On the evening of Nov. 5 in Ottawa, the National Arts Centre annual gala was back with verve. Honorary chair of the soiree Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Jayne Watson, CEO of the NAC Foundation, announced that north of $1-million was raised for the newly formed Adrian Burns Fund for Women Leaders in the Performing Arts. In keeping with this new fund, the event was decidedly a celebration of women in arts and it stood too as a swish send-off-of-sorts for its namesake, the aforementioned Burns. A social virtuoso and great connector in Ottawa and beyond, she has served on NAC boards for two decades including, for the past eight years, chairing the Board of Trustees (a successor, who is appointed by the federal government, in addition to the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau, has yet to be announced). The gala evening always consists of a concert, tickets to which are always available to the public.
Headlining this year was the wildly hilarious Jann Arden, who was brilliantly backed by the NAC Orchestra with maestro Elizabeth Baird at the helm. Earlier, the NAC Orchestra was in the skilled hands of Cosette Justo Valdes, conductor of Edmonton’s Symphony Orchestra, in addition to soprano Jonelle Sills and mezzo-soprano Simona Genga, who also performed. Cocktails followed the performances, which set the tone for a late supper, given for the first time in a handful of years on the main stage inside Southam Hall. There were key supporters of the NAC including incoming chair of the NAC Foundation board Susan Glass, Gail Asper, Janice O’Born, Ann McCaig and Rhonda Cohen, wife of American Ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen, who together were on hosting duties the previous evening at Lornado, the U..S ambassador’s residence in Ottawa. The Honourable Mona Fortier, Treasury Board president, was out too, as was Christopher Deacon, NAC president and CEO.
Canadian Opera Company’s Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition
A couple of nights earlier, at the Canadian Opera Company’s Centre Stage: Ensemble Studio Competition, soprano Karoline Podolak took home first prize in addition to the Audience Choice Award. The competition is the crescendo of a nation-wide search for this country’s future opera greats, with the top of the crop gathering in Toronto to vie for cash prizes and the chance for a spot in the company’s esteemed training program. Funds to support the career development program are also raised during the evening through tickets sold to the competition as well as a swish black-tie dinner which follows. The event is the COC’s most important social gathering for its devoted supporters, my host for the evening was one such: art collector and philanthropist Bruce Bailey, who was hosting among others, his fellow arts patrons Carol and David Appel and businessman and past COC board president Philip Deck. Near me at dinner was conductor Jacques Lacombe who led the COC orchestra earlier in the evening, across was Korin Thomas-Smith, one of the finalists, and to my left was third-prize winner River Guard. Across the room was COC board chair Jonathan Morgan, and of course COC general director Perryn Leech, who in-between courses spoke to the importance of the Ensemble Studio program, namely its ability to shape the future of opera in Canada and beyond.