weary, it can hold no more.
    To him, there seem to be a thousand bars
    and back behind those thousand bars no world.

    The soft the supple step and sturdy pace,
    that in the smallest of all circles turns,
    moves like a dance of strength around a core
    in which a mighty will is standing stunned.

    Only at times the pupil’s curtain slides
    up soundlessly — . An image enters then,
    goes through the tensioned stillness of the limbs —
    and in the heart ceases to be.

    –– English translation by Stanley Appelbaum

    To ensure I won't turn into Rilke's lifeless, indifferent animal, and to endure my own state of captivity sanely, I try to keep myself active, inspired and stimulated –– physically and mentally.

    Yoga mats out and some physical exercise to get started! The local basketball team, Alba Berlin, started a daily "Sportstunde" on their YouTube Channel, a popular feature amongst the kids. I also got introduced to Cosmic Kids Yoga –– and, oh boy, am I feeling rusty!




    Good food is an essential way to cover both physical and mental sanity. Eating your own homemade food is very satisfying and comforting, and usually healthier than eating out. The process of preparation and the cooking itself have almost meditative qualities and give the good feeling of immediate purpose. A friend just sent me some recipes to bake your own bread and I am very tempted to join the #coronavirusbaking crowd, if only I could find yeast and flour on the supermarket shelves again.

    We are fortunate to have a piano in the apartment –– “a Bach a day keeps the doctor away.” Goldberg or The Well-Tempered Piano are amongst my favourites. Recently I met the neighbours' kids in the joint courtyard, who asked me if I was playing the piano. When I said yes, they asked if I could play Beethoven’s “Für Elise” for them, which made my day!

    When this whole “new life” started, I regularly passed by my bookshelf, somewhat curious and nostalgic, to pick the books I would read to fill the void; curious because I would read it for the first time, nostalgic because I would read it again after a long time. Well, so far reality proved me wrong. The void is filled with other essential things, like trying to teach my son how to write and read. What a fascinating and rewarding process –– reading a book can’t compete!

    The same could be said about the many movies one is supposed to watch with that much time at hand. Sometimes, if not too tired, one episode of a TV series caps the day. I was quite taken by a Korean TV series called When the Camellia Blooms. It’s a bit reminiscent of operetta, yet with all kinds of good ingredients: romance, drama, comedy, crime. A glass of something helps to get over the "cheesy" bits.




    If weather and government regulations permit, we try to escape for a short getaway. The best bet are the lakes around Berlin. If an excursion isn’t possible, we stay where we are and watch nature from inside, like the two trees across the street morphing slowly towards their “spring awakening.” Amidst all the abrupt and drastic changes we are experiencing, nature seems to be an unaffected constant.

    In the spirit of looking forward to nice things in the future, I am trying to get my head around upcoming projects such as Parsifal, Carmen and Katya Kabanova. It’s enough musical food to survive for quite some time (with no expiry date on it). And the idea that one day –– once we have reached the light at the end of this tunnel –– we will be able to get together and rejoice in performing these great masterpieces again, is just thrilling, stimulating and spurring.

    Let the panther be in its cage (as long as necessary to flatten the curve). There are ways to deal with it and to overcome the boundaries and restrictions of our captivity at home.




    The Canadian Opera Company and other arts organizations in Toronto are facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the effects of COVID-19. If it is possible for you at this time, we respectfully ask you to consider making a donation.

    All gifts received by June 30 will be matched by an anonymous donor for twice the impact on our return to the stage!




    Photo credit: Johannes Debus (2018), photo: Gaetz Photography.

    Posted in At Home With...

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