Before having dinner with a friend last night (August 22, 2012), he handed me a copy of the August issue of Opera News. While he knows that I am not a voracious reader of most industry publications, he said “A lot of your friends are in this issue; just glance through it.” Well, glance through it I did. I delighted in reading about friends/colleagues who have done well, and will continue to do so in the out-years. I have worked with most of them…being a grizzly old veteran now. But I also privately chuckled at the fact that I ‘called’ many of the profiles well before the feature, Opera’s Next Wave. In some cases, years before, in both private journals and at the current davidcangelosi.com.
As an amateur/arm-chair writer, readers have been perusing my public blog for the last few years…for that is only as long as it has existed. In it, I sometimes ‘review’ opera, symphony, or concert performances that I have witnessed; I muse about professional experiences, inner personal thoughts, and the like. I have also done editorial commentary on interesting things I have witnessed back-stage, or done the occasional profile (as I see it) on up-and-coming companies. Therefore, you can only imagine how elated I was to read the profile on Alexander Neef, General Director of Canadian Opera Company (COC); because as you will soon see, I made this ‘call’ quite some time ago. Furthermore, I have loved the writing/interviewing/reviewing styles of F. Paul Driscoll (having been interviewed by him personally), and Brian Kellow of Opera News. They are fair, get to the facts, and are both descriptive and concise. But I simply cannot resist the urge to reprint my own assessment of COC and Mr. Neef that I had written in January of 2012. Needless to say, hardly anyone–by comparison–reads my commentary as they do that of Opera News; but it is nice for me to know that I am, more often than not, “ahead of the curve!!!” (Compare the two profiles side by side, just for fun…astute minds think alike!!!)
PUBLISHED: January 3, 2012
COC: The most interesting Opera Company in North America???
During a recent industry related conversation, one of opera’s most informed insiders intimated to me that Canadian Opera Company (COC) would, “in five years’ time, become the most interesting (opera) house in North America.” While it is not likely for me to question the authority of this source, I found the words of Ronald Reagan (politics aside) ringing in my head…”Trust, but verify”. Our late President used this phrase often as he dealt with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, with regard to the INF Treaty of 1987. And if it was good enough for him (btw, Lenin used it too!), it was good enough for me to keep in the back of my mind.
It didn’t take too long, however, for me to realize that COC was/is at it’s core a most intriguing organization. While hardly in its true infancy at over 60 years old, respectively; COC feels young. They rehearse and administrate from a daring facility that has seen as it’s former lives (late 19th and early 20th century), a Textile Mill, a Gas/Oil concern, and a Maraschino Cherry factory; but converted–via technical and structural build-out–to a full fledged operatic operations center. Its red brick walls, giant maroon shutters, wooden/bolted ceiling trusses, and large warehouse windows are perfect host companions to this art-form of all art-forms; as we rehearse the more classic Tosca juxtaposed against a far more contemporary Love from Afar (L’amour de loin).
The staff and administration (headed by Alexander Neef–General Director, now only in his late 30’s, and Johannes Debus–Music Director, mid 30’s) are vibrant, but also unusually experienced on an international scale. Filling the shoes of the likes of Lotfi Mansouri, Brian Dickie, and Richard Bradshaw cannot be easy (the latter in particular); therefore a company of this stature, with a very new performing arts center, and a loyal audience, for certain, needs forward thinking and energetic personnel. This characteristic doesn’t begin and end with the front office, however. My recent costume fitting was as thorough and creative as any I have experienced at the famed Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera, San Francisco Opera, or Lyric Opera of Chicago (just to name a few respected venues with whom I have had multiple experiences), the stage management seems prepared for all occurrences, the company employs a female chorus master (something you do NOT see everyday in this business), while the Artistic Administrator(s) are forever “putting out fires” (something you DO see everyday in this business!!).
The artistic planning is both bold and traditional…a high-wire that every opera company must walk with special care these days. While taking the economy into account, attempting to broaden their gallery, and still appeal to the press; outreach is a priority, and so is energy and innovation. What else would one expect from the first opera company to employ the use of supertitles for the benefit of their audience??…and that was almost 30 years ago!!!
“The most interesting (opera) house in North America?” We shall see; but don’t be surprised…the source I mentioned in the first sentence of this posting has rarely been wrong. So I will trust for now, and verify later!
*For the sake of full disclosure, I have worked at COC once, and will return for a new production of Die Fledermaus just days from now. I have only a business, respectably distanced, relationship with Mr. Neef and COC.*