COC Media Releases

10/29/2014

COC MAKES RETURN VISIT THIS SPRING TO PRESTIGIOUS BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC WITH SEMELE

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Toronto – The Canadian Opera Company is proud to be invited to present the U.S. premiere of Zhang Huan’s theatrically transcendent production of Handel’s Semele at the world-renowned Brooklyn Academy of Music in March 2015. The COC’s presentation of Semele at BAM is directed by Zhang with distinguished British conductor and Baroque opera expert Christopher Moulds leading the critically acclaimed COC Orchestra and COC Chorus. Semele is scheduled at the Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY) for four performances only – March 4, 6, 8 and 10, 2015.

“We’re very proud to be invited to bring this production of Semele to BAM. It represented new territory for the company on multiple levels: the opera had never before been performed by the COC, and the production itself asked us to push the artistic boundaries of the art form and show its infinite possibilities,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “It’s an honour to be asked to present this work on the global stage that BAM represents, especially when it comes so soon after our last visit in 2011 with our production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables.”

The COC’s 2015 tour to BAM marks the opera company’s third visit to the illustrious multi-arts centre that, for more than 150 years, has been a home for adventurous artists, audiences and ideas – engaging both global and local communities. The COC’s prior invitations to BAM were also to perform two equally ground-breaking productions: in 2011 with The Nightingale and Other Short Fables and, in 1993, with a double bill of Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung, both directed by Canadian visionary Robert Lepage.

This production of Semele offers up a provocatively playful staging directed by famed Chinese visual and performance artist Zhang Huan. His daring East-meets-West production blends the Greek myth of Semele with the contemporary true story of an ill-fated Chinese love triangle – all set within the walls of an actual 450-year-old Ming Dynasty temple, which weighs 17 tons and is transformed into an altar, a palace, a crematory, and heaven. With appearances by debaucherous Buddhist monks, a giant inflatable puppet and an overtly aroused donkey, Zhang layers cultural taboos and ribald humour with classical compositions, creating a bold and contemporary fable.

The story, of what is Handel’s most sensuous opera, focuses on Semele, a princess and mistress of the god Jupiter, who wishes her lover to grant her immortality. Semele’s ambition and vanity, however, ultimately lead to her undoing.

Internationally renowned Canadian singer Jane Archibald reprises the role of Semele, which she sang with the COC in 2012, for this production’s U.S. premiere. Both abroad and at home, Archibald has dazzled audiences and critics alike with her vocal dexterity and dramatic presence. Her 2012 performance was met with overwhelming praise. The Globe and Mail described her as “possibly the best coloratura soprano of her generation” and the Toronto Star proclaimed “Jane Archibald is alone worth the price of a ticket. She is spectacular in the title role.”

Archibald leads an esteemed cast of new and familiar faces to the COC. Canadian tenor Colin Ainsworth is the god Jupiter, and Welsh contralto Hilary Summers makes her COC debut portraying both Jupiter’s jealous wife, Juno, and Ino, Semele’s sister. Canadian soprano Katherine Whyte returns to reprise the role of Juno’s messenger, Iris. American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen portrays Semele’s father, Cadmus, and the god of sleep, Somnus. American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo is Semele’s jilted suitor, Athamas.

Han Feng, sought-after for her fashion as well as costume and exhibition designs, plays with Zhang’s concept to create a fusion of Chinese theatre and European Baroque in the costumes enhanced by the magical lighting design originally conceived by Wolfgang Göbbel, and recreated by Willem Laarman.

Christopher Moulds makes his COC debut conducting Handel’s Baroque masterpiece. An experienced and versatile conductor, Moulds is considered an expert in classical and Baroque operas and appears with the premier houses and orchestras of Europe.

This production of Semele had its North American premiere with the COC in spring 2012. It was the first opportunity for audiences to experience Zhang’s production outside Brussels, Belgium, where it premiered in 2009, and Beijing, where in 2010 it was China’s first major staging of a Baroque opera.

TICKET INFORMATION

Single tickets for Semele and BAM’s 2015 Winter/Spring season engagements go on sale December 8, 2014 (December 1, 2014 for Friends of BAM). To purchase tickets online visit BAM.org or contact BAM Ticket Services at 718-636-4100.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The tour of Semele is made possible, in part, by the Ontario Arts Council.

The COC’s Semele is a co-production of Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels and KT Wong Foundation.

 

About the Canadian Opera Company
Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the COC, visit its award-winning website, coc.ca.

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For more information or to request production photographs, please contact:
Jennifer Pugsley, Media Relations Manager, tel: 416-306-2303, e-mail: jenniferp@coc.ca

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10/28/2014

CELEBRATED CANADIAN TENOR BEN HEPPNER TO HOST SECOND ANNUAL CENTRE STAGE: ENSEMBLE STUDIO COMPETITION GALA

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Canada’s Next Opera Stars Compete on the World Stage of the Four Seasons Centre

TORONTO, ON October 28, 2014 — On November 25, 2014, the Canadian Opera Company presents its annual Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition Gala at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts after its wildly successful inauguration in 2013. Hosting the highly anticipated vocal competition is Canadian Ben Heppner, recognized internationally as one of the finest dramatic tenors in the world and one of this country’s distinguished operatic talents. Heppner helms an evening dedicated to discovering and celebrating the best of Canada’s up-and-coming opera stars, with the awarding of cash prizes ranging in value from $1,500 to $5,000. The festivities conclude with an exclusive gala dinner on the stage of R. Fraser Elliott Hall.

Competitors for this exciting annual vocal showcase are selected from nationwide auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. Since the program’s inception in 1980, over 180 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors have acquired their first major professional operatic experience through the Ensemble Studio. Former members include this year’s Centre Stage host Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, Joseph Kaiser, David Pomeroy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó. The 2014 preliminary audition s are currently underway in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and New York City.

Centre Stage takes place on the mainstage of the Four Seasons Centre, with the young singers accompanied by the internationally acclaimed COC Orchestra conducted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus. Each finalist performs an aria showcasing their vocal technique and range before an audience and panel of judges. In addition to vying for first, second and third place prizes, worth $5,000, $3,000, and $1,500, respectively, one competitor will also receive the Audience Choice Award valued at $1,500. In addition, select finalists will be invited to join the COC’s 2015/2016 Ensemble Studio, to be announced at a later date.

“We’re very honoured to have Ben Heppner join us as the host of Centre Stage this year. Ben has had a legendary career as one of Canada’s most important and internationally celebrated opera singers and, given his personal connection to the Ensemble Studio as one of its early graduates, he is the ideal ambassador to help introduce to our Centre Stage patrons some of the best new opera talent from across the country,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “The voices we showcase at Centre Stage are ones we can expect to hear great things from. It’s a thrilling moment for everyone in the audience, including the judges, to experience what happens when these young artists step on to the stage and hear their voices fill the opera house, supported by the COC’s magnificent orchestra and our own Johannes Debus.”

Ben Heppner is recognized worldwide as one of the finest dramatic tenors of his generation. Over the course of his career, he excelled in the most challenging roles, from Wagner’s Tristan and Lohengrin to Verdi’s Otello and Berlioz’ Aeneas. He’s been acclaimed in music capitals around the world for his beautiful voice, intelligent musicianship and sparkling dramatic sense. His performances on the opera stage, in concert with the world’s leading orchestras, in the most prestigious recital venues, and in recordings set new standards in his demanding repertoire. He most recently appeared with the COC to critical and popular acclaim in the title roles of Tristan und Isolde and Peter Grimes , the latter of which marked his last professional operatic engagement before announcing his retirement as an opera and concert singer in April 2014. He is currently host of CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, and the upcoming Mirvish production of Titanic marks his return to the stage.

The competition is followed by a gala dinner with guests treated to a rare culinary experience by David Lee, the critically acclaimed Nota Bene Executive Chef. Among those in attendance are the Centre Stage finalists and winners, notable COC artists and key supporters of the opera company.

Once again, the Canadian Opera Company will be partnering with Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) to outfit the Ensemble Studio Competition finalists for their onstage debut at Centre Stage . As part of this generous sponsorship, the finalists are gifted with their HBC gowns and suits for use in future performances as they embark on their professional opera careers.

Tickets to Centre Stage are $100 for the cocktail reception and competition. Gala dinner tickets are $1,500. Tickets are available online at COCCentreStage.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office, located at 145 Queen St. W., Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit COCCentreStage.ca for more information. Specially priced $35 tickets are also available for patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 through Opera Under 30 sponsored by TD Bank Group.

Acknowledgements

Artists of the COC Orchestra in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

Competition Supporters: RBC Foundation, Hal Jackman Foundation, Peter M. Deeb
Platinum Sponsor: Mercedes-Benz Canada
Opera Under 30 Sponsor: TD Bank Group
Gala Reception Sponsor: Maison Birks
Artist Sponsors: Earlaine Collins, Ninalee Craig, June Shaw and the late Dr. Ralph Shaw
Prize Sponsors: First Prize – Colleen Sexsmith; Second Prize – ARIAS: Canadian Opera Student Development Fund; Third Prize – Tom C. Logan; Audience Choice Award – Classical 96.3 FM
Voting Technology Sponsor: Classical 96.3 FM and Turning Technologies

ABOUT the Ensemble Studio Competition
The Ensemble Studio Competition features singers from the final round of auditions for the COC Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals, competing for cash prizes ranging in value from $1,500 – $5,000. The competition was launched in 2011 by COC General Director Alexander Neef to showcase the opera talent the COC had scouted from across the country and create a public platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada.

With the creation of Centre Stage in 2013, the COC introduced the Ensemble Studio Competition to an audience of over 1,000 opera lovers and interested guests. The competition showcases finalists like never before as they perform from the mainstage of the COC’s world-renowned opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, accompanied by the acclaimed COC Orchestra led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus.

The annual Ensemble Studio audition process, open only to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, takes COC artistic staff across Canada and into the U.S. for preliminary auditions in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and New York, followed by a final callback audition at the COC’s Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre in Toronto. It’s from this pool of singers that finalists are selected for the Ensemble Studio Competition.

ABOUT the COC Ensemble Studio
The COC Ensemble Studio is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals. Since the inception of the program in 1980, over 180 young professional Canadian singers, opera coaches, stage directors and conductors have acquired their first major professional operatic experience through the Ensemble Studio. Former members include Ben Heppner, Isabel Bayrakdarian, John Fanning, Wendy Nielsen, Joseph Kaiser, David Pomeroy, Lauren Segal and Krisztina Szabó. The members of the Ensemble Studio are the COC’s resident artists and important ambassadors for the company. Th ey receive a blend of advanced study and practical experience through an individually tailored, multi-year program, involving understudying and performing mainstage roles, intensive vocal coaching, language and acting studies, and career skills development, as well as participation in masterclasses with internationally renowned opera professionals.

ABOUT the Canadian Opera Company
Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the Canadian Opera Company, please visit its award-winning website, coc.ca.

Media Contact:

Nicole Martin
Knot PR
(416) 532 9035
nam@knotpr.com
knotpr.com

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10/27/2014

COC SEASON NOTED FOR ARTISTIC TRIUMPHS, HIGH ATTENDANCE AND FUNDRAISING GROWTH DESPITE FINANCIAL CHALLENGES

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Toronto – Today at the Canadian Opera Company’s Annual General Meeting, the company reported on its artistic highlights, impressive endowment growth, growing attendance and subscription figures, and a general financial overview of the 2013/2014 season.

“Last season the Canadian Opera Company saw tremendous growth, while also managing a challenging financial environment,” said COC Board President Tony Arrell. “Over its long history, the COC has never achieved such acclaim, attracted such talent and engaged such strong community support as what we saw last year. The COC has an exceptional leader in Alexander Neef and the Board feels the company gets stronger each year under his direction.”

In reviewing the COC’s 13/14 fiscal year, the company recorded an impressive average attendance of 94% (an increase by 4% over last season), and combined fundraising revenue of $12.6 million (net). This includes over $3 million towards the endowment of the Canadian Opera Foundation, which has seen significant growth in the past six years, increasing in size from $18.8 million in 2008 to $34 million in assets in 2014. The company also posted an expected revenue shortfall of $952,000.

"The season’s financial challenges were not unexpected, and we realized early on that, financially, it would be the most difficult season in recent history,” continued Arrell. “We are grateful for the support from our Foundation that allowed us to finance the transition to the new operating model over the past few years. We are committed to balancing our budget on an annual basis and continue to make significant adjustment on our operating model to ensure that outcome.”

Due to the long-term nature of artistic programming and scheduling, the COC has used the last few years to evaluate and implement substantial changes to its operating model in order to respond to gradual annual declines in ticket sales. The 2014/2015 season sees some of these measures planned years ago now taking effect. The return to a six-opera season with approximately the same number of performances as the former seven-opera model will allow the company to eliminate roughly half of its operating deficit. As well, new ticket marketing and pricing strategies have already built up the company’s subscriber base and will allow the company to reach higher capacity levels throughout the season.

“The artistic standard we have reached in our productions is now showing up in subscription demand,” said COC General Director Alexander Neef. “Subscriptions for the 14/15 season are very strong with almost 2,000 new subscribers. In fact, overall, we have had more new subscribers this season than we have had in over three years. This is good news for the future and we intend to continue to build on it, while remaining vigilant to ensure we meet our breakeven budget commitments.”

The COC’s operating expenses for the 13/14 season were $41,464,000 with revenues of $38,529,000, including a regularly budgeted grant of $1 million from the opera company’s Foundation, which comes from earnings on endowment funds. Additional grants of almost $2 million came from Foundation funds: approximately $800,000 from a special cash reserve created from the COC’s prior operating surpluses, and $1.2 million from unrestricted accumulated earnings that did not encroach upon endowment capital. These expenses and revenues are a consolidated presentation of the financial results of the COC and its controlled affiliate, the Canadian Opera House Corporation, a charitable organization that owns and operates the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Box office revenue represented 25% of total operating revenues for the 13/14 season, with fundraising accounting for 24%. Other income was generated from the Four Seasons Centre by tenant and parking fees, event and third-party rental revenue as well as general space and production rentals, representing 20%. Public support from all three levels of government accounted for 15%. The amortization of deferred capital contributions represented 9% and the remaining 7% came from the Canadian Opera Foundation (as noted above).

The COC recorded 68,682 subscription tickets and 38,066 single tickets, generating net ticket revenue of $9.7 million. A total of 111,421 patrons attended the 58 performances of the company’s seven mainstage productions last season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts: Puccini’s La Bohème, Britten’s Peter Grimes, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Verdi’s A Masked Ball, Handel’s Hercules, Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux and Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

“The 13/14 season was an artistic high point, and presented a full range of operatic repertoire historically, musically and stylistically,” said Neef. “From a performance point of view we featured perhaps the most star-studded line-up of artists ever seen on the COC stage. I am also very proud that we were able to present four new productions and three company premieres in 13/14.”

“Our fundraising efforts have been essential to building our base of supporters, and we are fortunate to have very loyal patrons, who take their devotion and commitment to us very seriously,” added Neef.

Of the $12.6 million in total fundraising revenue (combined net operating and endowment) for the COC in 13/14, approximately 83% – $10.4 million – came from individuals in support of the COC’s mainstage productions and artists, as well as transition and endowment funding, training, and education and outreach programs. Support for the artists of the COC’s Ensemble Studio, Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals, was particularly strong with all 11 members of the 13/14 season fully underwritten through artist sponsorships – the first time in the program’s 34-year history. Special events accounted for 3% of the COC’s fundraising efforts for 13/14, which expanded to include the company’s flagship gala – Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition Gala – and raised more than $300,000 in its inaugural year.

A crucial source of funding has proven to be a matching endowment program developed by the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Endowment Incentives component. Private contributions with these government funds brought the company’s annual endowment contribution to $3.7 million over the last season.

The COC received 16 Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations in six categories for its artists and productions in the 13/14 season, and won four awards: Outstanding Production of an Opera (Roberto Devereux); Outstanding Performance, Female, in an Opera (Sondra Radvanovsky – Roberto Devereux); Outstanding Performance, Male, in an Opera (Alan Held – Peter Grimes); and, Outstanding Performance, Ensemble, in an Opera (COC Chorus – Peter Grimes).

In 13/14, the COC expanded the scale of its Ensemble Studio Competition with the creation of Centre Stage, a much grander platform for celebrating the future of opera in Canada. For the first time in the history of the Ensemble Studio, auditioning singers performed from the stage of R. Fraser Elliott Hall at the Four Seasons Centre, accompanied by the COC Orchestra under Music Director Johannes Debus. Selected from an audition pool of 155 singers, nine finalists performed before an audience of 800 patrons on November 26, 2013. Four prizes valued at $11,000 in total were awarded, and three singers were ultimately selected to join the COC’s illustrious Ensemble Studio program in the 14/15 season.

In January 2014, the COC also launched the COC Orchestra Academy, a new initiative building on the company’s commitment to training opera artists. Developed in collaboration with The Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, the COC Orchestra Academy is a mentorship program led by Johannes Debus. This past year, three students were paired with veteran COC Orchestra players, allowing the younger musicians to observe, learn and play with a world-class orchestra within the setting of presenting an opera production.

The COC continued its efforts off the mainstage to making opera and the performing arts as accessible as possible. In total 40,046 adults, youths and families engaged with opera in 13/14 through the COC’s 20 education and outreach programs.

The COC’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre also hosted approximately 15,000 people of all ages at its 79 concerts in 13/14. The Free Concert Series’ programming spans classical, jazz, world music and contemporary dance and last season featured five world premieres and five Canadian premieres, showcased 404 artists and presented 27 works by Canadian composers.

The COC’s 14/15 season began on October 3, 2014, with a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The season continues in the winter with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and the return of the COC’s production of Wagner’s Die Walküre. The season concludes in the spring with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and the double bill of the seminal Robert Lepage production of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung.

About the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio
The COC Ensemble Studio, underwritten in part by Peter M. Deeb and The Slaight Family Foundation, is Canada’s premier training program for young opera professionals and provides advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and career development opportunities. The Ensemble Studio is also supported by the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage, RBC Foundation, Hal Jackman Foundation, W. Garfield Weston Foundation and other generous donors.

About the Canadian Opera Company
Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. The COC enjoys a loyal audience support-base and one of the highest attendance and subscription rates in North America. Under its leadership team of General Director Alexander Neef and Music Director Johannes Debus, the COC is increasingly capturing the opera world’s attention. The COC maintains its international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation by creating new productions within its diverse repertoire, collaborating with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracting the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The COC performs in its own opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Four Seasons Centre opened in 2006. For more information on the COC, visit its award-winning website, coc.ca.

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For more information or to request production photographs, please contact:
Jennifer Pugsley, Media Relations Manager, tel: 416-306-2303, e-mail: jenniferp@coc.ca

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