Perryn Leech comes to the COC

I am disoriented. The end of April? Time for taxes, to plant & nurture the garden. And to renew my subscription to the Canadian Opera Company before the end of the month.

But it’s so weird. Normally their new season is announced earlier in the year. They do the “season reveal” in February, teasing us with the names of the operas, pictures of the designs & the casts, to encourage us to renew before May.

But this is not a normal year. It’s been weird for 14 months now. While February 2020 was when we heard the plans for what was then the upcoming season (to open in September 2020 with Parsifal), and when they last staged opera, by March the pandemic began interrupting our lives. The COC would not only cancel Aida and The Flying Dutchman (scheduled for spring 2020) it became clear that we wouldn’t get to see Parsifal after all, nor much of anything else for that matter.

And we also heard that Alexander Neef was leaving, to take up his new post with the Paris Opera.

Alexander Neef (Photo: Gaetz Photography)

I can’t be the only one who is feeling a bit dizzy.

Five months ago subscribers received an email announcing that Perryn Leech was to be the new General Director.

Perryn Leech, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company

Imagine then what it’s like for Mr Leech in his new role. In the past, the changing of the guard wasn’t so abrupt. When Alexander Neef arrived for instance, he took over a company running like clockwork, year after year. The schedule of season announcements & subscription deadlines simply can’t happen now, not when we don’t know when public performances can resume in big theatres.

Normally a big part of the “clockwork” is a complex planning process. The COC must program well in advance to obtain the services of a Tamara Wilson, a Sondra Radvanovsky or a Harry Bicket. But right now, that machinery has stopped at least to the eyes of the public. There may be contingency planning, hypothetical seasons on the drawing board, but it’s not a normal spring.

I am very sympathetic to what Mr Leech is saying in his latest video. Opera can’t be done on an ad hoc basis.

For the fall of 2021? There is no season announced as of yet. How could there be one? One can’t get international talent without committing to them, but the COC and Leech don’t know whether Toronto will have indoor theatre or not. If the COC is able to stage opera at the Four Seasons Centre perhaps full audiences will not be permitted.

Leech faces an amazing challenge. If the COC does have a chance to return in fall 2021 it cannot be the usual international enterprise, at least not to begin the season. It likely won’t be before the fall of 2022 when we will see a real COC season, when the clockwork hopefully resumes its ticking.

I can’t help imagining a season without international stars, a genuine opportunity for the COC to employ Canadians. So you can’t hire anyone to sing Parsifal or Gurnemanz or Kundry? That’s okay, don’t do Parsifal.

There are operas that can be done without a huge investment in imported singers. There are operas foregrounding chorus & orchestra, two of the company’s strengths. Of course it’s also natural that Mr Leech wants to make a good first impression. I don’t envy him right now.

Whatever direction the company goes, it’s going to be an adventure, for him, for us.

This entry was posted in Dance, theatre & musicals, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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