WHERE ARE THE OPERA EVANGELISTS?
Updated: Nov 27
COMING OF AGE in the performing arts in Toronto meant absorbing all flavours of past tense. Teachers, producers and agents discussed industry days gone by in grammatical shrugs and wistful past participles. There were CBC symphonic recordings, the big-budget concerts at Harbourfront, Ontario Place, the tours—oh, the tours, they sighed, in an endless litany of backward glances. And then, the reality check— the money was gone, the CBC Symphony Orchestra disbanded (1964) and finally, the used-tos. We used to work with the Canadian Opera Company and the Toronto Symphony, but that was years ago. They told us it was all about money—gone, spent, defunded. They were wrong. There is so much wealth as yet untapped for the arts in Canada. It’s not about money. It’s about leadership and vision, building relationships that strengthen reach. Money follows charisma and a great story and a higher purpose. This country needs opera evangelists. I will continue to yell into the void about the enormous, potential energy which is poised, waiting and vibrating in the performing arts. World-class art and expression are happening all around us but without evangelists, few outside our often self-important, in-group conoscenti are aware of their existence, let alone sermonized and converted to the value of arts and artists.
A very relevant definition of intelligence for our creative purposes is one’s ability to make connections. Cue persuasive evangelist leaders to reconnect our silly silos of acronym salad. Fun fact: The largest cultural institutions in Toronto (TIFF, COC, AGO, ROM, TSO, The National Ballet, Harbourfront Centre, Soul- pepper Theatre) have styled themselves ‘The Big Eight’ and meet monthly, ostensibly to coordinate and exchange ideas and best practices. Combined, they represent many millions of public money and direct lines to our systems of government, banks and universities. Where, then, are the big collaborative ideas,? Where is my generation’s Karen Kain, emulsifying the effervescent energy of which artists are made? There are fabulous projects on offer, but they are finite in scale and closed-loop in scope. No one is envisioning decades or years of partnerships and community building. I want to see sharing of resources, recruitment initiatives and innovation with other sectors, never mind other arts organizations. To the management and directors, the board and the believers: there is a shining opportunity to make the case for the bigness that we are, the stories we tell and the shared, cathartic experience we give, generously. When was the last time opera leaders together, in phalanx formation, showed up and proselytized at the chambers of commerce or trade commissions or hospital galas or think tank dinners or political operatives’ parties? I know of what I speak–I join, I listen and I learn. Why aren’t we at the table? We are raised in scarcity and it is killing us. We are surrounded by abundance, but the effect of generations inhaling ‘too many singers and no jobs’ creates risk-aversion, provinciality and the necessity to go abroad rather than create here at home. Many might be familiar with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in which Stephen Covey articulates: “The abundance mindset flows from a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens alternatives and creativity. It recognizes the unlimited possibilities for positive growth and development.” Smashed together and in communion, from schools to producers to artists, we are powerful, more efficient and strategic as we dictate the zeitgeist. But we must see this potential through a true believer’s eyes. Covey has this covered, too: “Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” Going out, gathering in. To strike a final, major chord we highlight some of the inter- and intra-sector evangelism happening right now. Lavazza’s IncluCity Film Festival is a 3-week multicultural bonanza, screening films from all over the world at sunset in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. Art installations and aperitivi cocktails sponsored by Campari Group prepare the stomach and the soul for a shared, cultural experience. And on July 14, it will feature its first opera, Carmen: The Mash-Up, starring CBC’s Julie Nesrallah and yours truly! Using art to bring banking, tech, hospitality, marketing and many others together, this event boasts a VIP Backstage Bash for new connections and networking (but call it a vibe).
We are raised in scarcity and it is killing us. We are surrounded by abundance, but the effect of generations inhaling ‘too many singers and no jobs’ creates risk-aversion, provinciality and the necessity to go abroad rather than create here at home.
Another big-picture project comes via Nick Di Donato and The Liberty Group with their Symphony in the Gardens concerts, juicing Casa Loma as a landmark for all it’s worth, all summer long. Maestro Paolo Busato and the Casa Loma Symphony Orchestra play accessible, European-style outdoor concerts amidst a more-is-more offering of food and wine and through these, transubstantiate concert to experience. Finally, Kimberly Barber’s work in reestablishing the learn-by-doing pipeline between the opera program at Laurier and the Kitchener- Waterloo Symphony (KWS) merits a national spotlight. Small roles and chorus parts in KWS shows are filled by students– which is a welcome contrast to opera companies, where excellent learning opportunities are gobbled up by low-pay young artist programs. Yes, it takes more planning and sharing between bureaucracies, but it creates real-world, experiential learning and networking for the next generation. Brava, Kimberly. More abundance, please. Canada must demand the gerund tense in culture, the growing-connecting of the momenting. And from leadership, the sexy if/when subjunctive vision to ground us in possibility. We are proudly immigrant-rich, so let us see our country through their eyes–as one brimming with potential. Our cities are full of open spaces and untapped human resources. New leaders collect and are poised, ready to celebrate more, be joyful more. Be more, more.