Today, Canadian Opera Company General Director Alexander Neef was named the next General Director of Opéra national de Paris. The official announcement was made in Paris at a meeting of the French Cabinet. Neef’s term will begin in the 2021/2022 season, succeeding Stéphane Lissner as current head of Opéra national de Paris; until then, the COC General Director will remain in Toronto, guiding the company through to the close of its 2020/2021 season.
“The Canadian Opera Company has been my home for more than a decade and I am humbled and honoured by the welcome and support that I have received throughout my time here,” says COC General Director and Opéra national de Paris General Director Designate Alexander Neef. “The personal connections that have taken root in this city and in this country will certainly endure, regardless of where I find myself in the world.”
“Canada is rich with artistic talent and I could not have asked for a better place in which to create, to innovate, and to collaborate in the true spirit of opera as an art form,” continues Neef. “The COC’s exceptional reputation on the world stage is a testament to the dedicated people across all levels of the organization; their hard work is our company’s signature. I am proud to see Toronto considered synonymous with the world’s best opera and will always champion the COC’s contributions to opera and the excellence of Canadian artists.”
Paris holds particular significance for Neef who began his career at the city’s renowned international opera house as head of casting, alongside former general director Gerard Mortier. “To be able to return to Opéra national de Paris at this point in my life and career feels especially poignant,” says Neef. “As one of the oldest and most distinguished opera houses in the world, I am inspired by the challenge of preserving the company’s rich history and tradition while seeing it continually adapt and evolve in a fast-changing arts and culture landscape. This is certainly an extraordinary opportunity that bears an enormous responsibility for which I feel immense gratitude.”
“The Canadian Opera Company congratulates Mr. Alexander Neef on his appointment as General Director of Opéra national de Paris,” says Canadian Opera Company Board Chair Justin Linden. “Mr. Neef’s selection is a testament to his hard work, dedication, and achievements throughout his career – particularly here in Canada. We the board, the staff, the artists, and the supporters of Canadian opera, strongly support his appointment and look forward to his future achievements.”
Colleen Sexsmith is the former Chair of the Canadian Opera Company Board and a long-time board member who has worked closely with Neef during his time at the COC; she says the results of his work with the COC will be felt far into the company’s future: “Alexander has demonstrated tremendous foresight and vision as General Director since 2008 and the groundwork that he has laid over the course of his tenure with the COC has well-positioned the company for continued creative success. It has been nothing short of an absolute pleasure to be part of this artistic journey and we are certain that Paris will be well-served by his many talents.”
Neef took over as General Director of the Canadian Opera Company in June 2008. In his current position, he has transformed the COC into one of the most significant opera producers in the world, attracting globally renowned singers for high-profile role debuts and gathering some of the most important conductors, directors, and designers for creative projects. The company has since hosted two world premieres, Pyramus and Thisbe, by Canadian composer Barbara Monk Feldman, in fall 2015, and Hadrian, composed by Rufus Wainwright with libretto by Daniel MacIvor in fall 2018; two more new operas are scheduled for future seasons: The Old Fools, by composer Ana Sokolović and librettist Paul Bentley, and La Reine-Garçon, by composer Julien Bilodeau and librettist Michel Marc Bouchard.
One of Neef’s most significant credits to the company includes increasing the public profile and professional development opportunities of the COC Ensemble Studio, a multidisciplinary training program for young opera singers. In addition to casting an annual mainstage performance with the Ensemble Studio’s young artists, Neef spearheaded the creation of the Ensemble Studio Competition, an annual event that invites a public audience to hear the final rounds of auditions for the career-changing program. Recently, the company’s development initiatives have expanded to form the COC Academy, an incubator for the future of the art form that nurtures Canada’s new wave of opera creators with customized training and support.
About Alexander Neef
Alexander Neef has worked with some of the most prestigious arts organizations in the world. His career as an artistic administrator has taken him from the Salzburg Festival to the RuhrTriennale in Germany, Opéra national de Paris and New York City Opera, to leading the Canadian Opera Company, Canada’s largest opera company and one of the most important in North America. In 2018, he was appointed the first Artistic Director of Santa Fe Opera, a role he is fulfilling while continuing to lead the COC.
The Head of Casting for Opéra national de Paris from August 2004 to September 2008, Neef was one of Gerard Mortier’s closest collaborators and was instrumental in the production of over 80 operas. In addition to his role at Opéra national de Paris, in March 2007, Neef joined Gerard Mortier as Mortier prepared for his tenure at New York City Opera.
Previously, Neef was a member of the artistic administration at the RuhrTriennale, a three-year, multi-disciplinary festival in the Ruhr region of Germany where he was responsible for opera, theatre, and dance productions as well as concerts and events. Prior to his tenure at the RuhrTriennale, he spent two seasons at the Salzburg Festival as a production manager with the artistic administration.
Neef has also cultivated strong relationships throughout North America and Europe with co-producers such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Royal Opera House in London, Teatro Real Madrid, Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, among many others.
It was under his leadership that the company returned to the world-renowned Brooklyn Academy of Music for the first time since 1993 with its spectacular production of Robert Lepage’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables in March 2011. The COC swiftly returned to BAM in 2015 to present the U.S. premiere of Zhang Huan’s theatrically transcendent production of Handel’s Semele.
Neef has a master of arts from Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen where he studied Latin Philology and Modern History.
Photo credit: Alexander Neef (2018), photo: Gaetz Photography