Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley, has called on Opera Australia to “honour the deals they have with Victoria” and to urgently do something about its repertoire and ageing audience.
“They have progressively constricted their appearances in Victoria and have gone from (producing) original, commissioned work to increasingly (staging) the big musical blockbusters. They need to be here more — we fund them for two seasons, not one,” Foley told Daily Review.
The Sydney-based national opera company is funded by the Federal, NSW and Victorian governments but Victoria is the most junior financial partner providing the OA with $1.1 million, compared to NSW’s $3.4 million and the Fed’s $21 million per year.
“Opera Australia seriously needs to look at how they do things with the substantial money they get from the state and Federal governments,” the Minister said.
“Where is the engagement with the new audiences and with new Australian content?” asks Martin Foley of Opera Australia.
“We aren’t its major funder but we’re not an insubstantial funder. We have a policy framework that (OA) are well aware of. We’d like to see that policy framework delivered on,” he said referring to the Victorian Government’s “Creative Industries” strategy which requires the arts companies it funds to step up innovation to pursue “creative opportunities” and attract new audiences and markets.
He argues that the Melbourne-based Victorian Opera (VO) is streets ahead of Opera Australia in that respect.
“They (VO) get the notion that their job is to partner and ferment — and whether it’s with Deakin (University) or the digital people, with the regions, or by producing more original and Australian content than Opera Australia, they do (get it).”
Foley said the only comparably-sized arts company to OA is the Australian Ballet (AB), which he said does an “infinitely better job” than OA.
“They (AB) get the notion about development, the role they play in the wider dance ecology, and in engagement with the community. The two companies are chalk and cheese.”
“Where is the engagement with the new audiences and with new Australian content, that in theory is why they are one of the Major Performing Arts (MPA) organisations?” he asked, referring to the 28 major companies, most of whose funding is guaranteed by the Federal government.
“I think Opera Australia needs to reflect on the wider value that they can bring (in order to) bust out of the declining audience they’re locked into.
“This is not new. This is not something that comes as a shock,” Foley said. “Report after report — and most cogently Helen Nugent’s report (the Federal government’s National Opera Review) has said that if (OA) continue on the way they are, their audience is likely to die in their seats.”
Foley accused his federal counterparts of sitting on the 2016 findings of the Review chaired by former banker, Helen Nugent. Among other things it commended Victorian Opera and suggested it should be elevated to MPA status.
He said getting the Feds to make VO an MPA company was “like wading through wet cement”.
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