Friday, June 29, 2012

Checking in with the COC

 The Canadian Opera Company has closed another successful opera season with 2011/2012 recording an average attendance of 91%.  A total of 125,238 patrons attended the 67 performances of the company’s seven mainstage productions in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts: Gluck’s Iphigenia in Tauris, Verdi’s Rigoletto, Puccini’s Tosca, Saariaho’s Love from Afar, Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, the double bill of Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Handel’s Semele.

This season, the COC recorded 77,509 subscription tickets and 42,216 single tickets – the fourth highest number of single tickets sold in the COC’s 62-year history – generating a total ticket revenue of $11.8 million.  The 11/12 season saw 9,777 of these tickets sold to people under the age of 30.

“Our objective as an arts organization is to expose people to works that they haven’t experienced before.  Looking back on the past season, we’ve explored new operatic territory, welcomed new artists, nurtured the careers of Canadian artists, and pushed the artistic boundaries of the art form to show the infinite possibilities, liveliness and relevance of opera in our time,” says Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company.  “I couldn’t have wished for a more inspiring season, and none of it would have been possible without the commitment and dedication to the art form and the company that is shown by the COC’s board of directors, staff and volunteers, patrons, subscribers and generous donors.”

The COC received 14 Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations (presented by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts) for its artists and productions this season, taking seven of the 10 nominations in the opera division and another seven in the general theatre production division.  On June 25, 2012, the COC and its artists were recognized with three Dora Mavor Moore Awards: in the opera division, Iphigenia in Tauris won outstanding production and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham won outstanding performance for Iphigenia in Tauris; and in the general theatre production division, Wilson Chin won outstanding set design for A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi.

Success was also seen beyond the mainstage for the 11/12 season, where the COC presented a variety of activities and events aimed at opera enthusiasts, and engaged local patrons and visitors in new and exciting entertainment opportunities.

The COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre welcomed almost 15,000 people of all ages to its 76 free events.  This season, the Free Concert Series, with programming that spans classical, jazz, world music and contemporary dance, featured four world premieres, highlighted 438 artists – 388 of them Canadian – and presented 14 works by Canadian classical composers, 42 works by living composers and 26 works by female composers.  The full 2012/2013 performance schedule will be available later this summer at

The Ensemble Studio Competition was launched this season, opening the final round of auditions for the COC’s training program for young opera professionals to public attendance for the first time.  Ten finalists performed before a sold-out audience in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre on November 28, 2011, with four singers ultimately selected to join the illustrious Ensemble Studio program in the 12/13 season.

The COC also launched the Ensemble Circle, an exciting new membership initiative for young patrons.  With enrolment capped at 100 patrons, the Ensemble Circle offers its members a personalized introduction to the world of opera and the COC, creating a stronger connection between the company and its audience.  In addition to receiving tickets to three operas, Ensemble Circle patrons attend a special backstage tour of the Four Seasons Centre, attend a private rehearsal of a COC production, receive a ticket to the company’s premier annual fundraiser, Operanation presented by TD Bank Group, and are invited to a host of special events offered throughout the year.

In the 11/12 season, the Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour introduced opera to 18,772 children from kindergarten to Grade 6 across Ontario with performances of Dean Burry’s Isis and the Seven Scorpions and Hansel and Gretel, a specially adapted version of Engelbert Humperdinck’s classic fairytale opera.  In the GTA, the COC’s popular After School Opera Program presented by Scotiabank provided close to 400 children between the ages of seven to 12 with creative and interactive after-school activities emphasizing the core elements that make up opera. Plans for the 12/13 season will see the program expand its numbers to reach anywhere from 475 to 490 children annually.

An illustrious list of COC artists took part in the company’s 11/12 season public adult education and outreach programs, Opera 101 and Opera Exchange, offering those in attendance both informal and entertaining perspectives on a production, as well as in-depth exploration.  Included among the artists who took part were composer Kaija Saariaho, directors Christopher Alden, Paul Curran and Catherine Malfitano, conductor Sir Andrew Davis, designer Michael Levine and singers Jane Archibald, Russell Braun, Mark Delavan, Susan Graham, David Lomelí, Julie Makerov, Simone Osborne, John Relyea, Russell Thomas, Krisztina Szabó and Erin Wall.

In total, 47,652 adults, youths and families were introduced to opera and engaged with the COC this past season, through the company’s 20 education and outreach programs for children, young adults, school groups and adults, which include the Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour, After School Opera Program, March Break Opera, Summer Opera Camp presented by Scotiabank, Summer Youth Intensive, Youth Opera Lab, Living Opera, Opera Creation Program, Opera 101, Opera Exchange, Opera Talks, BMO Financial Group Pre-Performance Opera Chats, BMO Financial Group Student Dress Rehearsals, custom workshops, opera appreciation courses and tours, and building tours.

The COC’s upcoming 12/13 season will mark Alexander Neef’s fifth as general director and is a celebration of opera’s greatest masterpieces, featuring the return of works both long absent and familiar to the COC stage: Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus in a new COC production, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Richard Strauss’s Salome and Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites.  Joining the COC for these productions are the opera world’s leading artists, no less than 33 of whom will be making their mainstage debuts, including singers Anna Christy, Stephen Costello, Melanie Diener, Elza van den Heever, Isabel Leonard, Brian Mulligan, Franz-Josef Selig, Erika Sunnegårdh and Ramón Vargas; conductor Jiří Bělohlávek; director Peter Sellars; and visual artists Jean-Noël Lavesvre and Bill Viola.  Returning artists include singers Isabel Bayrakdarian, Russell Braun, Judith Forst, Alan Held, Ben Heppner, Richard Margison, Adrianne Pieczonka, Michael Schade and Tamara Wilson; conductor Stephen Lord; directors Christopher Alden, David Alden, Robert Carsen and Atom Egoyan; and designer Michael Levine.

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