My Canadian Opera Company ticket subscription arrived in the mail today. I was never in doubt about renewing the tickets, still starry eyed by the new building and the overall quality of what we’ve been getting.
Even so—I tell myself—it’s worth remembering that a subscription is like a contract with the open-ended possibility of renewal. I pay the COC. This buys seats for each show on a particular night, and also preserve those seats for my renewal in the years to come. If I’m feeling particularly positive at renewal time I can also throw in an extra contribution to the COC.
In exchange? The minimum is that I get a series of operas. On those nights I will get to watch the company that I’ve come to know, including members of the orchestra, ensemble and soloists.
But speaking of contracts, the COC have another contract to add to the list. Yes, they have the contract with each of us, that unspoken promise to be better every year. We renew our tickets, and we wait, not just because we read the brochure starry-eyed and eager. I think of Richard Bradshaw’s wonderful ambition that he once expressed –sorry I don’t know where—to make the COC the best theatre in Toronto. It’s compelling because it’s such a simple idea, and particularly marvellous coming from a conductor.
One reason so many of us are devoted to the COC is because we’ve watched the company aim for that target –being not just a good opera company but the best theatrical experience in the city—and sometimes succeed.
And so the footnote announced a few weeks ago, is just another in the series of contracts, promises that have been made and hopefully shall be kept.
In the wake of Richard Bradshaw’s untimely death in 2007, Alexander Neef became general director the next year. August 15th is a little over a week from now, the fifth anniversary of Bradshaw’s passing. I am amazed at how fast the time has flown. I remember chatting briefly with him in the lobby a couple of times, memories I treasure.
Neef? While Bradshaw died five years ago, Neef was only able to show his true colours in the last few years, given that the COC stayed on Bradshaw’s creative trajectory for at least two years (for example, the COC’s splendid production of Prokofiev’s War & Peace in 2008 was still really a product of Bradshaw’s company, not Neef’s). We’ve seen better casting, fascinating productions from famous directors, and yes, controversy.
I say bring it on.
The announcement I am speaking of is the extension of Neef’s contract through the 2020-21 season. It’s far enough in the future that I can sleep a little better.
There are, broadly speaking, two separate pathways to appreciate opera, and since I am suggesting there are only two paths of course this will oversimplify even more outrageously than, say, Boito adapting Shakespeare. But here goes.
One is based on individual virtuosity, and the awareness of those heroic individuals. Opera to them is an assemblage of talent ascending to high notes, to say nothing of the many skills in several disciplines, so many shining moments. On this side you might find the folks who brava, bravo and bravi, and I believe this is where fans come for specific arias, a favourite singer, and a tune they will even hum in the washroom.
The other road is more dramaturgical, bookish and scholarly, a series of stories set by great composers, adaptations, seasons to commemorate the Wagner & Verdi bicentennials, perhaps more a matter for those who woot for what they like. Once upon a time I felt that if it wasn’t a bravo it was disrespectful, but I’ve come to believe that all enthusiasm is sacred.
So in other words I probably sound like a conservative twit no matter which side of the fence I might sit on. But that’s just it. Opera is a form constructed of two things:
- our devotion to stardom and our love of a story
- our favourite aria and the scene it appears in
- a series of moments, that may or may not cohere into a wonderful evening
I feel Neef is taking care of both groups, speaking as someone who is appropriately schizophrenic, unable to decide whether I prefer to say I love stars or star vehicles. How about both? Neef has been getting us better and better singers, showcased in a fascinating array of operas.
And I feel happy that Neef’s contract was extended, as the evidence of my own extended contract arrived in the mail, namely my tickets. It’s not sacred like a marriage, but even so, this is another contract based on love. I don’t see the romance cooling anytime soon.