News of the death of Richard Bradshaw casts a deep shadow over the old homestead. It reminds me of a conversation I once had with Andrew Chase (chef, restaurateur, composer and now food writer) who was also a big fan of Bradshaw and the amazing achievements of the COC under his aegis. Chase recalls having dinner at Biff’s after the opera and Bradshaw walked in to join a group at another table. “In New York or London or any major city,” pointed out Chase, “people would have stood and applauded their city’s great maestro. In Toronto, no one even glanced up. It made me so angry!”
Was it philistinism or Toronto diffidence? Or are they two sides of the same coin? I once wrote a fan letter to Richard Bradshaw—very gushy and heartfelt. Now I wish I had dared to send it. That was several years ago, and I was all aglow with enthusiasm for his gorgeous production of The Journey to Reims. I think of it as typical of the evenings he and the COC gave us in the last decade—enormously accomplished, with brilliant playing from the orchestra, a perfectly balanced ensemble on the stage, and a merry, highly sophisticated production of an opera that is rarely performed. It demands too many gifted soloists, you see, but there again Richard Bradshaw was able to do wondrous things. By personal charm in the early days and later because of the international reputation of his work, he brought extraordinary musicians to Toronto—some renowned, some discoveries of his own. Our city strives to be world-class in so many fields and disciplines and so often falls short. Bradshaw triumphed. He even pulled off the terribly difficult feat of taking an art form that is exceptionally highbrow and expensive and making it attractive to the general population without compromising his standards.
Growing up in London, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of fabulous opera; because of Bradshaw’s COC, my children have had the same magical experience. Not all the productions were perfect—I got a little tired of seeing the villain with a bald head and a leather trench coat in everything from Wagner to Britten—but Bradshaw lifted the quality of performance from the chorus and the orchestra to amazing heights. The only time I met him—over lunch at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar with our mutual friend, Peter Simon, director of the Royal Conservatory of Music—he turned out to be delightful company, the repository of an inexhaustible store of good-natured anecdotes, all told with a conductor’s impeccable timing. I hope someone commissions a superb statue of Richard Bradshaw for the foyer of the opera house he created—a focus and memorial that his countless admirers can turn into a shrine to the man and to the concept of daring to settle for nothing less than excellence.