There may not be any new homegrown operas on the Canadian Opera Company’s 2012-13 season, but general director Alexander Neef has made sure to give prominent roles to Canadian singers.
In his fourth season announcement, Neef proved yet again his commitment to local talent. But, in his case, this is more than a token gesture. Neef, who arrived with an international rolodex that would put the majority of other North American opera producers to shame, chooses Canadians for lead roles because they happen to be the finest singers available for them.
Nor is Neef relying on tried-and-true fits between artist and role. In four instances, Canadian singers are débuting new starring roles in next season’s seven productions:
-Russell Braun sings his first Conte di Luna in the season-opening Il Trovatore, by Giuseppe Verdi (Ramón Vargas is also marking his début as Manrico);
-Michael Schade sings his first Eisenstein in a brand-new COC production of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, designed by Allen Moyer and directed by Christopher Alden,which runs in rep with Il Trovatore;
-Richard Margison débuts the role of Herod in an updated version of Atom Egoyan’s production of Richard Strauss’s Salome, in April, 2013;
-Adrianne Pieczonka tries her first Madame Lidoine in Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites in May, 2013.
It’s a safe season, but not run-of-the-mill. You can get all the details, including a video of the whole season announcement here.
As for new Canadian opera, Neef said that the company is continuing to work with a number of different librettists and composers. In conversation before the start of the press conference, Neef repeated his desire to only present new works that can meet the high standards of the company’s overall season, that he refuses to put timelines and deadlines on this sort of creative work, and is as eager as anyone else to see one or more collaborations succeed.
Neef pointed out how one of the many hurdles composers and librettists have to overcome is the intimidation factor of working with a large company.
“They feel that they somehow have to please me or (music director) Johannes (Debus),” Neef explained. “It’s not about what I like or what Johannes likes. It’s about getting the audience’s attention and holding it.”
Neef believes that it’s wrong for management to meddle in the creative process, that the composer and librettist need to do their work in peace.
“There’s a huge element of trust in that,” he said. “It takes a while to establish that, as well, so everyone can be comfortable.”
One composer with whom Neef clearly is comfortable is Toronto’s Dean Burry, whose Brothers Grimm is one of two opera’s the company has scheduled for its school tours next season. In the process, Brothers Grimm, commissioned by the company in 1998 (under former general director Richard Bradshaw), will mark its 500th performance, and seal its status as the most popular Canadian opera of all time.