Opera Viva: Canadian Opera Company-the First Fifty Years


312 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55002-346-2
DDC 782.1'09713'541





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


The town of York (renamed Toronto in 1834) witnessed its first opera
production in 1825. The city’s operatic experience expanded over time
as it played host to touring companies and featured productions by small
indigenous organizations. In 1950, the permanent national company that
would come to be known as the Canadian Opera Company was established.
The artistic director of the new company, Herman Geiger-Torel, would be
succeeded by Lofti Mansouri (1977–88), Brian Dickie (1989–93), and
Richard Bradshaw (1993–present).

Each man had a distinctive agenda. Torel cultivated young Canadian
singers, expanded the touring company, and struggled “to develop a
sophisticated operatic public”; rising deficits eventually forced him
to adopt a conservative repertoire that, together with his old-fashioned
directing style, provoked the hostility of a local press hungry for new
works and innovative productions. Mansouri strengthened the COC’s
fundraising operation, extended the operatic season, introduced
surtitles, and cast such international stars as Paul Plishka, Tatiana
Troyanos, Joan Sutherland, and Elisabeth Sцderstrцm.

For all their star power, productions in the Mansouri era were
“fundamentally traditional.” Dickie sought, and achieved,
originality. He directed resources at new sets and hired such innovative
directors as Robert Lepage, Nicholas Muni, and Richard Carsen. Increased
production expenses and a precipitous decline in subscriptions resulted
in a deficit of $2.9 million by the end of Dickie’s tenure. The
indefatigable Richard Bradshaw introduced necessary administrative
reforms but has proven himself as open to experimentation as his
predecessor. His main priority, the building of an opera house, has
attracted minimal government support over the years.

Erza Schabas, former Principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music, and
Carl Money, professor of musicology at the University of Toronto, have
produced a workmanlike account of the COC’s history. The emphasis on
the COC’s financial health—or lack thereof—makes for occasionally
dry reading, but John Lee’s superb design and a generous selection of
beautifully reproduced color and black-and-white production stills
enliven the text considerably. Among the book’s five appendixes, the
cast lists for COC productions (1950–2000) are especially welcome.


Schabas, Ezra, and Carl Morey., “Opera Viva: Canadian Opera Company-the First Fifty Years,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8185.