Magazine article Opera Canada

A Delicate Balance: To Inaugurate a New Series of Encounters with Influential Figures Shaping the Business of Opera in Canada, Richard Turp Interviewed Aime Dontigny, the New Head of Music at the Canada Council for the Arts

Magazine article Opera Canada

A Delicate Balance: To Inaugurate a New Series of Encounters with Influential Figures Shaping the Business of Opera in Canada, Richard Turp Interviewed Aime Dontigny, the New Head of Music at the Canada Council for the Arts

Article excerpt

Established in 1957, the Canada Council for the Arts quickly became the leading national supporter of the arts. In fiscal 2011 (ending Mar. 31, 20.12), it distributed $5.8 million to 24 Canadian opera and music-theatre performing companies through its Opera/New Opera program. Grants varied considerably from the Canadian Opera Company's $2,058,000 to the Classical Music Consort's $8,000.These are operating grants. In addition, the Council has in recent years underwritten development of new Canadian works with $2.5 million for the Canadian Opera Creation Fund and is also a vital source of funding for individual singers, musicians and creative professionals. Aime Dontigny was appointed Head of Music late last spring, and in September had one of his first meetings with the performing companies as a group when he participated in the Opera.ca Annual meeting in Montreal. He talked at that time with Opera Canada's Richard Turp.

Opera Canada: Since Canada is so huge geographically and diverse demographically, does it even make sense to speak of a unified Canadian opera industry?

Aime Dontigny: Yes, because there is an opera structure that is helped not only by the Canada Council, but also by provincial governments and other partners. Companies throughout the country have an audience base that reflects the strength of the sector. Opera is a flagship of the music sector and the most interdisciplinary of the arts forms. It helps the development not only of singers, but also orchestra players, scenic artists and so on, and so is key to the overall health of the music sector. The Council supports high-quality productions of standard repertoire, but over the past 20 years has focused on Canadian creation so that our own unique voice can be heard worldwide.

OC: What is the major challenge facing the opera industry?

AD: It is definitely the need to support the dissemination of opera better and encourage collaboration between opera companies.

OC: Is this collaboration essential in the Council's view?

AD: Yes, but on projects that are appropriate for the development of individual companies. For example, we would encourage proposals that

might help individual companies recoup major investments in productions by attempting to assist further productions of the work. Similarly, if a company has invested important sums in commissioning a Canadian work, such as one of the opera's by [composer] John Estacio and [librettist] John Murrell, we would actively encourage touring that production in Canada. From the Council's point of view, this targeted investment would underwrite greater dissemination of both the art form and Canadian opera.

We realise that opera companies need to plan ahead, and so, last June, the Council announced increased investments until 2014 in national and international market access and dissemination. This means increased support for a variety of individuals and company projects to assist in their respective developments. This is also important because Council backing in this field can act sometimes as an impetus to private and corporate donors.

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OC: Do you think Council policies and process adequately reflect the current needs of Canadian opera companies?

AD: First of all, let's agree that there will never be enough money to fully fund the projects submitted to the Council. It is no longer a question of building an artistic or operatic infrastructure as it was 50 years ago, it is a matter of developing and supporting an industry. [The Council's approach] is much less paternalistic than it once was.

But this is a financially difficult period and an era of heightened scrutiny by Canadian taxpayers. We have traditionally made a strong case for an increased investment in the arts, and I certainly don't think the Council is under assault from government, It has, for example, escaped government cutbacks since 2007. …

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