It’s been rumoured for weeks but now it’s confirmed. Alexander Neef will leave the COC at the end of the 2020/21 season to head up L’Opéra de Paris. I don’t think anybody should be surprised. He’s a relatively young guy with a lot of working years ahead of him. He’s been in Toronto eleven years. It’s probably for the best for everybody that he moves onwards and upwards. Toronto will miss him. He’s been, in my view, a force for good here but, realistically, could he have continued to be transformational? I doubt anybody could. Has he solved, or would he solved, all the challenges facing the COC? No he hasn’t. Would anybody have done better? I doubt it.
Two years ago when Harry Somers’ Louis Riel was revived in Toronto, Ottawa and Quebec there was considerable debate about the appropriation of a traditional Nsga’a morning song; the Kuyas. Basically in the culture the song comes from transmission and use of songs are regulated by the traditional owners. This particular music had been used to set the text of a lullabye that Riel’s wife sings to their child, originally without attribution. In 2017 the decision was made to use it again though not without consultation, debate and acknowledgement. See my comments about the issue on opening night here.
It’s fair to say that I don’t think anybody thought the status quo was really acceptable and a great deal of discussion has gone on leading to an announcement this morning that the music will be replaced in the opera by new music composed by Ian Cusson, who is of Métis and French-Canadian descent. The whole story; whats, whys and wherefores, is contained in the linked COC press release. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right composer.
I managed to catch the fourth performance of the COC’s current run of Verdi’s Otello last night. It’s a David Alden production that first aired at ENO and it’s a very dark take on an already dark story. It’s set maybe circa 1900 and the sets are stark but the lighting is dramatic with lots of contrasts and giant moving shadows. The overall Zeitgeist seems to be of a society that has seen too much war; a sort of collective PTSD. This comes over in a number of ways. The scenes that usually lighten things up a bit; the victory celebrations in Act 1, the children and flowers in Act 2, don’t here. In fact they are downright creepy. There’s also a female dancer, used rather as Christopher Alden used Monterone’s daughter in Rigoletto, who clearly doesn’t expect good things from returning soldiers.
Last night at the COC there was a special performance of Puccini’s La Bohème. The cast was made up, for the most part, of current and past Ensemble Studio members and tickets had been made available free to a variety of community groups. It was billed as “Opera for Toronto”. There had also been a small number of tickets available on line on a first come basis and, by the looks of things , a fair number of comps for the cast.
My review of the first performance by the alternate cast of the COC’s current La Bohème is up on Bachtrack.
So May Day greetings and hello again. And here are some things you might care to see this month during your eight hours for “what you will”. It’s a bit belated for reasons previously announced but it’s here and I’m back.
Tonight at Lula Lounge at 7pm Tongue in Cheek productions have Democracy in Action. Several noted singers (Krisztina Szabo, Julie Nesrallah, Natalya Gennadi, Teiya Kasahara, Asitha Tennekoon, Romulo Delgado, Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus) will perform pieces based on audience voting.
Following a decade of declining ticket sales and revenue the Canadian Opera Company has decided that the logical step is to go in search of a new audience. As General Director Alexander Neef puts it “We’ve tried everything in the playbook to build a new audience in Toronto; discounts for seniors, discounts for under 30s, community outreach, the lot and nothing has really worked so the board decided that if the audience won’t come to us, we must go to the audience. So we are moving lock, stock and barrel to Frankfurt. There’s a great audience there, as well as most of our singers. Besides it’s not like we will no longer be accessible to our existing audience. Air Canada has three direct flights per day from Pearson to our new home.”