Opéra de Montréal’s 2016/17 season is a bit hard to decode. There’s quite a lot to like but it still fills me with a vague sense of unease. It just looks too much like the kind of thing one would expect about two seasons before a company announces it is shutting up shop. There are four regular opera plus a show which is billed as an opera but looks more like a Pink Floyd tribute concert. Another Brick in the Wall is a three hour long, one singer work by Julien Bilodeau based on Roger Water’s The Wall and is part of the 375th anniversary celebrations for the city of Montreal. It gets twice as many performances as each of the other four operas in the season.
The other four operas include three from the Greatest Hits list; Aida, Don Giovanni and La Bohème, plus Dialogues des Carmélites. All are directed by “safe pairs of hands” of the uncontroversial North American neo-traditionalist persuasion. Three of the four feature the sort of cast fellow blogger Leslie Barcza advocates for; young Canadian singers with established Canadians where role age demands it. I love that it means major roles for the likes of Gordon Bintner (Don Giovanni), France Bellemare (Mimi) and Lucia Cesaroni (Musetta). Then I look at the almost entirely eastern European cast for Aida; a work where it would be much harder to cast emerging artists, and I get a bit jumpy.
To me, veteran (and several times victim) of umpteen corporate mergers and downsizings this looks uncannily familiar. Fire the established professionals and replace them with cheaper youngsters and off-shore to areas with lower labour costs where possible. It’s been the corporate mantra for years and I’ve seen it spread into opera. One, for now nameless, Canadian company has become notorious for double casting shows with the B cast getting fees that only the most desperate will take. It’s another flavour of the same thing.
So, we have a combination of cost cutting at the expense of the singing proletariat and artistic conservatism. Maybe it will put enough (aging) bums in the seats of an oversized, not terribly attractive venue, to keep the lights on for another few seasons but it looks a bit desperate. Isn’t this what Ottawa tried?