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Newsflash: CBC Radio to no longer broadcast Canadian Opera Company

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Last Saturday’s CBC radio broadcast of The Tales of Hoffman from the Canadian Opera Company may have been its last (Michael Cooper photo).

Much of the information in this blog post is inaccurate and incomplete. Please refer to an updated post here.

I’ve just heard news that the CBC was unable to reach an agreement with the Canadian Opera Company to broadcast its productions this season. This may extend to all Canadian opera, killing a Saturday radio tradition that goes back to the earliest days of broadcasting in this country.

My source tells me that negotiations for the new season, which also involved ACTRA and the musicians’ union, broke down over money. The CBC was unable to pay the same amount it has over the past two seasons. I’m told the budget had been cut from $100,000 to $70,0000.

That shortfall of $30,000, a tiny fraction of the CBC’s operating budget and the $1 million-plus cost of mounting a mainstage opera, is the chasm that is about to cut off Canadians — and the rest of the world, via the Internet — from being able to hear our own singers and musicians and, until last season, the work of our own composers beyond the audience of a live show.

I have been among thousands of people who looked forward to hearing Saturday-afternoon broadcasts from productions originating in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and other cities during the Metropolitan Opera’s annual summer break.

Last Saturday’s broadcast of The Tales of Hoffman from the Canadian Opera Company’s last season may well have been the last. Broadcasts from Canadian houses represented 16 weeks out of each year’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera programming.

Without any Canadian content, one wonders if there is a viable future for Saturday Afternoon at the Opera in the first place. One also wonders how Canadian voices are going to be heard within their immediate circle of live fans, much less introduced to the audiences of the future.

The Canadian Opera Company spokesperson I contacted was not able to confirm or deny this news. I’ve left messages with COC general director Alexander Neef and with Mark Steinmetz, director of music programming at the CBC, but neither has yet responded.

I’m hoping that this news turns out to be untrue. If it is true, this is the latest — if not most painful — body blow to Canadian fans of classical music and opera since the CBC’s big cuts to classical programming five years ago.

Those of us in the big cities can still continue to enjoy concerts and opera on our stages, if we can afford the tickets. But that is no consolation to the majority of Canadians, who live too far away or who don’t have the means to make it to the performance hall.

John Terauds

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