Patrick Corrigan and the OdM: making Montreal sing again

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It was one of the unkinder cuts of the season.

The Magic Flute, a fixture on the international top-five opera hit list, in an eye-catching staging from Berlin with elements of silent film and vaudeville, was booked for the latter half of May. But down it went, along with just about every other arts presentation in Montreal.

“It was a costly production, and because it got shut down so late, that was costly too,” said Opéra de Montréal general director Patrick Corrigan. The five performances of Mozart’s Singspiel in Salle Wilfrid Pelletier were expected to account for almost 40% of 2019-20 box office receipts.

Then came some good news: 30% of ticket holders – more than 1,000 –donated the money back to the OdM.

“Our public is the electricity that runs right through everything we do,” Corrigan said.

With that vote of confidence (and humane treatment by the company’s principal landlord, Place des Arts) Corrigan could plan a post-pandemic 2020-21 season that actually has some 2020 in it.

There will be a run in the autumn of the chamber coupling of La voix humaine, a work of 1958 for soprano and dysfunctional telephone by Francis Poulenc and Jean Cocteau, and L’hiver attend beaucoup de moi, a new “road opera” with a feminist angle by Laurence Jobidon and Pascale St-Onge. Where and exactly when are TBA but appropriate distancing is assured.

“That won’t take very long to figure out,” Corrigan says. The show was originally booked for March 2020 at Espace Go.

Of greater moment than what is happening in the balance of 2020 is what is not. The fall mainstage performances of Verdi’s La Traviata and Janácek’s Jenůfa have been reassigned to 2021-2022. Subscribers are cordially invited to donate the value of their tickets to these operas to the OdM’s “Make Montreal Sing Again” campaign.

“I believe it was rather obvious that these productions could not go on,” Corrigan said, citing the approximately 200 people onstage, backstage and in the pit who would be involved in each. Most companies in North America (notably the Metropolitan Opera) are cancelling the big shows in the fall.

“We would have had to start Traviata a couple of weeks ago to pull it off anyway,” he adds. Concerts can be put together on short notice. Operas are different.

The 2021 component of the season is identical in both content and scheduling to what the company announced in the halcyon days of early 2020. The action begins in March with La beauté du monde, an OdM commission with music by Julien Bilodeau and words by Michel Marc Bouchard.

The subjects are Jacques Jaujard and Rose Valland, two French citizens who risked imprisonment or worse by shielding art masterpieces from Nazi looting. An impressive and Canadian cast includes tenor Marc Hervieux as Hermann Göring. The run of five performances takes place in the Théâtre Maisonneuve.

The only presentation in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier will be Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro with Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch in the title role and Nicolas Ellis leading the Orchestre Métropolitain. Four performances run from May 8 to May 16. Raising the production total to four is a late-May double bill of Vaughan Williams’s Riders to the Sea and the premiere of a new work by Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse and Olivier Kemeid presented in collaboration with Ballet Opéra Pantomime and I Musici de Montréal. There are two performances in the Monument National.

The Atelier lyrique program will keep education and outreach live alive in collaboration with La Gang à Rambrou, Ste-Justine Hospital and the CSDM. “We never thought once of postponing the season for the Atelier lyrique,” Corrigan says.

It is a relatively quiet season, but one that might be enhanced by internet presentations. Unlike most Canadian companies, the OdM has an inventory of video productions of high calibre, including Carmen, which was shown on 26 screens across Quebec in February.

“Is it better live or online?” asks Corrigan, rhetorically. “This is the wrong question. I look at the history of the relationship between technology and the performing arts and it has never moved backwards.

“We can absolutely anticipate that more people will be watching online in the future. What I want is for our company to be in front, not behind.”

Our conversation had been almost COVID-free. Can we be confident that normality is returning?

“We could still have a problem next spring,” Corrigan concedes. “But I’m excited that venues are starting to open up, companies are adapting, works are being programmed. Artists will be working. Hopefully we won’t see that decelerate, but only accelerate.”

 

 

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Since 2019, Arthur is co-editor of La Scena Musicale.

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