CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY MAKES SIGNIFICANT STRIDES IN REALIZING COC365 STRATEGIC PLAN IN 2017/2018
COC lays foundation for deeper civic engagement with new Culture Hub project
Toronto – The Canadian Opera Company’s 2017/2018 season marked a year in which the organization made significant progress on key goals of its COC365 Strategic Plan by presenting boundary-pushing productions; deepening its commitment to public engagement and relationship-building with diverse communities; and laying the foundation for the exciting revitalization of 227 Front St. E., as reported today at the COC’s Annual General Meeting by COC Board Chair Justin Linden and COC General Director Alexander Neef.
“The Canadian Opera Company staged an impressive 2017/2018 season that encapsulated both innovative and classic opera,” says COC Board Chair Justin Linden. “However, our dedication to the art extended far beyond the mainstage as we further invested into connecting with our communities and creating more avenues of access for Canadians to encounter opera’s immersive experience. With our ongoing dedication to artistic excellence and innovation coupled with the enduring support of our generous donor base, the future of the COC remains bright. With Alexander Neef at the helm and the continuing dedication of the artists and staff, the coming seasons hold great promise for continuing success.”
In 2017/2018, the COC’s operating expenses were $41,299,000 with revenues of $41,305,000, bringing the company to a $6,000 surplus. 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. Bar, event, parking and third-party rentals at the Four Seasons Centre provided a steady revenue stream for the COC, with activities contributing $8.89 million in revenue.
“We see the cultural landscape changing and it represents a tremendous opportunity for the COC to evolve with those changes – and our audiences,” says General Director Alexander Neef. “In recent years, the company has proved that opera is not bound by convention; that belief extends far beyond programming to the implementation of comprehensive strategic plans to bring Canadian opera to the forefront of arts and culture, making it accessible and known both locally and internationally.”
“Significant operational changes are already underway,” adds Neef. “They include an important realignment of our organization structure to promote unified company goals, new and innovative avenues for our public-facing communications, and a renewed commitment to prioritizing and enhancing the audience experience in every interaction with the COC.”
The 17/18 season brought exciting professional news for the COC’s General Director; in February 2018, Alexander Neef was appointed the first Artistic Director at Santa Fe Opera, a seasonal role at the prestigious summer opera festival that he will fulfil while continuing to lead the COC year-round. His appointment bolsters the COC’s reputation as an international house of opera creation and development and opens the door to further connections and collaborations between organizations.
At the COC’s home base at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre on Front Street East, the spirit of collaboration is echoed in ongoing plans to open up the company’s doors and invite the public in. These plans are re-animating the company’s administrative offices and rehearsal spaces as a culture hub that responds to and serves the company’s surrounding neighbourhoods. The project is underway to restructure the COC to better support new avenues of artistic expression, deepen relationship-building in the community, and find more cross-organizational benefits within the arts sector.
As a core part of this initiative, the COC launched Opera for Young Audiences (OYA) in 2017, with the specific intent of creating an annual opera tradition that families can experience together. In its inaugural year, the program staged The Magic Victrola in the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre with great success. OYA welcomed 1,122 people over the course of four public performances, with an additional five performances for school groups introducing 599 more young people to opera’s unparalleled capacity to express emotional range.
Underscoring its commitment to making opera and the COC more accessible, the company provided approximately 1,700 hours of free, or discounted, space rentals to other arts organizations, community groups, and freelance artists working in the city. Those groups include:
Banff Centre for the Arts
Bicycle Opera Project
Brott Music Festival
Canadian Operatic Arts Academy
Canadian Stage Company
I M Creative Lab
IATSE Local 58
International Resource Centre for the Performing Arts
Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques
National Ballet of Canada
New York International Opera
Ottawa Choral Society
Paper Canoe Project
Singing with Parkinson’s
Young People’s Theatre
Independent opera company, Against the Grain Theatre (AtG), returned for another year as COC’s Company-in-Residence, a program that offers free administrative and rehearsal space as well as mentorship and job shadowing across various levels of the organization in order to facilitate and support the creation of new opera and presentation of existing repertoire through innovative approaches. In December 2017, AtG staged BOUND in the COC’s Jackman Studio, featuring Ensemble Studio soprano Danika Lorèn. Against the Grain Theatre’s residency is part of the larger COC Academy – a home for a new wave of opera creators and an incubator for the future of the art form.
COC’s Summer Opera Camps and After School Opera Program (ASOP), presented by Scotiabank, continued its mission to educate young arts-lovers; this past year, 1,556 youth received a comprehensive learning experience in everything from singing, to libretto-writing, to costume design, setting the stage for a lifelong love of opera. In June 2018, ASOP celebrated a major milestone: 20 years of fostering opera appreciation and interaction; the remarkable achievement was commemorated with an expansive alumni singalong led by program founder Dean Burry, as well as a community celebration that brought together current ASOP participants from all five of its Greater Toronto Area locations.
The COC’s adult educational programming saw notable gains in popularity; this year, Opera Insights events were attended by more than 600 people with three of the nine regular workshops relocated to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre to accommodate an overwhelming demand.
In total, 23,404 people experienced a wide range of opera-related activities through 358 events spearheaded by the dedicated and endlessly creative members of COC’s Access and Training department.
Embracing the civic responsibility that the COC holds as a sizeable arts organization, company members also took part in a number of city events that encouraged face-to-face introductions and meaningful interactions between the company and the public. Members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio brought music and joy to holiday commuters at Union Station, lunch crowds at First Canadian Place, and the courageous young patients of SickKids Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital and Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. In the fall, staff also members rallied to support the Ensemble Studio in the 2017 Scotiabank Charity Challenge and, in summer of 2018, the COC hosted a booth at the Community Streetfair at Toronto Pride to support the breaking of barriers in a fully inclusive city.
On the mainstage, the 17/18 season offered audiences productions that delighted, that provoked, that seared with intensity, and that questioned the status quo. The season began with Richard Strauss’ Arabella, a new production directed by Toronto’s Tim Albery that the New York Times called one of the “best classical music performances of 2017.” Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love followed, serving up an operatic love potion to new and seasoned opera-goers alike. Amidst the #MeToo movement, Verdi’s dark tragedy Rigoletto found a heightened resonance with contemporary audiences, while director Wajdi Mouawad dared to rewrite parts of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio to reframe dated cultural stereotypes through a decidedly feminist lens. Spring brought the return of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, a colourful, theatrical wonderland that only director Robert Lepage could dream into reality, as well as the return of the bel canto queen, Sondra Radvanovsky, in Donizetti’s historical tale of lust and treason, Anna Bolena.
Three of the season’s productions featured Canadian soprano Jane Archibald, as the COC’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence: Archibald sang Zdenka in Arabella, Konstanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio, and the Nightingale in The Nightingale and Other Short Fables.
Overall, the 17/18 season saw an average attendance of 84%. In total, 86,986 tickets were sold for 53 performances that included the company’s six mainstage productions, as well as the Centre Stage Ensemble Studio Competition and the Evening with the Ensemble Studio. COC’s box office sold a total of 55,516 subscription tickets and 31,470 single tickets; 5,676 tickets were sold to younger patrons at a reduced rate through the Opera Under 30 program, presented by TD Bank Group.
Patrons had the opportunity to take in one of the COC’s popular, and free, pre-performance chats during their visits; throughout the season, guest speakers brought their insights and sense of context to 15,000 people.
In order to ensure the opera house remains an open and welcoming place to the city and people it serves, the COC provided a number of free tickets through Opera Access for New Canadians. Operating in partnership with The Institute for Canadian Citizenship, the program offers new citizens the opportunity to experience Canadian-produced art in one of the finest opera venues in the world. Since the program’s creation in 2016, more than 720 new Canadians have attended performances at the Four Seasons Centre. In addition, the COC’s Share the Opera program, presented by Sun Life, provided access to opera to more than 1,100 youth and family members who may not have had the opportunity to otherwise attend a live performance due to challenging personal circumstances.
The Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre continued its mission to bring Toronto culture-lovers into the Four Seasons Centre’s airy interior. Over the past year, 13,744 people are estimated to have attended 76 free public performances, featuring 522 artists from the realms of classical, jazz, vocal, world music, and dance; eight pieces this year were world premieres and 26 concerts featured COC artists. Highlights from the season included a concert held in partnership with the 2017 Invictus Games and a performance by 2018 Polaris Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher. With an average attendance of 180 people per concert, the Free Concert Series has seen an 18% increase per concert from 2016/2017.
Donor support over the past year continues to reflect an organization with deep ties to a passionate base of supporters. Total fundraising revenue, both operating and endowment, for the 17/18 season was $12.7 million. Individual gifts accounted for approximately 73% of that total, again highlighting the personal connection the COC has retained with its base, with roughly 18% raised through the corporate sector and foundations. Nine per cent of funds were collected via the COC’s major annual fundraising events: Centre Stage Gala and Ensemble Studio Competition, the Fine Wine Auction, and Operanation.
The value of the Canadian Opera Foundation’s endowment remains strong at $43 million as of December 31, 2017, representing an increase of $5.4 million over the previous fiscal year. During the Foundation’s fiscal year ending December 31, 2017, the Foundation made grants to the Canadian Opera Company and individual performing artists totaling $1,617,000 and received a total of $1,283,244 in donations and bequests. In addition, $898,704 was received as part of the matching endowment program under the Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program.
Government support for the 17/18 season remained stable at $6.17 million. Grants at the national level remained the same while provincial contributions saw an increase of $76,000. Moving forward, the COC is committed to expanding its role in promoting arts in the city, as well as building bridges outside of the opera house and developing lasting relationships with local residents.