Two; one to fly to New York and the other to stand by the fax machine waiting for the instructions.
Today the COC’s winter run of Don Giovanni and Die Walküre comes to an end. It’s worth reflecting on what we’ve seen I think. Neither production could be called “traditional” and the Don Giovanni in particular produced a broad range of reactions, some of them quite extreme. I’m not really sure why as, by international standards, it wasn’t particularly extreme. And that’s the starting point for this “thought for the day”.
What struck me about this run, the actual performances aside, was how much attention it garnered beyond Toronto. Both productions were positively reviewed in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Tommasini in the latter compared Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni favourably to Michael Grandage’s “timid” production at the Met. People came from out of town to see these shows; from New York, from Boston and other places that aren’t exactly traditional selling grounds for the COC. And yet there’s still a very vocal minority in Toronto that hates it.
This is where it gets personal and perhaps in some people’s view condescending. I’ll risk it. I moved to Canada; first Ottawa and then Toronto, after growing up in England. My first opera experiences were at Covent Garden and the Coliseum. I saw “straight” theatre in the West End and, perhaps more influentially, at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and the Everyman in Liverpool at a time of considerable experimentation (mid/late 70s). I moved to Canada for career rather than cultural reasons at a time when you still couldn’t go out for a drink on a Sunday and Toronto folks still went to Buffalo if they wanted a little excitement.
When I moved to Toronto in 1990 I tried out the COC. I thought it was awful; dull productions, no name singers and a terrible theatre. To be fair it was a point in my life; busy career, too much travel, small children, when culture was always going to take a back seat but still. I didn’t have much more luck with Stratford and I was utterly bemused when Toronto audiences reacted with horror to Michael Bogdanov’s Shakespeare which was fairly mainstream by British standards. For me, the one bright light was Opera Atelier. At least they were trying! Bottom line, I was put off the COC for almost two decades though I did make the occasional show. It’s the changes over the last few years that have brought me, and quite a few other people I know, back.
So what do I see today? I see a gorgeous new theatre playing innovative productions by top directors sung by some of the best singers in the world. I see an orchestra and chorus that would be the envy of pretty much anywhere in the world. I see excellence. That comes at a price. Great art is never comfortable. It provokes, it asks questions, it takes risks (and taking risks means not always being 100% successful). It doesn’t compromise. For many of us that’s life affirming. For others it threatens their sense of self worth.
So from me, a heart felt plea for more. Let’s see the best and most thought provoking directors. Let’s see Bieito and Herheim and Kusej And for those who don’t like it there’s always Buffalo.