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

By John Terauds on October 3, 2012

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.”

UPDATE:

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.

END OF UPDATE

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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