A Canadian tenor tells Canada to lose its cringe

A Canadian tenor tells Canada to lose its cringe


norman lebrecht

October 15, 2015

Yesterday, Canada closed an opera company. Ottawa’s Opera Lyra got into trouble in 2011 but staggered on with small gifts and sticky plaster. Yesterday, the cash ran out.

The Canadian-German tenor Michael Schade, who is based in Vienna, has had enough of piecemeal solutions and Canadian self-deprecation. In this passionate appeal, Michael calls on Canadians to think above their situation – think Glyndebourne, think Salzburg.

His cri-de-coeur should kick-start a national and international debate. Almost every sentence could apply to English National Opera, the late New York City Opera and more.

About Opera Lyra in Ottawa: It is time to rethink.

by Michael Schade, tenor

michael schade1


I am sorry for what happened in Ottawa- I sang with them twice, once at the beginning of my days with Jeanette Aster in an amazing little Mozart Pasticcio at Chateau Laurier (sold out), and once just two years ago, in a semi staged Manon at the NAC singing Des Grieux (a well filled near sell out), this near their end of THEIR days. All along we were accompanied by a weird depressed general air, despite the triumph, and a shoulder shrug by so many with a feeling of “it is what it is here in Ottawa”- everyone knew change was needed and I don’t know how many whispers I heard and how many people said this to me in private. I have made a million calls behind the scenes to see what could be done, and again no calls were returned nor were ideas dared with big sponsors in mind.

Mario Bernardi built that hall for Opera it’s fantastic and yes it’s a shame what has happened!!!!

I can’t help the feeling that we must all rethink, restructure, stop feeling like it’s just a regional company, and if one is “regional”, it should be proud of its regionalism and not be apologetic- this would thus make it un regional and cool – ever been to Glyndebourne or Salzburg in say November or March? These two places only decided to become the navels of the earth from very humble beginnings by being proud of what they have to offer, and thus they made the people of the world come to see it. Ottawa can do that it its own way!

It is time to dare to be different from the old moulds that have made up Canadian arts institutions- all of us have to change, the artists, the staff, the union(s), the orchestras, the offices, and our smarts have to be sharpened of how to be better technologically to fill the seats,. This will have to also come from a thinking outside the box while more inside technology – yes, and while we need a better government structure especially in Ottawa, a bilingual jewel, we need to outsmart them too and get better donors — my heart goes out to Ottawa– everyone is struggling but some places thrive and it isn’t because they are in good old Europe ( where things are money wise not a sweet as you’d think, while audience wise, all in all, it is fantastic and new core!!)

We need another Bernardi, Bradshaw and Neef.

My comments come with respect to those who have tried and gone before, but now it’s broken and the situation needs to be fixed, redone, restructured and done so, completely differently from before!

(c) Michael Schade/Slipped Disc


  • Nurhan Arman says:

    My heart goes out to all the musicians of Ottawa’s Opera Lyra who are losing their engagements at the beginning of a new season. Michael Schade’s letter is sincere and to the point. His suggestions are all things that “should” be done. But it is also a fact that many arts organizations are experiencing decreased public participation in spite of some good “thinking outside of the box”. We also need to remember that there is some truth in the saying “use it or loose it”. We all get upset when we hear the demise of an organization but do we participate enough in the local arts scene? And, always upsetting is when an arts organization goes under, there are the usual crocodile tears from public officials who had just declined the proper funding. Or punished(!) the organization for decreased attendance or an unavoidable deficit.

  • V.Lind says:

    He may be on to something. Twenty years ago or so, someone thought outside the box and took a flyer on a chamber music festival. Within a few years, Ottawa’s Chamberfest claimed to be the biggest chamber music festival in the world. I do not know if that is true, but I do know that it is massive. For 15 days every summer, the city is alive with chamber music. And in all sorts of venues, mostly churches, throughout the city. You can see line-ups for admission as you go by. Top-flight artists from around the world attend every year.

    And a second festival, Music and Beyond, still only a few years old, seems to be digging in to compete with a similar format but a looser mandate. After a rocky start — some disappointing houses when they booked the large NAC main hall — they seem to be finding their place.

    So Opera Lyra may indeed have to have a rethink and look at other ways. I like the sound of a Glyndebourne on the Rideau, though I am exercised to think where they might hold it. But it was alarming to hear their manager on the CBC yesterday saying that of all their four revenue streams (as outlined in the other story containing his press release) they generally succeeded in meeting targets in all but audience figures. They haven’t really filled the place since Carmen a couple of years ago. (They did it without me — I have had enough of Carmen to last me a lifetime). If that is what it takes to get Ottawa out, then they do have an uphill battle ahead.

  • Jansumi says:

    On the other hand, the success that Bramwell Tovey is creating with the Vancouver Symphony, building up the school, adding chamber groups and venues – is a model they should all be looking at. He similarly blasted the Vancouver Opera for the short-sightedness signalling their downfall.

    • Leighhoward says:

      I would argue that Vancouver Opera is embracing change to better meet the needs of their changing audience. BT’s comments were ill informed and short sighted.

  • Yves François d'Orléans (Ontario) says:

    Perhaps reading Grampp? _Pricing the Priceless: Art, Artists and Economics_ (Basic Books)?