Arthur Kaptainis has written a take-down on Alexander Neef, outgoing head of Canadian Opera Company, for La Scena Musicale:
…. Neef was not a disaster in every respect. The former casting director in Paris under the late Gérard Mortier brought this skill (and this skill only) to Toronto in 2008. He had his favourites, which were not always mine, but he could assemble a decent squad of singers to staff an otherwise ghastly production of The Marriage of Figaro or Die Fledermaus….
What Neef failed to do spectacularly is build an audience. It is a failure that one might attribute to the vagaries of the economy, the advent of livestreaming, the price of parking or any number of standard-issue excuses that have potential validity anywhere. But there is a central and specific explanation for the underperformance of the COC: a parade of supposedly innovative productions that required a manifesto from the stage director to understand and a six-pack of Red Bull to sit through.
To some readers this conclusion might appear to be just a little tainted by personal opinion, so let us look at the numbers, some of them represented in a helpful article published in 2019 by Ludwig van Toronto. In 2014-15 Neef cut back the COC season from seven mainstage productions to six (one of these being a double bill). …
Since the middle of the ensuing decade the bottom line has sunk steadily. From 2014-15 to 2018-19 ticket sales plunged from 105,086 to 82,199. Average attendance dropped from 92% to 86%. Remember, attendance percentage should rise as performances decrease….
Read on here.
And here’s another sceptic take from Jenna Simeonov at Schmopera:
…. Bleh. How depressing. It felt icky back in 2018, when Neef took on a second gig as head of The Santa Fe Opera, again while also leading the COC. Sure, Santa Fe is a summer house and the COC breaks from May-ish to October-ish, but let’s be clear: running each of those major opera companies is a full-time job.
Now, this situation isn’t quite the same; there were decidedly circumstances that Neef couldn’t control, like Lissner’s exit or the pandemic. But there’s a weird vibe happening out of the COC right now, like a mix of deference and resignation to Neef as he very clearly makes decisions that are right for him.
I’ll say a few things, since it doesn’t seem like I’ll have any more time to be convinced otherwise. I think Neef has spent his time at the COC using the resources of that company – and paradoxically, the relative under-the-radar-ness of a Canadian opera house – to build his own resume. He has brought in excellence, like Sondra Radvanovsky, Thomas Hampson, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, and Ferruccio Furlanetto. He’s brought in productions by Peter Sellars, Robert Carsen, and Sir David McVicar. He brought Harry Somers’ Louis Riel back to the stage (whether it should have come back or not), and he gave a cheeky response to all the Canadians’ call for new commissions with Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian. He’s brought to the COC important pieces of today’s operatic puzzle, and Toronto has enjoyed over a decade of seeing and hearing things that didn’t usually come this far north….