CBC Digital Archives

The Canadian Opera Company develops its audience

Since the Canadian Opera Company's inaugural eight-day season in 1950, the company has introduced some of the world's greatest singers, commissioned works by Canadian composers and librettists and devised innovative ways of attracting audiences. From that very first performance to the long-awaited opening of a new home at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, CBC Digital Archives goes backstage with the Canadian Opera Company.

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"We are really desperate for audiences," says Monika Hofmann-Simon, the Canadian Opera Company's tour director. It is 1977, and the COC decides to let the beauty of what they do speak directly to a new audience by mounting mini opera productions in English at Toronto's cultural festival, Caravan. The public is free to enter the COC pavilion to hear an abbreviated version of Rossini's Barber of Seville and to have a drink of "Isolde's potion" or a bite of "Chicken TetRossini".
• By the end of the 2009/10 season, attendance has been strong for several years running. According to the Canadian Opera Company's website, the fall run of 2009 had 99.6 per cent attendance. Attendance has been at 99 per cent or higher since the opening of Toronto's Four Seasons Opera Centre in 2006, and by April of 2007 the COC had pulled in over $10 million in subscription sales for its 2008 season.

• At the time of this broadcast, in 1977, opera was considered to be quite costly relative to other forms of entertainment at "six to 12 dollars for a ticket." Converted to 2010 dollars, that cost would be $21.50 to $45. In 2010, regular tickets to Bizet's Carmen ranged from $62 to $292

• Lotfi Mansouri, the COC's General Director through most of the 1970s and 1980s, was committed to shaking the notion of opera as esoteric and wanted to engage the public in an art form he felt was essentially fun. In the 1980s he introduced a summer opera tent in Toronto where an audience of young and old could hear a 37-minute performance of Hansel and Gretel while sipping drinks served by singing waiters.

• It was under Mansouri's leadership in 1982 that Surtitles were introduced at the COC and to the opera world.

• By 2010, the COC's outreach programs include summer camps, interactive online activities, student rates and free noon-hour concerts.

• Toronto's Caravan Festival was introduced in 1969 by Leon and Zena Kossar and ran for 35 years. At its height, it had more than 50 pavilions, each named after a famous international city and offering diverse food, crafts and performances typical to the country of origin. The Canadian Opera Company was an unexpected presence amongst pavilions called "Amsterdam" and "Rio de Janeiro," but argued that opera was multilingual, multinational, and multicultural.

Medium: Radio
Program: Identities
Broadcast Date: Sept. 11, 1977
Guest(s): Monika Hoffman-Simon
Reporter: Carole Giangrande
Duration: 5:58
Genuine 100-year-old caravan, Derek Bradley, photographer, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Last updated: January 28, 2013

Page consulted on July 17, 2014

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