Images courtesy of Gaetz Photography
The Canadian Opera Company (COC) in Toronto asks if you are “opera-curious.” For those who are veteran art patrons, the answer is a resounding yes. However, for most millennials, even if their curiosity had ever been piqued, there remain obvious barriers to entry – some cultural, some financial.
Fortunately in the last few years, the COC has been spearheading programming and hosting events to entice a younger demographic and to get them more interested in supporting the more than 400-year-old art form. More importantly, they’re doing it in an open and welcoming manner. Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company, explains their approach: “We don’t single them out or make them feel uncomfortable. Yes, programming exists that is oriented towards a younger demographic, but it is not the primary focus – it is merely one of many possible points of entry to the opera world.”
Programs such as the Opera Club and Opera Under 30 offer affordable ticket prices as well as hosting social events between COC Ensemble Studio members and attendees, for casual meet and greet opportunities. “Through these organic interactions, our intention is to offer those interested in the COC to be a part of our cultural and social fabric,” he explains. In other words, for millennials who can readily sniff out a “pitch,” these unstuffy meet-ups make opera, well…kind of cool.
The positive exposure is necessary for opera to live on and thrive in the future. “I grew up in Germany in the ’70s and ’80s,” Neef explains. “Classical music and opera was easy to access and I was exposed to it and learned about its cultural significance. For me, I quickly developed an emotional connection to it and have since been a lifelong supporter.” He feels that there aren’t as many opportunities to know opera in present times; and it is why he and the COC are making great strides to strengthen interest with younger audiences.
“With our backstage events, social mixers [outside of the opera house which include pub crawls, wine/cheese tastings, etc] there are plenty of opportunities for our artists and young patrons to get to know one another in casual settings.”
It’s a sincere approach. “I’ve seen instances where our singers of the COC Ensemble Studio, some of whom are under 30, will be at a party and people will be shocked to discover that he or she works for us or is being mentored by us. At that point, they’re interested in learning more [about the person themselves and their career] because in chatting with each other, they recognize they have many more common interests than initially thought.” Neef also adds that it reinforces the fact that we’re all multifaceted and that opera singers do not live in a bubble.
Moreover, this sense of discovery is what the COC hopes will be the catalyst for future generations to support opera. It tears down the invisible barriers of “the opera” on stage and “the audience” in the theater. “I suppose you can say it sort of ‘humanizes’ the people who work in opera and makes them relatable and approachable – and therefore it’s easier for everyone to embrace the art form.”
These worlds are united in spectacular fashion at the annual Operanation event – this year being held on May 16. Celebrating its 15th birthday, much like the Met Gala, it embraces a theme – with appropriate dress – that previews the shows that are set to debut in the fall. Since many of the performances are slated to be fairytale themed, it only seems fitting for COC to play to that, with this year’s event dubbed Operanation: Tall Tales.
Surely one of the must-attend events on the Toronto social calendar, Danika Lorèn, soprano and COC Ensemble Studio graduate, will be hosting. The headlining act will be Joseph of Mercury, songwriter and producer best known for his hit “Find You Inside,” which was featured on Elton John’s Beats1 program Rocket Hour. The performance will include a hallmark COC twist: the vocalists of the COC Ensemble Studio will join JOM for what’s being described as “genre-bending” collaboration.
The evening features a VIP Dinner and interactive party. All four floors of the Canadian Opera Company are transformed into interactive spaces that honor the Tall Tales theme, which includes bringing to life fairytale fantasies, a secret garden installation, and whimsical culinary creations by the Chase Hospitality Group.
Tickets for the Operanation event, which starts at 9pm, are available for purchase here.