Is he really gone? Alexander Neef may be in Europe with the Paris Opera but it was already a promiscuous relationship, this General Directorship of the COC. Neef was working for his Toronto audience while at the same time taking on the role of Artistic Director of Santa Fe Opera.
People work from home during the pandemic. Here I am, musing at home all by myself, as I wonder: does Neef even need to be in Toronto to lead the COC? Hmm I wonder. At some point in the next few years he may finally be gone. I wonder when the Alexander Neef era will actually end.
Recently I’ve seen two fascinating pieces about Alexander Neef & the Canadian Opera Company.
I’m not sure which one I like better, but want to be honest in recognizing how much I like both pieces, and how they trigger my own thoughts.
I have been on both sides with Neef. I have been very supportive applauding many of his choices, wonderful shows & brilliant casts: yet I have been a persistent nag with the nationalist question for years. However Canadian our Canadian Opera Company might be, I think at this time of financial hardship in ALL artistic disciplines, one might legitimately compare them, asking what right the COC has to government support if they keep importing stars from abroad. The Canada Council is to support Canadian artists, not to fund luxuries: by which I mean the imports we can’t afford at a time like this.
“Yes we can” might be the answer to a question that has not even been articulated in the realm of the Canadian Opera Company as part of this question: what comes next. It’s vitally important to consider a few parallel organizations who actually believe that a Canadian could lead them, the ones I display as examples in this blog. Are we still a mere colony, foolish children requiring the parental guidance of Europeans to teach us about a culture that we don’t understand or appreciate?
Or to reframe this around the headline, admittedly borrowed from Barack Obama’s election campaign, are there doubters who think we must hire a European or an American to lead the COC?
Exhibit “A”: The National Ballet of Canada and Karen Kain. Fiscally healthy, led by a Canadian, coming to the end of her tenure.
Exhibit “B”: The Stratford Festival and Antoni Cimolino, led by a Canadian.
Exhibit “C”: Pacific Opera Victoria & Tim Vernon born in Vancouver.
Exhibit “D”: Vancouver Opera & Tom Wright, born in north Vancouver
Exhibit “E”: Opera de Montreal & Patrick Corrigan (Montreal born) & Michel Beaulac (Montreal born)
Exhibit “F”: The Canadian Opera Company, General Director: Alexander Neef. Who will succeed him?
Let me recount some of my favorite Neef moments
• Semele, especially the self-righteous puzzlement in some quarters.
• Wajdi Mouawad’s Abduction from the Seraglio & Peter Hinton’s Louis Riel: revisiting or even redeeming problematic operas.
• Those three Ring operas in consecutive winter seasons, especially the tenors singing the role of Siegfried.
• Cenerentola especially Lawrence Brownlee.
• Ariadne with Jane Archibald & Adrienne Pieczonka.
• Rusalka and Anna Bolena: two wonderful productions showcasing Sondra Radvanovky.
The bar has been raised higher under Neef’s leadership, the orchestra led by Johannes Debus sounding wonderful.
But if there were ever a time to consider this question it’s right now: when financial considerations loom large, when modest prudent steps are needed. Parsifal will wait. Expensive productions must be put off until the COC is able to afford them.