Toronto needs a second opera stage

contemporary-opera-4“Toronto needs a second opera stage” is , in some ways, a very weird thing to write.  There’s no lack of opera companies or opera performing spaces in Toronto.  Besides the 800 pound gorilla of the COC we have a specialist “baroque” company, innovative indies like Opera 5 and Against the Grain and a surprisingly flourishing Canadian contemporary opera scene with Tapestry and Soundstreams.  We also have two very decent student programs and any number of companies competing for the “concert peformance of mainstream rep with piano accompaniment and journeyman singers in a hall of questionable acoustics” market.  So what am I talking about?  I’m talking about the lack of opportunity to see staged performances with orchestra of less known works, even fairly mainstream 20th/21st century works plus contemporary opera from outside Canada.  The COC seems to have settled into a pattern of doing one “modern” work per season for some definition of “modern” that covers anything post Puccini basically.  Given the need to sell 15,000 tickets per run that tends to translate into fairly safe fare like Britten and Richard Strauss most of the time.  I’m not grumbling (much).  It’s an economic imperative but it means that works as mainstream as Wozzeck or Lulu come around about once every twenty years at best.

I’m not sure what the business model for such a venture would be.  Clearly, it’s one that has to work on a lot less than 15,000 tickets per run.  Probably 3-4,000 would be more realistic.  Maybe it would need to stick mainly to works scored for smaller ensembles.  There are plenty to choose from.  One option might be a second company along the lines of Chicago Opera Theatre, though where the deep pockets for that would come from I have no idea.  Another could be some sort of second brand for the COC; perhaps combining the COC’s marketing clout with the economics of a smaller venue, such as the Daniels Spectrum along with some of the entrepreneurial spirit of the indie companies.  A third might be for one of the indie companies to grow into that space.  Maybe it’s a pipedream but I’d like to think that one day it might be possible to see works by the likes of Weir or Reimann without crossing the Atlantic.


6 thoughts on “Toronto needs a second opera stage

  1. I’m wondering if you read this very interesting blog post by mezzo, Jennifer Rivera, about Portland Opera which seems to be embarking on just the sort of venture you propose – i.e. the larger opera company in town taking their product to smaller venues around their home city. Read it – I wonder if it will become a model increasingly adopted by companies in North America in “these times”.

    • Interesting indeed. IIt has me thinking back to the convo on the podcast about Opera Luminato. What if one were to take a couple of chamber operas and tour them around the GTA? Richmond Hill, Mississauga, Hamilton and a Toronto venue like the Daniels Spectrum? I’m thinking the Glyndebourne Touring model or even back to Britten’s English Touring Opera. I have this sneaking feeling that there’s a market for better than semi-pro opera in the ‘burbs if the cost model is right… and downtown can get a slice too.

      • Fascinating proposal! There was that period in the 90s when all these really fine facilities in the “‘burbs” were erected…thinking of the North York Performing Arts Centre, the Mississauga Living Arts Centre etc. – both of which have great acoustics [at least the recital hall in North York does – maybe not their larger theatre]. There’s also a theatre in Richmond Hill. Then in Hamilton, of course Hamilton Place for many years was a go to venue for opera lovers with acoustics much superior to the Hummingbird Centre [though it wouldn’t be considered a small venue…it’s more like 2000 seats]. And…the Centre in the Square in Kitchener (again, great acoustics). It’s probably a case of lack of funds though…i.e. why this kind of touring doesn’t happen more. Yet, as you say, there are several companies in the UK that seem to manage it – wonder how it’s all subsidized given the UK model seems to be very much like we have in Canada – a combination of government and private/corporate funds.

      • I do see this an opportunity for the COC. I keep being told that the COC is seen as this aloof downtown beast which isn’t for people in the ‘burbs. Why not take high quality, smaller scale performances to the ‘burbs, no patronising involved? It might be what it takes to tempt more people downtown to see Grand Opera and meanwhile one gets to see works that aren’t likely to be seen at the FSC.

  2. Smaller seating capacity opera houses, 12-1500 seats, mainly in Europe, some in Latin America, very few in Canada and the USA, have flourished for years.

    Yes, deep pockets, government subsidies, (in Europe) appear the most likely biz model.
    Having said that, the #IndieOpera scene, IMO, can make the leap to digital media and live streaming, following on the Berlin Phil Digital Concert Hall biz model and MediciTV biz model.

    In Toronto one heck of a forward thinking marketer can be found at BeMused. Light years ahead of traditional opera marketers.

    Why? Ask this question: Can audiences be engaged beyond a specific performing arts genre?

    Well, yes, different ethnic groups are discovering opera in baseball, football stadiums and hockey arenas, for example. They are watching simulcast and/or live streamed performances.

    And, at Bemused they are attracting new and old audiences to all kinds of venues, by #engaging audiences.

    Sounds like a biz model in the making to me.

    Building another opera house and then finding the money to operate the physical plant is a huge undertaking, financially and otherwise.

    Just look at the COC’s bottom line selling fewer seats to fewer performances over the last few Years and I suspect for the foreseeable future.

    In summary, “build it, (being, a second opera house in Toronto) and they will come”, may not be a viable #bizmodel, deep pockets et al….

    • I don’t think we need to build physical plant. There are plenty of workable spaces in Toronto. They may not be “state of the art” but they would do. I think the issue is how to leverage those spaces with innovative programming, a lower cost model and, as you rightly point out, really engaging marketing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s