We can’t say we didn’t expect it, right? The Canadian Opera Company has formally announced the cancellation of its fall 2020 programming, which includes a revived production of The Marriage of Figaro and the company’s much-anticipated Parsifal. Parsifal is postponed until the fall of 2022; there’s no word yet on Figaro.
Also included in the cancelled fall are Ian Cusson’s new opera for young audiences, Fantasma, the annual Ensemble Studio Competition and Centre Stage Gala, the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, and the COC’s Education & Outreach programming.
Mozart is always great—regardless of your opinions on the Claus Guth production that we would have seen in September—but Parsifal is the big loss, here. “This production caps a decade-long, community-led effort to stage Wagner’s final work here,” says General Director Alexander Neef. The enormous efforts would have brought the marathon opera to the Canadian Opera Company for the first time in its history.
The news is disappointing, but on par with what we’re seeing in Ontario’s phased plan for reopening. It’s hard to imagine a more risky activity than hanging out inside a theatre with 2000 fellow opera-goers for all six hours of Parsifal‘s run time.
Yet even as COC and Neef play it safe—or at least by the rules—it’s hard not to imagine the domino-effect of troubled times that may lay ahead for Canada’s largest opera company. Parsifal was arguably Neef’s major achievement as head of the COC, a monumental send-off before he wraps up in Toronto and starts his new post at the helm of the Paris Opera in 2021. With the premature exit of current Paris boss Stéphane Lissner came rumours of Neef’s plan to follow suit and leave the COC ahead of schedule; Neef has stated that’s not the case, but now that his Parsifal no longer requires his guardianship, the reasons to wait out his entire final season are diminishing.
Regardless of Neef’s plans, the COC is still in the middle of choosing its next General Director. The search is no doubt made more complicated, even more desperate, by the forfeiture of one third of the company’s ticket revenue for 2020-21.
It’s looking a bit bleak. I’ll admit to clinging to unreasonable hope that I’d be able to hear live opera again in the fall, and reality seems a heavy weight to bear. My heart goes out to the people at the COC, employees and contractors alike. What a brutal combination of disappointment and insecurity. Four productions remain untouched, so far: Carmen, Katya Kabanová, La traviata, and Orfeo ed Euridice. If it’s safe, I plan to devour all four.