Opera Australia Blog

OA Adapting to Thrive

Opera Australia welcomed over 460,000 people in 2013, through a diverse program of opera, music theatre, concerts and festival/outdoor events. Many of these people were new to OA – in fact, newcomers represent approximately half of our audience for each performance.  And these people are geographically diverse: they’re in capital cities – Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne…. They’re in regional Australia – Tennant Creek, Albury, Cairns, Windsor…. Still more form audiences for our digital broadcasts, on TV and in cinemas around the world. Growth is certainly part of Opera Australia’s arsenal and the challenge right now is about future-proofing the Company as it moves forward in this direction, so this growth can continue.

These are challenging times to be in the opera business. Around the world, opera as an art form stands on a precipice. Opera Australia is no more immune to the forces of declining audience numbers and revenue than San Diego Opera, Opera Pacific, New York City Opera or any of the companies that have all closed their doors in the last few years. This is not an American phenomenon. Collectively, Italian opera companies are 300 million euros in debt.

We know that opera has a vital place in Australia’s cultural landscape. It’s often described as the ultimate art: a combination of sublime music, persuasive drama and high visual impact through stunning sets and costumes. This combination is a potent one, with the power to move, entertain and inspire us.

So at Opera Australia, we are committed to building a strong future for opera in this country. We believe the best way to do that is to grow our potential audience, diversify our product and present everything we do to the best possible standard.

Making the commitment to grow the Company involves some risk. We have to face our challenges head on.

The audience for opera is changing. That means we need to diversify our offering and play to more people in more places. That is why Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, staging an annual musical and a hosting a double New Year’s Eve Gala are so important to our business model.  Last year, over half of the people that came to an Opera Australia event came to one of these..

Traditional income streams are declining. Corporate support has flattened, we are relying less and less on government funding and single-ticket buyers outstrip subscriptions.  Philanthropy has seen some strong results in recent years, but increasingly this is tied to specific projects – The Ring Cycle, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour for example. To guarantee Opera Australia’s future, we must both sell more tickets and find ways to reduce operating costs.

We face more competition. Puccini and Mozart have to compete in a crowded market with Game of Thrones, Beyoncé and Rugby League. To do this, we believe we must raise the bar. We seek out the best creative teams to make our productions visually and dramatically compelling. We employ skilled craftspeople to build spectacular sets and costumes. We cast the best possible talent from Australian and abroad so that Opera Australia can compete on an international level. No top-tier opera company can afford to be parochial – the vision must be global.

The cost of running an opera company is at a historic high. We need to reduce operating costs, and we need everyone’s input to make that happen. Every department – from finance to wardrobe to marketing to artistic – will meet to find ways to do this. Together we need to look at our processes – creative, manufacturing, rehearsal, administrative – to find ways to change, to adapt and to reduce our costs.

We know that some of these changes will be difficult but they are essential to giving opera a future in this country. We are committed to that future.

Our plan:

  • To keep presenting performances at the highest possible standard – stunning sets and costumes, flawless direction and the best available voices.
  • To keep investing in our talent. That includes bringing the best international artists to Australia to sing alongside Australian artists, to develop local talent including the continued roll-out of a robust Young Artist Program to mentor extraordinary singers at the beginning of their careers (OA has invested $1.4million in its YAP in the past four years) and opening up international audition and performance opportunities.
  • To continue performing in unusual places – on tour, on the water, on the beach - as well as on traditional stages
  • To work tirelessly to free the company from the financial knife edge. A strong balance sheet makes it possible to program more freely.

We want to take artistic risks such as presenting Wagner’s Ring Cycle, performing unusual works and commissioning new, Australian opera.  But in order to do that, we have to shore up the company’s foundation. We have to build our audience, sell more tickets, slim our operating costs and raise more corporate support.

To do that, we will program popular works that attract large audiences. We will present our productions at the best possible standards using the best talent we can find. We will cultivate a desire among new audiences to see their first opera or musical. And, to return.

The challenges facing opera around the world are real and if  we stand still, we risk demise. Instead, we must innovate and diversify. We’re committed to creating a strong future for Opera Australia and opera as an art form. We aim to do this collaboratively, and transparently, taking measured risks to return the Company to financial safety and thus, artistic freedom.

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