OPINION

Sorry, Richard. I know you wanted no operatics.

He veered away from doctors, explaining that ‘conducting is the healthiest job’

BARBARA AMIEL September 3 2007
OPINION

Sorry, Richard. I know you wanted no operatics.

He veered away from doctors, explaining that ‘conducting is the healthiest job’

BARBARA AMIEL September 3 2007

Sorry, Richard. I know you wanted no operatics.

OPINION

He veered away from doctors, explaining that ‘conducting is the healthiest job’

BARBARA AMIEL

There was no standing room left on Tuesday at the funeral of Richard Bradshaw, general director of the Canadian Opera Company. I got to Toronto’s St. James’ Cathedral over an hour before the service and bagged one of the last seats. Outside, rows of chairs on the grass quickly filled. Inside, incense and the exquisitely spare Mass for Four Voices by Elizabethan composer William Byrd wafted over full pews and packed aisles. Bradshaw was a man of strong faith worn lightly. He wanted no eulogy and no operatics. So I’m sorry, Richard. This organ has all stops pulled out.

I’ve been trying to understand how it is that Bradshaw’s death last week gutted so many of us as if he were our own blood. Heaven knows what his family is going through, his wife who was with him at the airport after a blissful holiday in Nova Scotia, his two children who were waiting to meet him. He collapsed waiting for the luggage, received last rites and died in less than an hour. Sixty-three years old, a man so full of life that you felt his energy alone could keep every appliance and light going in metropolitan Toronto.

The widespread grief, I think, comes from a different sort of blood relationship and isn’t much of a mystery: the blood in our veins carries not only the vital elements for physical existence but also the oxygen for our souls. Just as there is iron in the soul so there is music, always has been, and that music is a beam on which we ride through the darkness to glimpse something more—in Richard’s case a shortcut to his faith. Losing Bradshaw is akin to losing pints of that blood or being struck down with pernicious anemia.

All around us is a lifeless brew of the mediocre and the bland, of politically correct people and cowards. Bradshaw was the devil to all of that. He couldn’t be bought with honours and lectured the Canadian govern-

ment on its fear of excellence and faddish definitions of “culture.” In his pitch-perfect homily, the Very Reverend Douglas Stoute remarked that he had routinely been confronted by Bradshaw on the subject of the increasingly “anodyne” nature of modernized Anglican ritual. There was a knowing chuckle among the mourners.

If ever a man came close to dying in childbirth it was Richard. He brought our first national opera house, Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, into life only one year ago after nearly two decades of labour. He fought a ferocious and lonely battle for Canada’s talented young singers and musicians though he himself was a British transplant.

Anyone who saw the excitement on the faces of the high-schoolers last season who

came to dress rehearsals free, probably the first opera performance many of them had ever heard let alone attended, knew that Richard was as modern in his desire to be “inclusive” as any breast-beater. There are free lunchtime concerts at the Four Seasons Centre in the aptly named Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre. Bradshaw despaired over the notion that opera was only for the moneyed set or “elite.” His touch with wealthy donors was legendary but it killed him in the end. If ever a house did, as in D.H. Lawrence’s famous “The Rocking Horse Winner,” cry out “there must be more money,” that cry came from the glass and concrete walls of the Four Seasons Centre.

Having managed to raise the millions it took to build, Bradshaw couldn’t—of necessity-stop there. An opera house needs an operating budget and operating budgets don’t have names on them to attract donors. He despaired over the lack of interest from governments, mouthing platitudes about culture but viewing opera as something

vaguely dodgy and certainly politically incorrect—which may go to explain the distinct shortage of officialdom at his funeral.

So Richard worked the circuit: four-course dinners, cocktail parties, lunches and breakfasts. When his weight and health began to show the toll he veered away from doctors. “Conducting is the healthiest job,” he would say, citing the longevity of Sir Georg Solti, 84, Herbert von Karajan, 81, Sir Thomas Beecham, 81, Eugen Jochum, 84.

As it was, Bradshaw literally worked himself to death. He was like a street performer playing his one-man band with the addition of an organ grinder’s monkey on his back. There was his real work of programming, casting, conducting, rehearsing and implementing the innovative ideas that brought spectacular productions and new faces to Canada’s opera stage. Then there was his role as administrator, fundraiser, publicist and player of any other tambourine or drum that needed banging. Finally, there was his vision for the future: how to make the house on par with the greatest.

He was well on his way. Acoustically and from the opera lover’s sightline, architect Jack Diamond’s Four Seasons Centre is equal to the world’s best. Musically,

I can’t think of an artistic director since Wagner who had the guts to open his new opera house with a full Ring cycle—and pull it off to international acclaim. At the first season’s opening last September, under Bradshaw’s baton, the orchestra performed sublimely as its conductor tore through the 15V2 hours of music. This coming season is inspired both in singers and opera selection. But the venture stands at a precipice without Richard.

He asked if he could come down for dinner during our recent stay in Chicago. Bradshaw’s appetite for modern history and his relish in debate, food and drink was a perfect fit with my husband’s. Still, it was July and we expected to be coming home shortly. Better Bradshaw not face the rigours of such a trip. “We’ll see you in Toronto, after your holiday before rehearsals,” I said, visualizing him back in the orchestra pit, arms raised with baton in hand. You never know the last time of anything in life. M

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