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The new Trump of the Arts? Comments of the week

Our exclusive story on Thursday, ‘Victorian Minister blasts Opera Australia whose audience will die in their seats’ in which the Victorian Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley, lambasted Opera Australia, has prompted passionate responses from opera lovers.

Some readers seemed to take Foley’s criticism of OA’s perceived lack of innovation, well, almost personally.

‘Joanna’, who appears to have a working knowledge of OA’s various activities, wrote:

Foley is the new Trump of the Arts – fake news, fake facts, no idea of the reality of the situation.

The Victorian opera going public have had the Ring cycle twice in three years (Sydney – none), and have seen major new productions of Don Carlos, King Roger, Cav & Pag, Rigoletto, etc etc – all for $1.1 million annually, all in the same period. As for Foley’s assertion that Victorian based companies do far better than the OA at diversifying their performance activities, that is arrant nonsense. The OA, far, far more than any opera company anywhere in the world, performs in varieties of venues, in front of a vast range of audiences from different socio-economic backgrounds. Opera on the Harbour (with 85% of patrons seeing Opera for the first time.) Opera on the beach (in Surfers Paradise). Opera touring (this year through NT, QLD, VIC). Commercial enterprises, (My Fair Lady etc). Two schools companies that work for 8 months of the year in two states. In Sydney this year the company will perform in 4 venues alone. As for the money, the OA Victorian schools company performs to 200,000 children a year, (and have done for decades) for not one cent of Victorian government money.

The Trump allusion continued in ‘JC’s’ comment defending OA: 

Did Martin Foley really say this? Seems more like the kind of spray Donald Trump would do than a professional politician. I’d be interested to know what Creative Victoria say about it – bet they are embarrassed.

‘JC’ in another post entered the debate on who has the bigger subsidy – OA or Victorian Opera (OA)?:

The Victorian Government already gives VO $3.8 million, compared to the $1.1 million it gives OA, even though VO’s Melbourne activity and audience is tiny compared to OA’s. VO is already 61% government funded (compared to OA’s 22%). OA is much better value – they have a big audience so don’t need the majority of their costs subsidised by the taxpayer, like VO.

But ‘Liz Turner’ wrote:

Funds should be given to VO because OA is mainly in Sydney and not really interested in MELBOURNE.

And here is a seemingly less partisan response to the VO vs OA debate from ‘Kate’:

I knew nothing about opera and wanted to learn about it. So I started attending Opera Australia productions in Sydney when I was eligible for the youth subscriber prices around 2008. For the most part, I really enjoyed the productions. Particularly a Baz Lurhmann designed Midsummer Night’s Dream and one based on Peter Carey’s Bliss. But most of the shows were very long (ie up to 4hrs) and this sometimes was a battle to get through late on a weeknight after a full day at work… even if other aspects were very good. Once I no longer qualified as a youth subscriber, I had to stop subscribing. Was prohibitively expensive to get anything but back row seats. And even the money for those didn’t seem worth not being able to see the stage/performers properly. And the prices to see the Ring Cycle in Melbourne the year before I stopped subscribing seemed prohibitive for anyone not earning at least double my income at that time. Made me feel miserable and annoyed.

One year at the Sydney Festival, an opera ‘Semele Walk’ was put on in Town Hall on a catwalk where the chorus sat in plain clothes among the audience members and the lead singers walked the catwalk in Vivian Westwood designed costumes. Tix were about $80-100 but everyone was up close to the stage and could feel ‘part of it’. Production was incredible, surprising and exciting! It went for a comfortable 80mins or so I think. If at least half of OA productions were like that, thinking outside the traditional bounds in terms of staging etc, engaging more obviously with current issues… maybe more young people would want to go.

Anyway, now I just go to the theatre. Maybe it’s more my thing anyway… but comparatively affordable, variable pricing and original productions certainly help too.

Lyndon Terracini, artistic director of Opera Australia, pictured at right.

3 responses to “The new Trump of the Arts? Comments of the week

  1. We also did not subscribe for the first time this year but went to King Roger. ( and like RB wished we hadn’t) I think Melbourne is very very poorly serviced by Opera Australia. The season here iss cramped together as well as limited numbers of productions offered. We used to live in Canberra and travel up to Sydney. When we get the brochures for the next season we are so envious of the Sydney program. This year’s program was particularly poor. I do not see the need for musicals. We tried Anything Goes a couple of years ago, not opera! Seen Fair Lady in Sydney ten years ago or so, not interested in seeing again and it is not opera.

  2. There is always a new generation who have not seen the standard opera fare. My first encounter was with a production of Madame Butterfly from a visiting Italian Company. I was 18 years old and not familiar with fine music or opera but the experience was so magical, so uplifting, dramatic and unforgettable that listening and seeing grand operas is part of my musical scene. I have also seen innovative work from Opera Australia and changes of venues and Directors ensures a new take on a familiar scenario. I agree the price is prohibitive but the spectacle and the glorious singing sometimes justifies the cost. I don’t remember the Bell Shakespeare Company being criticised for producing the same old repertoire. Many contemporary operas use much smaller casts often dispensing with a Chorus and so it seems to me smaller venues such as Pinch-cart are better suited to stage them. I recently saw My Fair Lady and the House was full. The audience had the full range of ages represented.

  3. I tend to agree with the Minister. Melbourne is now the poor (very poor) relation compared with Sydney. We get about half the number of operas that Sydney does — I think it was five this season, of which one (My Fair Lady) isn’t even an opera. It’s been getting progressively worse for years. I love opera and my wife and I subscribed for years, but we’ve given it up now. We did go to one this year — King Roger — and wished we hadn’t.


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