Six years since Richard Bradshaw

It was August 15, 2007.  I recall hearing the news that Richard Bradshaw had died.

The Canadian Opera Company now have a resident conductor & a general director. Johannes Debus conducts the COC Orchestra & Alexander Neef is the canny executive managing the company’s operations.  Those two men now do what Bradshaw expected to do alone (admittedly with all sorts of discreet help in the background).  Bradshaw conducted at least a few operas each season.  And he somehow organized the activities of the company.

Richard Bradshaw, general director of the Canadian Opera Company, built an international reputation for the COC. (Michael Cooper/COC)

I was not surprised when I heard that he’d had a heart attack.  I’d wondered about his health.  Bradshaw was a hard worker, apparently tireless, but hearing that he’d died of a heart attack was sad news indeed.

I’d met him precisely once.  I’d walked up to him in the lobby of the O’Keefe Centre (or whatever it was called: as it’s had several names), noticing that he was not as usual surrounded by admirers.  I congratulated him for his Pelléas et Mélisande, meaning his conducting.  I told him that I found it wonderfully bold and  (I suspected) authentic in its crisp tempi.  He was very polite, giving me enough time to express myself.

But I noticed that even in the lobby for an opera conducted by someone else, he was working.  I felt badly, that even in a friendly  I  chat I was making him work.

I recall his unpretentious comments at one of the “Opera Exchange” conferences, when he declared his conducting philosophy, his unwillingness to let the music drag, especially in Wagner.  While the majority (if not all) of the available recordings of Wagner operas are slower than Bradshaw’s tempi, from what I’ve read I’ve come to believe his brisk tempi were authentic.

I recall reading that Bradshaw sought to stage the best theatre in Toronto with the COC.  I’ve always been impressed by this brave and ambitious goal.  And many times they pulled it off in a very competitive theatre city.

R. Fraser Elliott Hall in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Tim Griffith © 2006

The great achievement of his era is surely the Four Seasons Centre, a wonderful home for the COC, christened by the first COC Ring Cycle.  I’ve heard the home field of the Seattle Seahawks called the 12th man, as though the supportive crowd were players; the Four Seasons Centre is something like that in opera, changing the nature of the game.  Singers are cast in parts for which they’d be over-parted in a bigger house: and they manage to pull it off.  The orchestra sounds wonderful, yet singers come through clearly. The space feels intimate, without a bad seat anywhere. What more could an opera fan want?

As I said, it’s the achievement of his era, a team-effort, not his creation, yet it feels so unfair that he only enjoyed one brief season in that amazing space. The COC is a very different company in the six years since. I’m sorry Bradshaw didn’t get to see the COC’s growing profile in the city & indeed on the continent.

He would have been proud.

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