Richard Bradshaw of Canadian Opera Company dies at 63

Richard Bradshaw, general director of the Canadian Opera Company and the man who brought an opera house to Toronto, has died.

Richard Bradshaw, general director of the Canadian Opera Company and the man who brought an opera house to Toronto, has died.

Richard Bradshaw, general director of the Canadian Opera Company, built an international reputation for the COC. ((Michael Cooper/COC))

Bradshaw, who conducted more than 60 operas in his 18 years with the COC,died Wednesday evening of an apparent heart attack, thecompany has confirmed. He was 63.

The COC hailed Bradshawas a "visionary leader," "a conductor of international repute" and one of Canada's "most outspoken and fearless advocates for culture and the arts," in a statement Thursday afternoon.

"In our sorrow, we pay tribute to the inspiration and leadership he played in the cultural landscape of his adopted country," said David Ferguson, president of the COC board. "We are grieving and we will miss him terribly."

Brought cutting-edge opera to COC

British-born Bradshawhad a career as a choral and opera conductor in the U.K. before moving to San Francisco in 1977. In 1989,he was hired as chief conductor of theCanadian Opera Companyand became general director in 1998.

Bradshaw helped turn it into a company known for cutting-edge opera productions and high standards of music.

He waged a 30-year campaign to build an opera house in Toronto, and that was finally realized in June 2006with the opening ofthe Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

"His vision was of making the COC into a world-class company and he couldn't do that without an opera house," said Wayne Gooding, editor of Opera Canada, who has followed Bradshaw's career.

A tall, striking man with a mane of grey hair, he was gregarious and passionate, an ideal public face for the company, Gooding said.

"He will be remembered as a builder — not just of the building — but of the company itself," he said.

"Over the past 17 years or so since he's been in Canada, he's been a champion of the arts— not just the opera— all the arts," he said.

Got his startin Britain

Bradshaw was born in Rugby, England, in 1944 and studied English at London University in 1965.

He studied conducting privately with British conductor Adrian Boult and received a fellowship to work with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the supervision of Charles Groves.

Bradshaw, who played the organ and piano,began a conducting career that took him throughout the world, involvingboth operatic and orchestral music.

He was chorus director at the Glyndebourne Festival from 1975-1977 and then resident conductor at San Francisco Opera from 1977-1989.

'There are few like him'

Bradshaw came to the Canadian Opera Company first as guest conductor in 1988 and took over as chief conductor andhead of music in 1989.

In 1994, he was named artistic director, taking over the theatrical as well as the music side of the opera company. In 1998, he became general director, taking over the finances.

"His favourite instrument was the human voice and a lot of singers across the country and across the world benefited from his casting and his direction," said Canadian opera singer MeashaBrueggergosman.

"There are few like him. There are not that many really great opera conductors left."

Brueggergosman recalled his love of French music and the sureness with which he guided young singers.

"He always knew when to keep it moving and he always knew when to give you time.… That's not something that is taught — he just had this intuition," she said.

As an artistic director, Bradshaw was both ambitious and cutting edge. Alongside traditional operatic fare, he brought more unusualoperas such as Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, Salome, Mario and the Magician, Jenufa and Oedipus Rex with Symphony of Psalms.

He hired film directors such as Atom Egoyan and François Girard and theatrical directors such as Robert LePage to direct productions.

He worked at the music,honing the COC Orchestra as the artistic backbone of the company. He built the company's repertoire, adding the great works of the opera canon.

"It is vital that a world-class opera company build a solid repertoire of productions from which it can draw," he said in 2005.

99% attendance in past season

His accomplishments includedthe ambitious Ring Cycle that played at the newly opened Four Seasons Centre in the fall of 2006.

Both the COC's production of Wagner's operas and the building itself drew accolades. And Bradshaw was hailed for both his accomplishment in bringing it to the stage and his conducting.

"I've never heard such a range of hues and intensities from this orchestra, or a more deeply grounded bass. The famous 163-bar opening elaboration on an E-flat major chord felt like the tuning of the building itself," Globe and Mail critic Robert Everett-Green wrote.

The result has been unprecedented successes such as thepast season, which played to 99 per cent attendance.

As general director, Bradshaw turned around the company's finances, fostering a series of relationships with the business community that helped make the company solvent and then helped it build the Four Seasons Centre.

Pushed tirelessly for support for opera centre, arts

But his most monumental accomplishment is the Jack Diamond-designedbuilding itself, which won rave reviews for its acoustics and architecture.

It was an idea he had from the time he first came to Toronto, through successive governments which supported, then backed out of the building of a performance space dedicated to opera.

"I never allowed myself to disbelieve," he said on the eve ofits opening.

Bradshaw was known above all as a man with a vision, who hoped to push his adopted homeland into developing a strong cultural sector.

Bradshaw, shown earlier in 2007, believed the cultural sector could be a backbone of the Canadian economy. ((Canadian Press))

"Everything in Canada is in place — we could lead the world artistically," he said in a speech after being named chief executive of the year by the Canadian Public Relations Society in 2006.

"We are a great and rich country and getting richer, but we have Third World investment in the arts."

Bradshaw saw the arts as a rich asset that should be enjoyed both by those who have money and those of more modest means.

He didn't think all the funding for cultural organizations should come from ticket prices, but urged both government and business to boost their support of the arts.

Bradshaw has received a host of accolades over the years, including honorary degrees and the Order of Ontario.

Bradshaw leaves his wife, Diana, daughter Jenny and son James.

A funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Toronto.