Richard Bradshaw, Longtime Head of Canadian Opera Company, Dies Suddenly at 63

Classic Arts News   Richard Bradshaw, Longtime Head of Canadian Opera Company, Dies Suddenly at 63
Richard Bradshaw, the conductor and administrator who presided over a remarkable rise in the fortunes of Canadian Opera Company — not to mention the rise of Canada's first purpose-built opera house — died last night at age 63.

According to The Globe and Mail, he suffered an apparent heart attack at Toronto's Pearson International Airport while returning home from a vacation with his wife.

Born in 1944 in Northamptonshire, England, Bradshaw studied at the University of London and began his career as a choral and opera conductor. In 1977, he came the United States to work as resident conductor at San Francisco Opera. He moved to Toronto in 1989 when the Canadian Opera Company hired him as chief conductor. He was named artistic director in 1994 and general director in 1998 — the first musician to head the company in four decades.

In a city and nation that had produced a number of distinguished opera singers but was not itself known as a major center of the art form, Bradshaw gradually built his company's repertoire and performance standards — and in the process greatly increased both attendance and COC's reputation. He introduced a huge range of work to the company and to Canada — from Cavalli's La Calisto to Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to Poul Ruders's The Handmaid's Tale — conducting many of the productions himself. Last season COC presented, under Bradshaw's baton, Canada's first complete Wagner Ring cycle.

That Ring helped inaugurate what is arguably Bradshaw's other crowning achievement: the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Canada's first full-fledged opera house and now the home of both COC and the National Ballet of Canada. After several decades of struggle and controversy and several rejected plans for a new opera house, the building project that Bradshaw oversaw was completed on time and on budget — and the Four Seasons Centre has been praised by critics worldwide for its acoustics, sightlines and comfort.

Bradshaw's accomplishments at COC include a more mundane, though crucial, triumph. When he became general director, according to The Globe and Mail, the company was demoralized and C$4 million in debt. He turned things around to the point that COC has run a surplus for four seasons in a row, with steadily growing income from ticket sales and donations alike.

All these featts ultimately spring from Bradshaw's belief in his art form — and his gift for convincing others of opera's importance. "If we do it well enough, there's no reason why anyone should not care about opera," he told The Globe and Mail last year. "I really believe that. Opera is a fusion of all the art forms. Given a chance, an opera house could become important to the lives of people, even to those who might not ordinarily think about attending."

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