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Opera Australia attracts big audiences, but posts a loss for 2014

Opera Australia is fulfilling artistic director Lyndon Terracini’s repeatedly stated aim to play to as many people across the country as possible, reaching 650,000 audience members in 2014 (539,000 paid attendances, up from 354,000 in 2013). But that result hasn’t translated to financial success for the company, which has posted an operating loss of $2 million and a consolidated deficit of $918,059 for the year.

Chairman David Mortimer said: “This is a disappointing outcome that cannot be sustained over time and operating results must be improved significantly in 2015”.

According to the company’s 2014 annual report, released this week, ambitious box office targets weren’t met while donations and corporate sponsorship dropped. OA says the competition for corporate sponsorship has increased amongst arts companies and that there’s increasing demands to demonstrate the benefits of brand association.

“Clearly, 2014 should have been a good year,” Mortimer wrote. “The reality however is mainstage average ticket prices are declining whilst production costs, salaries and employment expenses are increasing.”

The company’s decision to not increase ticket prices drastically and continue to offer a variety of discounts meant that the box office result of $66 million (up from $50 million) was lower than expected. There were notable increases in several areas of expenditure, including marketing and promotion, and employment costs (unsurprising given the number of performances was up from 742 in 2013 to 882 in 2014).

The numbers were boosted by a tour of the musical The King and I, co-produced with commercial producer John Frost, as a follow-up to their 2012 partnership on South Pacific. It attracted 253,000 paying audience members. The company is hoping to replicate that success with this year’s tours of Anything Goes and Jekyll and Hyde.

Audiences for mainstage operas were also up to 191,000 from 168,000 in 2013.

Attendances for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour were up slightly for 2014’s Madama Butterfly (pictured above) from 2013’s Carmen, from 38,000 to 39,200, although the box office dropped slightly from $6.2 million to $6 million. The figures for this year’s glitz and firework-fuelled production of Aida look more promising, with more than 55,000 tickets sold.

The results come as Arts Minister George Brandis’ National Opera Review, charged with examining the artistic vibrancy, audience engagement and financials of the country’s leading opera companies, is due to release its findings in June.

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