The Canadian Opera Company is denying a French newspaper report that its general director is set to become the new head of the Paris Opera, but the chair of the COC’s board of directors says that, if the story is true, it should be seen as a tribute to the Toronto-based opera company.
Le Figaro reported last week that Alexander Neef, who has led the COC since the fall of 2008, would succeed Stéphane Lissner after he retires from the Opéra National de Paris in 2021. A previous report suggested Lissner’s term may be extended to 2022 to help enable an orderly transition.
“I do not have any information to verify that report that Mr. Neef is joining Paris Opera," said Avril Sequeira, the COC’s director of public relations, in a statement to The Globe. “The search for new leadership always generates speculation and interest among the arts community but … if there were facts to report about changes in our leadership, the COC would be the first to share them.”
But Justin Linden, the chair of the board of the COC, told The Globe that if an offer is extended to Neef, they would not want to stand in his way.
“My understanding is that the decision … is made by the President of France, and he has not yet made his decision,” Linden said in an interview on Wednesday. If an offer were made, “it would not only be a very high honour for Mr. Neef, but I think a very high honour for the COC, that they have invited our director to come to Paris.”
“Obviously, we’d be very sad to lose him if it ended up they extended an offer and he accepted it, but in fairness to Mr. Neef it would probably represent the pinnacle of his career.”
The Paris Opera, which occupies two theatres, presents almost 500 opera and ballet performances each year. In 2017-18, its budget was €219-million. The COC’s 2017-18 season comprised 51 mainstage performances on a budget of approximately $41-million.
Neef was born in Germany and attended University of Tubingen, where he studied philology and modern history.
Last year, he added the job of artistic director of the summertime Santa Fe Opera to his responsibilities.
If he were to take the Paris Opera job, it would mark a return to the place Neef worked for four years as head of casting before being tapped at the relatively young age of 34 to take over the COC.
At the time, Neef was considered an unconventional choice for the job: Unlike most of his predecessors, including Richard Bradshaw, who had overseen the Opera for 18 years until his death in August of 2007, Neef was neither an orchestral conductor nor a stage director. But as an administrator, he overhauled the COC’s production cycle so that it could, like most of the world’s major opera companies, plan its seasons many years in advance. That allowed the company to court top talent, who are often booked years ahead.
Linden, the chair of the board, noted that, if Neef were to receive an offer, “it wouldn’t be for tomorrow. There would be lots of lead time, and I have no doubt Alexander would make sure we would be well taken care of.” He added that Neef “is amazing. It would be a painful loss … But we’re Canadians. We have to share.”
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