COC general director Alexander Neef

(UPDATED) The Canadian Opera Company this morning confirmed that its productions will not be broadcast by CBC Radio this season. The details are, however, considerably different than what I posted here yesterday.

The COC wrote this in a press release:

“The Canadian Opera Company is disappointed to announce that, after four months of negotiations, the company’s offer to the membership of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association and the Toronto Musicians Association has been rejected.  An agreement would have allowed the COC to continue to produce, in partnership with the CBC, broadcasts of the COC’s entire 2012/2013 season on CBC Radio 2 and Radio-Canada’s Espace Musique.  These broadcasts have been in place since the fall of 2009.”

In the release, COC general director Alexander Neef stated that, “It is very unfortunate that we were unable to come to an agreement with the unions in order to allow the CBC to broadcast our season as we have for the past three years. The broadcasts were extremely important to the future of opera in this country, and the COC has tried very hard to broker this arrangement because we felt so strongly about it.  I am personally very disappointed, but we simply were unable to meet the financial expectations of the performers and musicians.”


Canadian Actors’ Equity Association issued its own press release in conjunction with ACTRA to denounce the COC’s press release. In it, the unions that represent performers and the orchestra stated that”

“We had already all agreed to a significant reduction from the appropriately negotiated rates in order to facilitate these broadcasts in the past and then we received a letter from Alexander Neef asking for a further reduction of 1/3 on the already reduced rates.

“After much discussion amongst ourselves and consultation with our respective memberships, we were unable to agree to drop the fees that low” says Canadian Actors’ Equity Executive Director, Arden R. Ryshpan.

“The reductions requested by the COC were unacceptable for the members of the orchestra” says Jim Biros, Executive Director of the Toronto Musicians Association. “We have gone as far as we can go to accommodate the demands of the COC but this last request just went too far. We are all sorry that the financial model for these broadcasts doesn’t work but it isn’t incumbent on our members to make it work.”

Sue Milling, Director of Independent and Broadcast Production for ACTRA commented, “We were shocked to see this press release in our in-boxes this morning. Although the outcome was not what the COC was hoping for, it is unusual for an engager to act so aggressively particularly when the discussions have always been conducted in a respectful manner.”

The reason why the COC sent out that press release on Wednesday morning was that I had broken the news here the day before, and the company felt it was necessary to respond as quickly as possible.


It turns out that, since the substantial and ongoing budget cuts at the CBC began in earnest five years ago, the Radio division of the public broadcaster has been looking to opera presenters to foot the considerable cost of transmitting a performance.

“We had to find a new business model,” said CBC English-language programming head Mark Steinmetz in an interview this morning. “With all the cuts, we are simple not able to do as many remote broadcasts any more. We have fewer mobile units and many producers and technicians have been laid off.” He insists that the current stalemate is entirely attributable to the inability of the Canadian Opera Company, ACTRA and the musicians’ union to reach an agreement for reduced fees.

Steinmetz clarified that this situation affects only COC broadcasts and no one else in the country, but couldn’t say whether there will be any Saturday Afternoon at the Opera broadcasts from a Canadian house this season. “I simply don’t know,” he said.

“But I do want to make on thing clear, Saturday Afternoon at the Opera is here to stay. The programme itself is not in jeopardy,” Steinmetz insisted. If there are no possibilities of presenting Canadian productions within the CBC’s budget constraints, the broadcaster will turn to the European Broadcast Union, and even opera on CD to fill the programming slots not filled by the Metropolitan Opera’s regular season. “We will always be looking for Canadian singers,” added Steinmetz, when considering what to present on the air.

The COC’s press release expressed regret about the current situation:

“These broadcasts of COC productions are non-revenue generating initiatives that the COC has been proud to produce.  They are a valuable means to raising awareness about the vitality and relevancy of opera in the 21st-century, as well as serving as the only tool available to the COC at present to reach all Canadians, enabling the company’s season to be heard coast to coast.  The COC’s seasons were also allowed an international presence via CBC Radio 2’s, Radio-Canada’s and the COC’s websites.”

The opera presenter pointed out that its artists have received $600,000 in fees for the CBC Radio broadcasts, in addition to their usual performance fees. “This season the COC requested a reduction in fees to $150,000 (from $200,000 per season) for the broadcasts,” the press release revealed.

“CBC has been an extraordinarily good partner in this venture, helping us re-launch these broadcasts in 2009, but there is no question that we are dealing with an extremely challenging economic environment right now that has affected both our companies,” said Neef in his statement. ” We are disappointed on so many levels, and we can only hope that there will be an opportunity to bring these broadcasts back at some point in the future.”

John Terauds

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14 Responses to The official story on why there will be no Canadian Opera Company productions on CBC Radio this season

  1. I understand these issues, but it seems short-sighted on the part of the unions. As we look around North America, we see shrinking budgets for many “classical” music entities. Some of these are ceasing operation. The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts appear to have generated a much wider “fan base” for the Met than if they only performed to their loving audiences in New York.

    I wonder if the unions understand that, long-term the COC’s very existence might be at risk. Building and maintaining a Canada-wide “fan base” for the COC should be an important part of the COC’s and their employees’ agendas. Lack of interest in broadening a support base seems to be so last century.

    • Timothy Anderson says:

      One could also argue that eroding the right of the artist to be paid fairly is so 19th Century, or that expecting the country to support a centralized opera mecca is so early 20th Century.

      There is an attitude that somehow the performers should be willing to take the hit in support of the art form or their own careers. Look at the recent attitude displayed by the London Olympics: trying to bully musicians into playing for free.

      So what would the long-term implications be for the performers? Continued erosion of their right to be paid for broadcast. The art form would be reduced to the realm of part-time amateurs or those who are wealthy enough to indulge in their passion for singing without regard to earning a living.

      [FYI not only do artists not get paid overhandsomely for broadcast rights, but in my experience they are sometimes offered a reduced fee for their their live performance because the presenter believes the broadcast will be of significant value to the performer. A few years ago I agreed to a 30% reduction on my usual fee for a concert because, I was told, the broadcast fee would make up for it. The broadcast fee, which no-one seemed able to tell me beforehand, turned out to be in the neighbourhood of $80.]

      This is a bad situation for all, but the solution is not to make the performers the scapegoats for the industry model.

  2. Paul says:

    This article makes it sound like the greedy singers and musicians are somehow at fault for depriving the nation of operatic broadcasts. Conspicuously absent are any details of what performers are actually paid for a three-hour broadcast of their work, other than a vague sum paid over an unspecified time to an unknown number of performers. What were the fees before and what sort of reductions were proposed? Also not mentioned is the fact that the CBC has clearly a diminishing interest in presenting classical music, so their take-it-or-leave offers are generally a race for the bottom that I think musicians who have any sense of their own value are perfectly within their rights to reject.

    • Attila Berki says:

      It is not the article that is implying that “the greedy singers and musicians are somehow at fault for depriving the nation of operatic broadcasts”; the article is quoting the COC press release and an official statement from the CBC. The article clearly signals in the header that these are the “official” (note the deliberate usage of the word) reasons given by the COC and CBC regarding the cessation of the broadcast.
      Presumably an official statement/response has yet to be released by ACTRA and the musicians union?

  3. Timothy Anderson says:

    Good for ACTRA and the musicians’ union! Why should the artists take a 25% reduction? Were they overpaid to start with? No. Are they to blame for the CBC cuts? No. Why would any union agree to a 25% cut in a single year? The CBC is an example of inconsistent funding support and a government model that starts with arbitrary cuts to meet a numbers goal instead of thoughtful consultation and meaningful dialogue to foster an environment of creative problem-solving.

  4. thomas p says:

    Yup, the unions are shooting themselves in the foot and doing a huge disservice to the artists who will be unheard.

    • Paul says:

      It is “the artists who will be unheard” who themselves voted down this insulting offer from the CBC. If you went to work tomorrow and were told “oh, we are going to cut your pay by a third, non-negotiable.” you can either accept it or quit, It is not the employee who is to be blamed for their decision. I doubt very much the executives at CBC are cutting their own wages at all, but somehow singers and musicians who assert their own value are pilloried.

    • Nova says:

      The unions are made up of the artists. The unions accepted a reduced fee in 2009. The artists were asked to take a further 33% pay cut. Artists in this country deserve some respect. There are certainly efficiencies to be found on the management side, no cuts there have been announced there as far as I have heard.

  5. Paul says:

    Oh, and how wonderful of the CBC to let us know that Saturday Afternoon at the Opera will not be in jeopardy, because they can always press the play button on a CD. One more conspiracy-minded than myself might jump to the conclusion that CBC actually intended this result with their “offer”. Of course, the catalogue of complete operas recorded using all-Canadian singers and orchestras is vanishingly small, and, oddly, found almost entirely on Naxos, not CBC records. But I guess we will finally be able to hear “Louis Riel”… over and over.

  6. Not paying artists or reducing their fees to the bare minimum is a general tendency today in every fields of creative expressions. The imposing massive global structure of institutions try to render everyone into occasional servants and slaves. The biggest problem today is that artists are obedient all over the world in the face of institutional authority and power. They are hypnotized by the “Good for your career”, “It’s great exposure!” catch sentences of the organizers and presenters who employ them to convince artists to work for them for free. Congrats to singers and musicians for not letting themselves be ripped off by a system that does not respect the value of their work.

  7. mariannebindig says:

    Thank you to all above who have voiced support for the all the members of the Musicians’ Union, Equity and ACTRA. Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

  8. xxx says:

    The assumption that performers have to be solely responsible to make up these shortfalls is completely egregious. An entire company is responsible for the success and promotion of its productions. A successful company would not allow only the performers to reap the benefits of its successes, and therefore should not place entirely on them the responsibility of shouldering its problems. A decision to do so shows a lack of innovation and creativity in people management that is unfortunately a big problem with many arts organizations today.

  9. If the COC management cant come up with a pitiful 50grand then they should be fired!!! Or this lamentable sum should come from reduction of their administrational spendings… or the reduction of the salary of the director for not being able to come up with another acceptable solution

  10. Andrew Ager says:

    It was nicer when Shopsy’s was across the street.