The Origins of the COC
In November 1950 the Opera Festival Association was incorporated to sponsor the annual presentations of the company and, by assuming all administrative and financial responsibility for the productions, to absolve the Royal Conservatory of Music of direct costs while providing an opportunity for the school's students and staff to exercise their talents. Geiger-Torel, stage director and producer, was named artistic director in 1956 and Goldschmidt remained music director until 1957. Ernesto Barbini had begun his long association as a conductor with the COC when he joined the RCM staff in 1953. With the 1955 season the Opera Festival Association began to mount its own productions under the name Opera Festival Company of Toronto. Casting and preparation were independent of the RCM and personnel were hired under contract.
After a successful fall season of operetta in 1957 the main season was shifted to the fall, where it remained for many years (locked there 1968-76 by the availability of the Toronto Symphony [TS]). Ettore Mazzoleni, director of the Opera School 1952-66, was artistic director 1953-4, managing director 1954-5, and general director 1955-6 of the Festival; in 1956 the last official links with the school were broken. Although the increased use of professional casts and the limiting of the season to the fall precluded Opera School participation on more than a supportive basis, the COC continued to use the school's facilities and to co-operate until 1976, through mutual employment agreements with the school, in ensuring the year-round availability to both organizations of competent stage directors.
Adoption of Name; Support Organizations
During 1958, with the beginning of the first tours, the name Canadian Opera Company came into use and remained the popular and operative name of the organization. The appointment in 1959 of Geiger-Torel as general director and Barbini as music adviser preceded the letters patent of 20 Sep 1960 that changed the old name (Opera Festival Association of Toronto) to The Canadian Opera Association. This remained the legal title until 1977, when Canadian Opera Company was adopted.
Ancillary to the COC but important as supporting organizations have been the Canadian Opera Company Women's Committee, which originated in the Opera and Concert Committee of the RCM, founded in 1947 with Mrs Floyd Chalmers as its first president; and the Canadian Opera Guild, formed by Vida Peene in 1959. The Guild began to publish Opera Canada in 1960.
In 1977, under Mansouri, the COC decided to spread its opera productions throughout the year instead of giving them all in a fall season. Since the TS, because of its heavy concert commitments, could reserve only September for the COC, continued collaboration became impractical under the new system, and the COC began working with its own orchestra. A transitional step toward the new schedule was the presentation of two spring seasons at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (1978 and 1979). Beginning in 1979-80, performances were given in three periods - fall, winter, and spring.
COC Ensemble and Composers-in-Residence
Development of Surtitles
Brian Dickie, former general administrator of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, succeeded Mansouri in 1989. With the declared intention of placing emphasis on musical standards, Dickie re-organized the COC's administration to include a music department and appointed Richard Bradshaw as permanent conductor. Dickie left the company in November 1993, and Bradshaw was appointed in January 1994 as artistic and musical director. Elaine Calder was made general manager, but in 1998 the administration returned to a single administrative head when Bradshaw was made general director. After Bradshaw's sudden death in August 2007, Alexander Neef (b Germany) became general director in 2008, and Johannes Debus (b Germany 1974) was made music director in January 2009.
By 2004 the COC had given about 1,900 performances of 122 different operas by the main company in Toronto and approximately 1,650 performances by the touring company. Although the COC repertoire has leaned heavily on standard works, such as La Bohème (13 productions up to 2004), Madama Butterfly (14 productions), The Barber of Seville (9 productions), and Rigoletto (11 productions), it also has staged less-heard works, such as Boris Godunov (1974, 1986, 2002), Don Carlos in the original French (1977, 1988), Billy Budd (2001), Death in Venice (1984), Wozzeck (1977, 1990), Lulu (1980, 1991), Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites (1986, 1997), Janáček's The Makropulos Case (1989) and The Cunning Little Vixen (1998), Henze's Venus und Adonis (2001), Schoenberg's Erwartung (1993, 1995, 2001), Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (1997, 2002), and John Adams' Nixon in China (2011). In September 2006 the company successfully mounted the first full Canadian productions of Wagner's The Ring Cycle, the first time the cycle had been heard in Canada since it was sung in 1914 by a visiting English company.
Operas Composed by Canadians
The COC performed Willan's Deirdre in 1966 and has commissioned operas by Canadian composers, including Harry Somers' critically acclaimed Louis Riel (performed 1967, 1968, 1975) and Mario and the Magician (1992); Raymond Pannell's The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1967); Charles Wilson's Heloise and Abelard (1973); and Randolph Peters' The Golden Ass (1999).
The COC Ensemble
From its inception the COC Ensemble proved to be a valuable training ground for many of Canada's leading young singers, including Theodore Baerg, Kimberly Barber, Odette Beaupré, Peter Blanchet, Alain Coulombe, Michael Colvin, John Fanning, Joanne Kolomyjec, Gaétan Laperrière, Linda Maguire, Brian McIntosh, Robert Milne, Wendy Nielsen, Mark Pedrotti, Gabrielle Prata, Christiane Riel, Janet Stubbs, Krisztina Szabó, Patrick Timney, Frédérique Vézina, and Irena Welhasch-Baerg.
Leading singers from outside of Canada who have sung with the COC include Martina Arroyo, Ingrid Bjoner, Richard Cassilly, David Daniels, Marilyn Horne, Siegfried Jerusalem, James McCracken, Johanna Meier, Marina Mescheriakova, Regina Resnik, Neil Shicoff, Elisabeth Söderström, Joan Sutherland, Tatiana Troyanos, Carol Vaness, and Astrid Varnay.
Conductors and Directors
Among Canadian conductors frequently engaged by the COC (besides resident conductors Barbini, Goldschmidt, and Bradshaw) have been Derek Bate, Mario Bernardi, James Craig, Victor Feldbrill, and Ettore Mazzoleni. Conductors from abroad have included Heinrich Bender, Richard Bonynge, Leopold Hager, Kenneth Montgomery, Nicola Rescigno, Julius Rudel, and Walter Susskind (when he was conductor of the Toronto Symphony). John Fenwick, Errol Gay, and Timothy Vernon have conducted many touring and COC Ensemble productions.
The company's stage directors have included Geiger-Torel (34 different operas), Mansouri (42 different operas), Carlos Alexander, Robert Carsen, John Copley, Peter Ebert, Atom Egoyan, Anne Ewers, Constance Fisher, François Girard, Colin Graham, Irving Guttman, Robert Lepage, Leon Major, Mavor Moore, Nicholas Muni, and Robin Phillips.
Among its designers have been Hans Berends, Murray Laufer, Michael Levine, Lawrence Schafer, and Wolfram Skalicki (sets), Marie Day, Warren Hartman, Suzanne Mess, Amrei Skalicki, and Michael Stennett (costumes), and Wallace Russell and Michael Whitfield (lighting).
In 1974 Joan Baillie (d 1997) founded the COC archives, which were named in her honour in 1988. Christopher Morris was assistant archivist 1988-90 and became the archivist and resource centre supervisor in 1990. Birthe Joergensen became the archivist in 1995.
Administration and Budget
The growth in the COC's season and repertoire has been accompanied by a corresponding growth in the company's annual budget. In the 10-year period 1980-90 the budget rose from $3.6 million to $14.6 million, the funds assembled from production revenue (40 per cent), federal, provincial and municipal grants (30 per cent), and fundraising (30 per cent). The company enjoyed four surpluses in a row in the early 2000s. In 2005-6, box office revenues were $8,919,000 and attendance was 92 per cent of capacity; box office receipts provided 40 per cent of total revenues, fundraising 34 per cent, and government only 22 per cent.
In April 2003 the company broke ground for a new theatre in Toronto - the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - which opened in June 2006. Box office revenues alone for the 2006-7 season shot up to $16.9 million. The company continued to draw crowds in 2009-10. A number of sold-out productions, including Madama Butterfly and Robert Lepage's acclaimed The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, resulted in an average attendance of 97.6 per cent and individual ticket sales numbering more than 51,000. It was the highest number of tickets sold in the company's history.
The COC's administration has evolved to meet the needs of the company's operations, growing from seven full-time staff in 1960. In 2004 the company engaged about 120 people in all branches of its administrative and artistic operation, in addition to 55 permanently contracted members of the orchestra. There were seven departments: executive; artistic (including music, archives, and the Ensemble); production (including the scene shop); development; finance and administration; marketing; and public relations.
Author Carl Morey, Christopher Morris
Reviews in Canadian Music Journal by William Krehm (vol 1, Spring 1957; vol 2, Winter 1958; vol 3, Winter 1959; vol 4, Summer 1960) and John Kraglund (vol 5, Winter 1961)
Hecht, Maurice. "Building a business in opera - Toronto," Executive, Oct 1959
Mercer, Ruby. "Canadians like opera," Music Across Canada, vol 1, May 1963
McNiven, Elina. "History of the Canadian Opera Company," Opera Canada, Sep 1965
Geiger-Torel, H. "The director," and Winters, Kenneth. "The critic," Toronto Telegram, 10 Sep 1966
"Canadian Opera Company tours looking back: 1958-1968," Opera Canada, Sep 1968
McPherson, Jim. "Please Mr. G-T can you do one for opera lovers," Toronto Telegram, 7 Sep 1968
Carson, Neil. "The Canadian Opera Company's 20th anniversary," Commentator, vol 12, Oct 1968
Potvin, Gilles. "Seule une formule régionale rendrait ici l'opéra viable," Montreal La Presse, 26 Oct 1968
Winters, Kenneth. "In defence of opera," Toronto Telegram, 4 Oct 1969
McPherson, Jim. "Did you see... ?" Toronto Telegram, 12 Oct 1969
Morey, Carl. "The Canadian Opera Company," Performing Arts in Canada, vol 8, Winter 1971
Kraglund, John. Reviews in "Canadian chronicles: Ontario," Canada Music Book, Autumn-Winter 1971-4
Smith, P.J. "The Canadian Opera Company," High Fidelity/Musical America, vol 22, Feb 1972
Mercer, Ruby. "The Canadian Opera Company: a 150-year history," Opera Canada, Fall 1973
Geiger-Torel, H. "Toronto's Opera School and Opera Company," Opera Journal, vol 6, Sep 1973
Rey, Anne. "Vingt-cinq ans d'art lyrique à Toronto - les super-stars sont pour demain," Le Monde, 5 Oct 1973
Geiger-Torel, H. "Canada an operatic desert," German-Canadian Yearbook, vol 2 (Toronto 1975)
Remembered Moments of the Canadian Opera Company 1950-1975 (Toronto 1976)
Schulman, Michael. "Rescue fund bailing out sinking COC," Performing Arts in Canada, vol 13, Fall 1976
McVicar, William. "The COC on the road," Toronto Globe and Mail, 12 Feb 1977
Mansouri, Lotfi. "A 'first' in Canada: the story of the launching of the new Canadian Opera Company Ensemble," Opera Canada, Summer 1980
Mansouri, Lotfi. An Operatic Life (Toronto 1982)
Littler, William. "Ensemble's opera house is any place with an audience," Toronto Star, 22 May 1982
Bullock, Helen. "Budding divas bring new life to opera," Toronto Star, 20 Jul 1982
Baillie, Joan Parkhill. Look at the Record: An Album of Toronto's Lyric Theatres, 1825-1984 (Oakville 1985)
Menzies, Diane. "Man with a musical mission," Toronto Globe and Mail, 3 Jan 1985
Littler, William. "Why we need a new opera house," Toronto Star, 19 Apr 1986
Kraglund, John. "Forty years of opera in Toronto," Opera Canada, vol 28, Fall 1987
Kentridge, Catherine. "Making opera, Canadian style," Opera Monthly, Aug 1988
Everett-Green, Robert. "Setting the stage for Metropolitan Opera North," Toronto Globe and Mail, 24 Jun 1989
Littler, William. "Building for the future," Toronto Star, 20 Jan 1990
"Canadian Opera Company 40th anniversary," Toronto Globe and Mail supplement, 9 Nov 1990
Knelman, Martin. "Exit, stage left," Toronto Life, April 1994
Schabas, Ezra, and Morey, Carl. Opera Viva: The Canadian Opera Company: The First Fifty Years (Toronto 2000)
Hannon, Gerald. "Super conductor," Toronto Life, May 2004
Canadian Opera Company. Four handbooks: Canadian Opera Company 1950-1974, 1950-1975, 1950-1976, 1950-1977 (Toronto 1974-7)
Opera Canada 1960-
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Music Centre
Search the extensive CMC website for Canadian composer biographies and interviews, music scores, online newsletters, audio clips, podcasts, and more. Check out "CentreStreams" to listen to online archived recordings featuring outstanding Canadian composers.
Canadian Opera Company
The Canadian Opera Company website. Features current news and performance schedules, profiles of the COC's general director and other members of the company, music excerpts, educational resources, and much more.
Canadian Children's Opera Company
The website for the Canadian Children's Opera Company, an organization devoted to developing and producing opera for children. Their website features a performance calendar, program information, artistic bios, and more.
A profile of Ruby Mercer, founder of “Opera Canada” magazine. From “La Scena Musicale.”
A R I A S: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund
This site offers the latest news and information about programs developed by A R I A S: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund, a non-profit volunteer organization supporting Canada's opera community and opera singers in training.
The website for critically acclaimed Canadian baritone Peter Barcza. Features a biography, repertoire, audio clip, and more.
History of Opera Performance in Canada
An illustrated history of opera performance in Canada. From the Virtual Gramophone website.
Opera.ca is the voice of opera in Canada. Check their website for news about recent programs, and events of interest to Canada’s opera community. See also Opera.ca's regular e-newsletter “High Notes!” and links to Canada's major professional opera and music theatre companies.
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
A fact sheet for the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, the permanent home of the Canadian Opera Company and the performance venue for the National Ballet of Canada. Check out the image gallery for a virtual tour of the facility.
Remembering Richard Bradshaw
Personal recollections about working with Richard Bradshaw. Written by Robert Pomakov (bass, Canadian Opera Company). From the website for La Scena Musicale.
Richard Bradshaw of Canadian Opera Company dies at 63
A CBC obituary for Richard Bradshaw, former General Director of the Canadian Opera Company.
COC names German-born Alexander Neef as general director
A 2008 CBC article about the appointment of Alexander Neef to the position of general director of the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto.
Opera Viva: The Canadian Opera Company The First Fifty Years
See illustrated excerpts from a book that chronicles the history of the prestigious Canadian Opera Company as well as the blossoming of the Canadian cultural scene in the second half of the twentieth century. From Google Books.
Opera in Canada: A conversation
This discussion with Linda Hutcheon and George Elliott Clarke explores ways in which opera in Canada has been striving to become more accessible and attract new audiences. From the “Journal of Canadian Studies.”
Glossary: Operatic Terms
A glossary of terms associated with opera performance. From the website for the Manitoba Opera.
A Diamond Anniversary Celebration - Ben Heppner in Concert
An announcement of a concert featuring Ben Heppner in celebration of the Canadian Opera Company's Diamond Anniversary. From the Canadian Opera Company.
Rubes paid a price to bring opera to Canada
An article about Jan Rubes' pivotal role in establishing professional opera in Canada. From thestar.com.
The Nightingale and Other Fables
A 2009 review of Robert Lepage's production of "The Nightingale and Other Short Fables." From La Scena Musicale.
Dora theatre award nominees named in Toronto
A CBC News story that highlights the 2010 Dora theatre award nominees.
This site is dedicated to the Toronto theatre scene. Scroll down the page for reviews and interviews with many of Toronto's theatrical luminaries.
Lepage's Nightingale wows France
A CBC News story about the rave reviews for Robert Lepage's production of "The Nightingale and Other Fables" in Toronto and at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in France.
International Resource Centre For Performing Artists
Check out the International Resource Centre For Performing Artists for the latest news and programs from this innovative cultural organization.
The Canadian Opera Company is born
Listen to a 1950 CBC Radio broadcast featuring interviews with noteworthy personalities in Canada's opera community.
Canadian Opera Company renews music director Johannes Debus’ contract
A news story about Johannes Debus, music director of the Canadian Opera Company. From thestar.com.
The website for internationally renowned soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Listen to audio clips from selected recordings. Also, click on "Press" for links to related reviews and interviews.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...