Opera companies ordered to employ more local singers as Opera Australia’s imports reach record highs

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.

Source: National Opera Review, © Commonwealth of Australia 2016
Source: National Opera Review, © Commonwealth of Australia 2016

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.

4 responses to “Opera companies ordered to employ more local singers as Opera Australia’s imports reach record highs

  1. Many factors combine to produce this situation. Among them are: 1. The attack on the Australia Council by George Brandis and the removal of a large slice of its funding. 2. The constant attacks on Australian tertiary music education by universities, resulting in significant reductions in in course offerings and the destruction of one entire institution, namely the ANU School of Music. 3. The constant chipping away at funding for performing arts in Australia, which makes presentation of new Australian opera much more risky financially. 4. The parlous state of music education in Australia’s schools, primary and secondary, which mostly takes place in wealthy private schools, and to a much lesser extent in government schools. Opera Australia cannot be blamed for the benighted policies I have noted above. It’s an easy target, though, isn’t it?Indeed, there have been some significant attempts in recent years to make OA more “efficient” by casualizing the OA Chorus and also AOBO orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne. Please consider!

  2. Australian audiences should have the opportunity to see and hear outstanding international artists and to have an international company equal to those in the U.K., Europe and the USA. We need to move on from expecting Opera Australia to be all things to all people. However, what we do need are properly funded state companies and in particular another well-funded professional ensemble company that provides constant work for Australia’s best singers. This is the only way we can grow the Opera industry in this country for the benefit of all.

  3. Oh.my.god. This is terrible! OA wake up to yourselves! Thank you Daily review again for your finger on the pulse, hopefully this exclusive can help facilitate change

  4. These striking figures confirm what has seriously troubled experienced observers for many years,
    As one who has a commitment to Australian creativity I would add that the support for Australian COMPOSERS has declined dreadfully over recent years. Opera Australia (and its predecessor companies) has never shown much regard for Australian composers but this has been come progressively worse (for utterly spurious reasons) over the past few decades.
    The Australia Council has been seriously negligent in recognising or responding to this deplorable state of affairs, so it is reassuring that is seems to have awakened (if only tentatively and incompletely) from its long somnolence.

    JJ Carmody.


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