Australia’s major opera companies will be fined up to $200,000 if they do not employ an “appropriate balance” of Australian versus non-Australian artists, after the Federal Government’s acceptance of most of the recommendations of its 2016 National Opera Review.
The penalty would be imposed by funding bodies only after “engaging in serious discussions” with the companies. The trigger for such conversations will occur when the number of Australian singers in leading mainstage opera roles falls below 80 percent. Opera Australia has been below that figure for the last five years.
The penalties are designed for the federally funded opera companies Opera Queensland, State Opera of South Australia, the West Australian Opera and the country’s largest arts company, Opera Australia (OA).
OA, the most generously government funded arts company in Australia, has trebled its employment of overseas singers since 2010, largely under the stewardship of its artistic director, Lyndon Terracini.
The number of performances by Australian singers in leading roles at the OA has decreased by 51% (or from 778 to 383) from 2010 to 2016. At the same time, the number of performances by international singers in leading roles at the company has more than quadrupled, from 60 to 251.
Last year 39.6% of leading roles at OA were performed by non-Australian singers but Daily Review has learned that next year the figure for foreign imports for major roles could be as high as 49.5%.
According to artist figures seen by Daily Review, almost half of the 547 leading role performances will be filled by non-Australian singers.
Terracini has previously fought against restrictions on the number of foreign artists able to work on Australian stages.
The opera community has been expressing concerns for many years now that the opportunities for local singers have been disappearing. Several of the OA’s former stars are now only booked for a handful of performances each year, or are no longer employed by the company at all.
Although unrelated to the National Opera Review, OA also has performed poorly in its gender balance in production roles. When state theatre companies have been making concrete steps to achieve gender balance, 26 female creative artists and 115 male creative artists are listed in the brochures for the upcoming OA Melbourne and Sydney seasons.