Sometimes, when we critics ply our trade, writing about the ills of the musical world as we perceive them, we meet with indignant rebuttals. And sometimes the rebuttals come as a variation of a statement like this: “There’s simply no solution to the problem you have identified. So it’s unhelpful, unreasonable and irresponsible for you to write about it.”
Here’s my response to that kind of argument: Just because a problem has no (apparent) solution doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. And accepting a problem as the way things must be won’t help to solve it. Please bear these thoughts in mind for the remainder of this blog.
One of the things Toronto opera audiences were promised, as the Four Seasons Centre rose from a hole in the ground, was more opera. We were told that by owning its own theatre, the COC would be freed from the restrictive rental schedule of the O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre, which limited the company to just six productions per season. The Four Seasons Centre would allow for expansion: there would be more operas for audiences to enjoy, and Toronto’s star in the opera world would rise.
And, at first, it looked like this would happen. To open the Four Seasons Centre, in 2006-07, the COC staged a whopping total of ten mainstage productions – the company’s biggest season ever. Of course, the ten productions included the four operas of Wagner’s Ring cycle – not the sort of thing that Toronto opera fans could reasonably expect in a typical year.
In the following season, the COC staged seven mainstage operas. If ten productions was an unsustainable proposition, with seven, the company still seemed pointed in the right direction – offering more in its new home than it did in the rented, city-owned theatre that keeps changing its name. It looked like gradual growth was a real possibility.
But in the ensuing seasons, seven productions became the new normal for the COC. And while seven is a bigger number than six, the company started to look like it had stalled in its efforts to expand its season. As well, declining ticket revenues cast a shadow over hopes for growth in the foreseeable future.
Now, for the 2014-15 season, the COC has tightened its belt and reduced its schedule, offering audiences just six mainstage productions. (You can find the COC’s 2014-15 season here.) It looks like we’re right back where we started! – despite the COC’s $150-million investment in an excellent, company-owned, theatre. For Toronto’s opera fans, this is a disappointment.
So what is the COC supposed to do about it? Mount lots of cheap-looking productions with bargain-basement singers? Or go deeply into debt to create a false illusion of prosperity and expansion?
No and no.
Well then, what?
I don’t know – but perhaps it’s time to reprise paragraph four: “Just because a problem has no (apparent) solution doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. And accepting a problem as the way things must be won’t help to solve it.”
I sincerely hope that the folks currently running the COC are trying to turn the company around, and point it back in the direction of sustainable growth. And I hope they possess the determination, energy, intelligence and vision they’ll need to succeed. Because a season of only six mainstage operas isn’t good enough: such a modest offering cheats the dream that the Four Seasons Centre was built on.
© Colin Eatock 2014