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Opera Australia launches 2018 season with stark gender inequality

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Opera Australia’s 2018 season might feature some of the biggest roles written for female opera singers– including Tosca, Aida, Carmen, and La Traviata’s Violetta — but the vast majority of creative roles in the season will be filled by men.

Just 23 of the 138 creative roles listed in the brochures for the upcoming Melbourne and Sydney season are filled by women. That’s just 16.6% of those roles, a drop from the 2017 figure of 18.2%.

If you remove composers from that figure — and the majority of pieces are more than a century old, with the most recent opera in the season is from 1983 — the creative roles filled by women in 2018 rises to 18.7%.*

But if making an assessment on the leading creatives behind each production — composer, conductor and director — the figure is just 4.2%. In 2017, 10.6% of those leading creative roles were filled by women.

An Opera Australia spokesperson said the company believes the number of women in creative roles is an important issue. They acknowledged that the company has historically not had a great record in this regard, given that just one opera written by a woman (Moya Henderson’s Lindy) was performed in the company’s 60-year history prior to 2015. 

They pointed to the fact that all new works performed by the company in the last few years have had at least one female writer involved. In 2015, Opera Australia commissioned The Rabbits by Kate Miller-Heidke and Lally Katz, and The Divorce by Elena Kats-Chernin and Joanna Murray-Smith. In 2016 it commissioned El Kid by Liesel and Michael Badorrek.

“It’s true the 2018 season only has two completely new productions — La Boheme and Aida — and neither is directed by a woman, but we can reveal that the biggest new production of 2019 definitely will be,” the spokesperson said.

The company also currently has six new works under commission, three of which are written by women.

The situation is a bit different inside Opera Australia’s administration: although both new CEO Rory Jeffes and Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini are men, the company’s two leading executive producer roles are filled by women.

“OA believes that to maintain a healthy, passionate and creative workplace culture it needs to be inclusive on all levels,” the spokesperson said. “This includes gender, race and sexual diversity.

“At all times, OA strives to appoint the best creatives, directors, composers, conductors and designers. Obviously these appointments vary from year to year depending on the productions, whether they are revivals or new, co-productions or commissioned works.

“OA is also addressing gender equality through board appointments, senior management and across the entire company. OA currently has 50% equality in senior management and 40% at board level.”

While Opera Australia’s creative talents are mostly men, other major government-funded performing arts companies appear to be paying closer attention to their gender balance.

Belvoir, State Theatre of South Australia and Queensland Theatre have all achieved gender parity in writer/director roles in recent years, and early indications are that another leading performing arts company will join them when it launches its 2018 season. In the contemporary music space, APRA/AMCOS recently announced sweeping changes to address gender inequality, while most screen funding bodies around the country now have gender equity programs in place.

Another significant issue in the operatic world is the use of international singers. Last year’s government-initiated National Opera Review looked closely at the rapidly decreasing career opportunities for leading local singers and recommended that major opera companies be pressured to shift the balance to further favour locals. There’s a significant international presence in Opera Australia’s 2018 season, with more than 30 international singers performing major roles over the course of the year.

*NOTE: Opera Australia has notified Daily Review that three more female creatives have been appointed for the 2018 season after its brochure went to print.

Those creative artists are Johanna Puglisi, the director of Great Opera Hits, Sally Hare, assistant director on Hand Opera on Sydney Harbour’s La Traviata, and Kelley Abbey, choreographer for Don Quichotte. That means Opera Australia has now announced 26 female creative artists and 115 male creative artists for the 2018 season, as reflected in the table of confirmed artists below.



Opera Australia launched its Sydney season on Tuesday and its Melbourne season on Wednesday.

The Melbourne line-up features the return of a few popular productions and the Australian premiere of Kasper Holten’s Covent Garden production of Wagner’s epic Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Also included in the program is a new intimate production of the 1983 Australian opera Metamorphosis, and a new production of Don Quichotte starring Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.


LA TRAVIATA – April 17 to May 11
Elijah Moshinsky’s lavish perennial production returns with American soprano Corinne Winters making her Australian debut as Violetta.

TOSCA – April 24 to May 10
John Bell’s production, set in Nazi-occupied Rome, returns with Latonia Moore in the title role. Moore has previously performed in Australia to great acclaim with leading roles in Aida and Don Carlos.

DON QUICHOTTE – May 3 to 12
Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto plays Don Quichotte in a San Diego Opera production of Massenet’s opera.

Kasper Holten’s extravagant Covent Garden production of Wagner’s comedy makes its Australian debut. Conductor Pietari Inkinen returns to Wagner in Australia after conducting the Melbourne Ring Cycle.

LA BOHEME – November 7 to 24
Gale Edwards’ Weimar Berlin production returns with Maija Kovalevska as Mimi and Yosep Kang as Rodolfo.

METAMORPHOSIS – October 24 to 26
A new production of Steven Berkoff and Brian Howard’s 1983 operatic adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, directed by Tama Matheson. The performances will be at the Malthouse Theatre.


[box]Featured image: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Photo courtesy Opera Australia, Royal Opera House and Clive Barda.[/box]

10 responses to “Opera Australia launches 2018 season with stark gender inequality

  1. Political correctness gone completely mad.
    Are we going to see positive discrimination in the form of recasting as well?
    Or only do a selection of operas that arrives at a 50/50 gender split?
    We’ll have to present Dialogues of the Carmelites every season. Along with no smoking in Bizet tobacco factories because some of the funding comes from anti-smoking quangos who demand operatic historical revisionism.
    As with attempts to create a corpus of works from previous eras that falsely attribute greatness to lesser composers to achieve this foolish aim, are we honestly going to suggest that, in all areas of the company you will strive for gender balance over talent and expertise. This is nothing more than a piece of errant statistical foolery and the sort that does more damage than good. It also allows for a militantly bureaucratic approach to the manipulation of arts company staffing and financial .
    Another foolish aim.
    The Arts should be seen much more like the deployment of an army.
    Allow anybody to you like to enrol in the forces but whatever you do the only thing that matters is whether you can prosecute a war successfully and that means you cannot choose on the basis of gender – positive discrimination has to start at a much lower level with the hope that talent and expertise with lead to a closing of the gap.
    With arts funding the way it is there is no room for placing stereotypical politics over production. And it is also a denial that many of our finest production/directorial staff _are_ female anyway. Forget the raw statistics.
    Companies can’t afford to waste time and precious resources playing this game.
    I’m for gender equality but you can’t make it happen like this.

      1. My point had nothing to do with potential diversity or the diversity of the armed forces. For any action the best people are chosen to prosecute it and the choice is not made on the basis of gender.

        1. Except the ADF is strategically targeting and recruiting women to join their forces – they are making choices on the basis of gender because they understand the ADF is stronger when more women are involved. The recruitment, participation, and advancement of women is a key priority for the ADF and is seen as crucial to them being able to, as you say, “prosecute a war successfully” . (The ADF also specifically targets and builds programs for other underrepresented groups for the same reason.)

      1. Hi, thanks for your comments. It’s completely wrong to say that I have an axe to grind with Opera Australia. I’ve actually written many more positive things than negative about the company and its work over the last five years.

        Given that the last two years have seen a renewed focus on the gender balance of creative artists hired in the performing arts, I decided months ago to highlight the gender balance of each company’s 2018 seasons when they launch. Several companies have achieved parity in their leading creative roles, and others are improving the situation and attempting to address the often unconscious bias that exists towards men, so I decided now was an appropriate time to be highlighting this balance.

        Of course, I don’t expect that a classical opera company would have gender equity among its composers. The canon is almost entirely written by men.

        But when a company has men filling 28 of its 29 directorial roles in one year, I think that’s a statistic worth reporting, which is all I’ve done here. There’s an extraordinary number of incredibly talented female directors working across Australia.

        If any theatre company had similar stats, there would be widespread outrage. This article is entirely fair.

  2. I find it interesting that the majority of people complaining of “political correctness gone mad” are males. And white men at that.

    Just sayin’.

    1. I see plenty of women also saying it’s “political correctness gone made.” Interesting you don’t.

      Just sayin’.

  3. Yes, but they are also a training organisation that is able to start from the ground up. OA doesn’t have that role or privilege.
    It would still make non-gender based decisions on operational effectiveness. To do and think otherwise is simple stupid.
    The workings of an effective performing arts organisation is, at this level, one and the same.

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