General Director of Opera Memphis in a set of his own design.
photography by Larry Kuzniewski
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Whether directing an opera or rescuing dying plants, Ned Canty’s life and office are as expressive and colorful as an aria from one of his favorite shows, such as Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, or The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. Though Canty is the top of the food chain when it comes to Memphis opera, this native New Yorker wasn’t always a fan. “If you’d told me at 21 I’d [end up] running an opera company I’d have thought you were nuts. I saw an opera at 18 and didn’t really like it. For years I didn’t go to another one. Then at 26, I got asked to work on one as an assistant director, and after I hemmed and hawed I kind of got blackmailed into doing it. I fell in love with the art form. I went in expecting it to be boring and stuffy, and I was completely wrong. The people were fantastic, the art form was broader, more interesting, funnier, and more engaging than I’d imagined.”
Canty graduated summa cum laude with a major in drama and classical philosophy from Catholic University of America, and he has a passion for sharing his love of opera with others. “There are none more righteous than the newly converted. That’s why I enjoy converting people because I shared most of the misconceptions people have about opera. So I know what you have to do to break through.”
1. Wall of plants: Affectionately known as “the nursery,” an entire wall of Canty’s workspace looks more like a greenhouse than a director’s office. It fits his personality perfectly, but he claims it was purely a happy coincidence that stemmed from lack of sunlight in his yard. “It’s a great way to keep me from leaving stacks of papers everywhere, and you can really feel the oxygen levels increase when you walk in,” says Canty, an avid gardener. “Lowe’s does this thing where they sell dying plants for like 75 percent off, and I’m slowly nursing them back to life. My wife rescues dogs and I rescue plants.”