The waiting is over. The COC has announced the successor to Alexander Neef and it’s Perryn Leech who currently runs Houston Grand Opera. I think there’s a lot to like in this appointment. Leech is a guy who has done a lot in his career and I like that he comes from a technical background; in lighting as it happens. I would worry that someone from a stage direction background would want to hog that aspect of opera production. After all, it’s happened before at the COC. A conductor background would be redundant given we have an excellent music director. And the last thing we need is a business person with no real passion for opera.
I’m quite disturbed by some of the things I’ve been reading in the wake of Alexander Neef’s departure from the COC. Much of it seems driven by a kind of cultural chauvinism that I find as unpalatable as other kinds of chauvinism. There’s an underlying (or not so underlying) assumption that a Canadian GD would have looked out for the COC while Neef was just looking out for himself. I have two problems with this. One is the rather obvious point that if you hire someone who is on a career trajectory they are going to devote some time and energy to their career. It doesn’t mean they won’t get the job done for you (and likely better than a mediocrity) because if they don’t that career trajectory will disappear rather rapidly. ny organization hiring a high flyer knows this..
A couple of days ago Joseph So interviewed Alexander Neef about various aspects of the current situation in a session organised by the IRCPA. Inevitably and appropriately it focussed heavily on the challenges facing performers; especially those at the beginning of their careers, but there were a couple or three things not related to that that really caught my attention.
The first was around the theme of “what does the opera world look like if and when we get back in the theatre?” One part of this question that really wasn’t addressed was “will it be the same audience?” Given the demographics of the current viral epidemic I really wonder whether the oldest section of the audience will come back; at least in the short/medium term. Which is probably linked to a question that was addressed which was “will the financial impact of the crisis make companies program more conservatively?” Alexander handled this pretty diplomatically (surprise!) by answering (more or less) “if we don’t make art, we cease to have a purpose” and saying there was a limit to how many times one could program standard rep, though to be honest I’ve never detected any such limit at the COC. My guess is that we see an intensification of the trend already apparent under the pressure of long term decline in ticket sales. That’s to say one or two marquee productions a season buttressed with unchallenging revivals of the Operabase top 20 but we shall see. That’s been a formula that has, by and large, appealed to the traditional audience but if (big if) future audiences skew younger it may merely make things worse.
Tomorrow at 3pm EST Jo So is interviewing Alexander Neef on a Zoom channel under the auspices of the IRCPA. You need to register as space is limited. The topics, how to register etc can be found at https://ircpa.net
On Friday May 29th at 8pm EST there’s another virtual event. The vocal/piano du Chordless (Allegra Chapman and Sarah LeMesh) will be premiering a music video of George Crumb’s The Night in Silence Under Many a Star. I’ve seen a short preview and I’m intrigued. It will be followed by a Q&A on the theme of “How will digital media shape artists’ and audience’s performance experience, even beyond the pandemic era?” Registration information is here
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.
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.”
The Canadian Opera Company released its annual report and accounts for 2016/17 last night. The big news was the extension of General Director Alexander Neef’s tenure to the end of the 2025/26 season. The financial news was basically “same old same old”. Ticket sales once again showed a small decline which was compensated for by record fundraising performance to yield, essentially, a break even.
The Christina and Louis Quilico Awards are a singing competition for members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. This year’s edition took place early yesterday evening in the RBA. Only five members of the Ensemble Studio were competing. Megan Quick and Sam Pickett were not for reasons that I don’t think were announced and Aaron Sheppard was sick. So it was a pretty brief affair. The format as usual was that each contestant offered three arias and got to sing the one of their choice with the judges choosing which of the other two they should sing.
Observers of the Toronto opera scene will have noted the creeping influence of facial hair in the industry locally. Perhaps it didn’t start with COC General Director Alexander Neef’s intellectually Germanic goatee but who could deny that it had a profound impact. Earlier this week the four tenors of the Ensemble Studio appeared together sporting face rugs in varying stages of development and the scene is replete with other notable beardies. Geoff Sirett, Robert Gleadow, Greg Finney and Alexander Dobson come to mind. It’s almost compulsory, it seems, for baritones. Continue reading
It’s the logical follow up to Alexander Neef’s speech on the opening night of The Marriage of Figaro run. The COC has announced the creation of Opera Access for New Canadians, a community outreach and engagement initiative. It will offer newcomers to Canada, including immigrants and refugees, and new Canadian citizens access to dress rehearsals and selected performances. The first phase begins this spring with the COC joining the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s Cultural Access Pass (CAP) program, which offers new Canadian citizens one year of complimentary admission to more than 1,200 cultural attractions across the country. (There are 1,200 cultural attractions in Canada, who knew?) Continue reading