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 occurences, 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!