COC’s GENERAL DIRECTOR TALKS ABOUT PUTTING TORONTO ON THE MAP
Story by Megan Leahy
Photos by Bo Huang (above) and Chris Hutcheson (below)
In June 2008, Alexander Neef was appointed General Director of the Canadian Opera Company (COC). Having worked with some of the most prestigious arts organizations in the world, Neef came to Toronto from a four year stint as The Director of Casting for Opéra national de Paris. Over the past few years, his connections and expertise have helped bring leading international talent to Toronto and, as a result, ensured some of the best COC productions to date.
When prompted to compare COC to international – specifically European – companies, Neef referred first to contrasting funding structures. In Europe, companies receive over 70% of funding from the government and produce about 20 productions a year which translates into 180 performances. In North America, conversely, public funding falls somewhere under 20% and the rest has to be made up in box office sales and donations. This means only seven productions or 65 performances.
If you compare only in terms of North America, however, COC has grown to become the sixth largest producer of opera. Neef points out that not until the company received its own opera house, inaugurated in 2006 in the form of the Four Seasons Centre of the Performing Arts, could COC even compete.
Now the company welcomes approximately 130, 000 audience members every season and about 13,000 annual subscribers. In a release issued last June, COC boasted it closed out the 2011/2012 season with an average attendance of 91%; 42, 216 total single tickets were sold, about 9,777 of which were to people under the age of 30. Without a doubt COC is fulfilling its mandate of introducing the art form to new audiences and increasing opera’s accessibility.
Though it has reached ample success in engaging diverse Canadians, giving us a company to be proud of, perhaps COC’s most important role has been to foster emerging national opera talent. Founded in 1980, the Ensemble Studio consists of six or seven young artists selected from across the country who spend a minimum of one year learning with the COC. Graduating individuals are those who go on to represent Canada in the international opera scene.
The Ensemble Studio is largely funded by COC’s premier fundraising event, Operanation, which just so happens to be tonight. Dressed to impress, over 1, 000 guests will fill the three floors of the Four Seasons Centre, the setting alone guaranteeing a fun party. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Broken Social Scene and Rufus Wainwright, this year Nelly Furtado and The Arkells will perform alongside Ensemble Studio members. Neef is proud to have an event that allows the young opera students to perform the music they have grown up with. By bridging together a range of musical genres, opera quickly loses the undertone of an exclusive art form, but rather one that can and should be enjoyed by all.
You can purchase last minute tickets to Operanation online or call 416-306-2309.