Toronto's arts scene offers something for every taste year-round. The city's arts institutions are widely renowned, and top-notch international performers regularly pass through town.
Discount Tickets -- Want to take in a show, but don't want to spend a bundle? Drop by the T.O.Tix booth (tel. 416/536-6468, ext. 40), which sells half-price day-of-performance tickets. The booth is in Yonge-Dundas Square, just across the street from the Eaton Centre. T.O.Tix accepts cash, debit cards, Visa, and MasterCard, and all sales are final. The booth is open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 6:30pm; it's closed Sunday and Monday (tickets for performances on those days are sold on Sat). You can also buy tickets via the website www.totix.ca, but be warned that not all tickets are available online. Also available on the website are hipTIX, where students between the ages of 15 and 29 can score C$5 tickets for certain shows.
Big-budget musicals -- think Cats and Mamma Mia! -- continue to dominate Toronto's larger theaters, but a number of excellent boutique companies also exist. Many of the smaller troupes have no permanent performance space, so they move from venue to venue. A few festivals offer great times to drop in and capture the flavor of Toronto's theater life: Luminato in early June (www.luminato.com), the Summer Works Theatre Festival in early August, which is Canada's largest juried theater festival (www.summerworks.ca), and the Fringe Festival (tel. 416/966-1062; www.fringetoronto.com), usually held for 12 days starting in early July and featuring more than 100 casts from Canada and beyond.
Farther Afield -- Don't forget that two major theater festivals -- the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com) in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the renowned Stratford Festival (www.stratfordfestival.ca) in Stratford -- are only an hour or two away.
Literary Types -- Harbourfront Centre is the hub of Toronto's literary scene. It hosts the world renowned Authors at Harbourfront Centre (AUTHORS) program, featuring a weekly reading series (Sept-June), as well as the annual International Festival of Authors (IFOA) held every October. Over the past 36 years, AUTHORS has welcomed more than 5,000 writers from over 100 countries, including 17 Nobel laureates. IFOA (created in 1980) is widely recognized as one of the most important writers' events in the world, drawing a virtual Who's Who of contemporary literature. Over 10 days, more than 100 authors from at least 20 countries present their work to Toronto audiences. For more information on both programs, visit www.readings.org.
More Than Church Music -- Everyone knows that a church is where you go to listen to choir music -- but in Toronto, several churches double as performance spaces for classical or opera ensembles. Trinity-St. Paul's United Church (427 Bloor St. W.; tel. 416/964-6337; www.trinitystpauls.ca) is home to Toronto's acclaimed Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Choir. St. James' Cathedral, at 65 Church St. (tel. 416/364-7865; www.stjamescathedral.on.ca), hosts everything from solo performances of classical cellists to youth choirs from abroad, as well as its own high-quality 18-voice Cathedral Choir and organ recitals. St. Patrick's Church (141 McCaul St.; tel. 416/483-0559) is where the Tallis Choir of Toronto (tel. 416/286-9798; www.tallischoir.com) often performs (its repertoire is mostly Renaissance and Tudor music). And if you happen to love real church music, stop in at St. Michael's Cathedral (65 Bond St.; tel. 416/364-0234; www.stmichaelscathedral.com). Its internationally-acclaimed Boys Choir regularly sings at three weekend masses.
Opera Obsessed -- It was big news back in 2006 when Toronto's opera house -- the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts -- opened its doors. The irony was that Toronto, a city that had never had an opera house, was already a North American magnet for opera lovers. The Canadian Opera Company is just one reason to visit. Others include Opera Atelier (tel. 416/703-3767; www.operaatelier.com), a renowned company that produces baroque operas (Monteverdi, Mozart, and Gluck are perennially popular). The Toronto Opera Repertoire (tel. 416/698-9572; www.toronto-opera.com) is dedicated to making classic opera accessible to all, using supertitles in English and keeping ticket prices democratically low. Tapestry New Opera Works (tel. 416/537-6066; www.tapestrynewopera.com) is dedicated to the production of original works of Canadian opera and musical theater. For a provocative and fantastical take on chamber opera, check out the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre (tel. 416/203-4149; www.queenofpuddingsmusictheatre.com). The company has performed in London's Convent Garden. Further evidence of Toronto's passionate love of opera has been the enthusiastic response to the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series, in which opera is screened in movie theaters around the globe. Go to www.metopera.org/hdlive for ticket info.
Great Music on a Budget -- As the cost of concert tickets spirals ever upward, it can be frustrating to budget for an evening out. But there are some places you can count on scoring a deal. One best bet is University of Toronto's Faculty of Music (tel. 416/978-3744; www.music.utoronto.ca), which offers a full range of instrumental and choral concerts and recitals. They are held at various locations around the St. George Campus, including Walter Hall, and many performances are free of charge. It's also worth checking out who's performing at the Royal Conservatory of Music (273 Bloor St. W.; tel. 416/408-2825; www.rcmusic.ca). There are concerts by well-known jazz vocalists or international ensembles, as well as free recitals given by faculty members and students, plus the COC presents free lunchtime concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (tel. 416/363-8231; www.fourseasonscentre.ca).