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Alexander Neef (The Globe and Mail)
Alexander Neef (The Globe and Mail)


COC general director can't resist dropping hints about future plans Add to ...

Richard Bradshaw loved to give a journalist the idea that he was about to get some secret tidbit about the Canadian Opera Company, which Bradshaw flamboyantly led as general director till his death in 2007. But Bradshaw was a pillar of discretion compared with his successor Alexander Neef, whose blog continues to be a tipsheet for what the COC plans for future seasons.

During the past year, Neef has mentioned several operas, singers and directors on his firm agenda, and left clues about others. The byword is "co-production," the risk- and cost-sharing stratagem whereby a company can buy much for little. For example:

French-Canadian film and opera director François Girard will direct a production of Wagner's Parsifal, with (as the Globe has learned from other sources) designs by Michael Levine, in a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera and Opéra de Lyon. The casting isn't mentioned, but Neef's blog confirmed last year that Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner had signed on for "projects" with the COC, so it seems a good bet that he'll take the title role.

Star American director Peter Sellars "will come to the COC for two projects, at least," the first being Handel's Hercules, in a co-production with Chicago Lyric Opera that opens in Chicago in March. On the Lyric's website, Sellars says he will bring the opera closer to its Sophoclean source, Women of Trachis, and describes it as a very current, very American production, set in a palace in California.

The COC will co-produce Rossini's Barber of Seville with Houston Grand Opera, and will take an HGO production of Peter Grimes that opened in Houston in November, with direction by Neil Armfield (who comes to Toronto for COC performances of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in April). Houston is the COC's current favourite production partner: It also collaborated on Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, an outstanding show from 2009.

A new updated version of Don Giovanni directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov ("a genius," in Neef's words) will come to Toronto, in a co-production with the Bolshoi Opera, Teatro Real de Madrid and the Festival at Aix-en-Provence (with which the COC partnered for last year's Stravinsky program with Robert Lepage). The show, which opened at Aix to contentious reviews last summer, will likely take its time reaching the COC, which did a revival of its own 2000 production just two years ago.

La Scala in Milan and London's Royal Opera House will partner the COC for a production by "a famous Canadian, and our cast will includes at least three more famous Canadians." Neef doesn't name names but mentions elsewhere in his blog that soprano Adrianne Pieczonka will sing an opera with the COC in each of the next three seasons, and that film director Atom Egoyan has definitely signed on for a new production.

The delivery dates aren't mentioned for any of these shows; the phrase "in a few seasons" pops up a lot in Neef's blog. (The COC's plans for its 2011-2012 season will be formally announced at the Four Seasons Wednesday.) Likewise, there are no specific productions assigned to director Christopher Alden (signed for two future shows) or soprano Erin Wall, who is on Neef's agenda for her COC debut. Parsifal won't open at the Four Seasons Centre "until 2015 or later" - a sign that the show will probably open at the Met or Opéra de Lyon first.

A few other pending projects are known from earlier blog entries, including the Canadian premiere of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin, in a co-production with English National Opera and Flemish Opera; and Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in the title role.

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky also dropped a big hint about her next visit to the COC, saying during a recent lunch-time recital at the Four Seasons Centre that she would debut in Bellini's Norma in Spain next year, and then reprise the role at "a theatre closer to all of you." We can only guess what intentions may lie behind Neef's effusive blog references to Rufus Wainwright ("Rufus the Great") - a COC production of Wainwright's Prima Donna? - or his casual approving mentions of shows such as Alban Berg's Lulu, which the COC hasn't done since 1991.

We can be sure, however, that when those new productions do arrive in Toronto, we'll get to poke around them before the curtain goes up. In contrast to its practice in former years, the COC is quite happy to let journalists view sets and costumes before opening night, as it did last week for its forthcoming production of Mozart's The Magic Flute.

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