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Spring 2018 Newsletter
includes the NEW President's Report

President's Report

      The London Opera Guild is at a critical point in its history. As I have said before, there are two major indicators of the direction in which the Guild is going. The first is the end of our buying of subscriptions from the COC and the selling of individual tickets to members. We have had to stop this practice because fewer and fewer members were buying tickets and we were in constant danger of losing money through unsold tickets for which we had already paid. This puts an end to our greatest source of revenue, the margin between the cost of the subscriptions and the profit in selling them as individual tickets, and this loss of revenue means that some radical changes are in order. The second is the decrease in demand for seats on the opera bus. We used to run four buses, then three, then two, and now one, and that one bus is usually only half full.
      There are reasons for these declines, which I have outlined in earlier reports. The aging of opera-going fans is a major factor in both cases. There are several generations of younger people who are interested in opera, but too few of these people are joining organizations like ours. At the same time, we have the emergence of new technologies such as high-definition broadcasts of live opera performances from the Metropolitan Opera. For many people in a television-driven world, these generally excellent performances are a more than adequate replacement for the much more expensive and time-consuming attendance at live opera performances. In the eleven years since the beginning of these broadcasts, I have missed two; but I am a committed fan of live performances. Many are not, and so the ways in which we pursue our interests as an opera guild have to change.
      The other significant change at the end of this opera season, the May 27th concert at St. James Westminster Anglican Church, followed by the AGM, is the change to the Board of the London Opera Guild. Our secretary, Margot Khan, and our treasurer, Regine Moorcroft, are retiring from their positions, and, as I announced at the last AGM, I am intending to retire as president after nine years in that office. It is therefore important for members of the Guild to ask yourselves whether or not you would be willing to serve on the Board, and whether you can think of people who would be willing to step into these positions. This is not a light responsibility, as the demise of the Oakville Opera Guild last year has taught us. That Guild functioned for eighty-three years until it had to disband because it could not find enough volunteers to run the organization. The future of the London Opera Guild is entirely in your hands.
      The opera bus: the future of this project is also entirely in the hands of members of the Guild. As long as there are enough people willing to pay for a seat and as long as there is an organization that is willing to run the opera bus, it can continue. Here are the figures: assuming that the rental price for a 56-seat luxury bus remains unchanged, the cost of a London-Toronto-London trip will remain at about $1400. This means that, at $50/person, we need 27 people on the bus in order to break even. This does not mean that every trip need have this many people on the bus, but it is the necessary average number/trip over the six trips of the opera season. In other words, over the course of the COC opera season, we need at least 168 people, each paying $50/trip if the opera bus is to continue from year to year. The opera bus will, as I promised, continue to the end of the 2017-2018 season. The next season, 2018- 2019, is somewhat more problematic. We could, of course, promise to continue the bus under any circumstances if we were to decide to subsidize the cost of running the bus. But that would violate one of the fundamental objectives of the Guild, viz., to support opera at the COC and in the opera program of the Faculty of Music.
      So, it would be very helpful for all members who wish to take the bus if we knew in advance how many people are committed to the opera bus. If you wish to use the opera bus in the 2018-2019 season, please let Joan Mortimer know as soon as possible. We will, if it is at all possible, continue to run the opera bus for the 2018-2019 season.
      So much for the financial state of the Guild. On a happier note, in our pursuit of the Guild’s objectives, we have had some good results. At our Board meeting of January 24th, we approved a $500 donation to the very new Little London Community Opera for their production of Don Giovanni. Melina Garcia is the director of this small but enterprising company.
      We also approved a $500 donation to the most exciting opera project in recent London history, the composition and staging of a new opera. It is Look: An Opera in 10 Paintings, with music by Oliver Whitehead and libretto by Linda Nicholas. Oliver Whitehead is a well-known London composer, jazz guitarist and lecturer in English. He is a member of the Antler River Project and a frequent collaborator with Sonja Gustafson, one of the two performers in this opera, along with baritone Paul Grambo, a voice teacher and member of the Elora Festival Singers. The opera is a series of songs, commentaries on the paintings of famous London artists like Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe and Paterson Ewen, artists who in the early 1970s made London the place to be for artists and for connoisseurs of contemporary Canadian art. Oliver tells me that he has written the music for the singers in musical theatre style; and I am certain that they will be a big hit when the opera is performed on June 3, 2018, in Museum London, the venue for the opera and the paintings. As with all projects like this, there is a need for donations; these may be made (for a tax receipt) to Museum London, specifically for this project.
      At the end of January and in the first week of February, UWOpera presented The Pirates of Penzance. There were, as usual, two casts of principals, and I saw both casts. The first cast featured an excellent performance of the role of Frederick by the young tenor Grayson Nesbitt, one of our London Opera Guild scholarship winners last November. Of note to Guild members as well were the fine singing and acting of Ardavan Taraporewala as the Major-General. Ardavan recently became a member of the Board. The other cast featured another Guild scholarship winner, tenor Colin Bell as Frederick, in a truly fine performance. In both casts, the ensemble was very tight and disciplined, with good blocking and excellent choreography, especially for the seven policemen/women, who provided some of the best comedy in the whole show (and one of whom was Robert Hutson, another new Board member).
      I will end this report with a reference to a page in the last Opera Canada magazine, a page on the rapidly- growing career of Geoffrey Sirett. Just a few years ago, he was one of our scholarship winners and also one of the most talented baritones to graduate from the University of Western Ontario. In 2014, he was a leader of Bicycle Opera in a performance at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church which we sponsored. He is now the director of that company, and on their tour of southern Ontario last summer they cycled over 1,000 km. as they visited various towns and cities. Geoffrey himself has appeared with numerous opera companies in Canada and is an accomplished performer in oratorio and recitals. He is one of a growing number of talented singers from the University of Western Ontario who are making their mark on the Canadian operatic scene. They are the future of opera and we have been privileged to help and encourage them.

Ernie Redekop

Spring 2018 Newsletter
includes the President's Report

Fall 2017 Newsletter
includes the President's Report

August 2016 Newsletter
includes the President's Report

The State of the London Opera Guild - 2016

The 2015-2016 opera season for the London Opera Guild has, in many ways, been a good one. Our members have been able to attend outstanding productions of the Canadian Opera Company (with the one exception, in my opinion, of Pyramus and Thisbe, a quasi-operatic tone poem that masqueraded as an opera for all of 50 minutes). Rick Philipps, Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon were our speakers, and we concluded the series with a brilliant operatic recital by Marjorie Maltais (mezzo-soprano), Cristina Pisani (soprano) and Patrick Bowman (baritone), with Melanie Cancade as pianist. We had the opportunity to see UWOpera's Falstaff, with Chad Louwerse in the title role, and, in the tenth season of MetOpera HD broadcasts, we were able to be present (virtually) at the Met's outstanding productions.

However, this past season also brought into clearer focus some unsettling tendencies in the history of the London Opera Guild. Members are buying fewer tickets to productions of the Canadian Opera Company and they are buying fewer seats on the opera bus. Attendance at our meetings has not been good; only nineteen of our approximately 150 members attended the annual general meeting. Those who did heard me read my president's report, the substance of which is in the report which you are reading.

We are faced with a present loss of revenue, and I believe that we will see further declines in the money which the Guild can raise. We are by no means facing imminent bankruptcy or even serious financial problems at the moment, but we are confronted by several longer-range problems which are not unique to this Guild, as well as by some problems which are unique to us. Let me define the state of things as simply and clearly as possible, beginning with a description of our historical responsibilities.

The Guild has several mandates. It was founded to encourage the appreciation of opera among its members, as well as to provide as much support as it could to the Canadian Opera Company. In the last two decades the Guild has also taken on the support of opera students in the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario; we have awarded some 77 scholarships to outstanding students of voice. In the last few years, we have also been giving away tickets to UWOpera productions to high-school students; my rough guess is that we have sponsored about 150 students in this program. We have also twice sponsored the young people's group of the COC in productions of opera written especially for elementary-school students, and both events were highly successful. During the six years in which I have been president, our Guild has given away at least $7,000 annually, split almost equally between the COC and the opera program in the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario.

The questions facing all members of the London Opera Guild are these:

(1) what are the financial prospects for the Guild?
(2) if, given these financial prospects, we believe that the Guild will have the resources to continue, what direction should the Guild take?
(3) if, given these financial prospects, we believe that the Guild will not have the resources to continue as it is, what direction should the Guild take?

I will attempt to answer these questions:

(1) the long-range financial prospects for the Guild are not good. We depend financially (i) on the margin between the subscriptions we buy from the COC and the tickets we sell to members; and (ii) on the margin between the rental cost of the opera bus and the revenue from the sale of seats. Because the sales of tickets to COC performances and of seats on the opera bus for these performances have declined rather sharply, especially over the past season, any recovery from declining revenues would depend on an yet unforeseen increase in ticket sales and sales of seats on the opera bus;

(2) the Guild might be able to continue in its usual fashion for a year or two, barely breaking even and relying on the money we have in the bank, but I do not foresee a positive change in our sources of revenue;

(3) the Guild could change the ways in which it fulfills its mandate, perhaps by changing how it conducts meetings, e.g., by sponsoring a series of recitals by opera students rather than a series of speakers; it could reduce its donations to the COC (already the case for 2016) and to scholarships for UWO opera students (although I would oppose this kind of decrease); or it could become a social club for opera fans (the model for a number of opera guilds in Ontario). These are not the only choices, of course. Should revenues decline even more rapidly, there might be no choice but to close the Guild; this has already happened to the Western New York Guild, the Peterborough Build and, just this past May, the closing of the Oakville Guild, which had been functioning without interruption since it was founded 68 years ago.

Were we to be forced to close for one reason or another, we would have to choose what to do with any remaining money. We could donate it to the COC, although it would be a small contribution indeed, given the $60 million budget of the COC. We could donate it to the University of Western Ontario as an endowment for a scholarship to be given to an outstanding student of voice in the Faculty of Music. Given the impressive record of the Faculty in producting outstanding operatic singers, I, for one, would find such a course of action clearly preferable.

We are at a critical point in the history of the London Opera Guild. If you, as a member of the Guild, have an opinion on this topic and perhaps a suggestion, now is the time to let your Board know what you think. The decisions which the Board will have to make in the near future will affect all of us and will determine the future of the London Opera Guild. Therefore it is important that you print and then fill out the questionnaire(pdf) in this Newsletter   OR   answer the questions electronically. You may also write to me directly at eredekop@rogers.com . I will make sure that all members of the Board share each one of your responses before we make decisions about the future of our Guild..

                        Ernie Redekop, president