Opera review looks at vibrancy, audience and financials

Last week Arts Minister, Senator the Hon George Brandis, announced the terms of reference for the National Opera Review.

Opera review looks at vibrancy, audience and financials


Senator Brandis, known to be a fan of opera, ordered a review of the four companies—Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, State Opera South Australia and West Australian Opera—in July this year.

He said it would be the first time the Australian Government had conducted a national review of opera in Australia.

The review will examine the artistic vibrancy, engagement with audiences and financial positions of the four companies.

Chair of the review panel Dr Helen Nugent AO, and members Mr Moffat Oxenbould AM and Mr Andrew McKinnon will be joined by a fourth panel member, Ms Kathryn Fagg.

Ms Fagg is chair of the Melbourne Recital Centre and member of the Board of the Reserve Bank.

Senator Brandis said the review would include public consultation later in 2014 and he expects the panel to report to the government by 30 June 2015.

The companies are generally positive about the review and believe opera as an artform continues to engage audiences not just with classic repertoire but also new and exciting projects.

Craig Hassall, CEO of Opera Australia, said when the review was announced, that he welcomed a review into the provision of opera in Australia (reported inThe Australian, 29 July 2014).

‘As the national company, we are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to engage with as many Australians as possible through our performances and activities. We take this responsibility seriously and welcome constructive involvement from our major stakeholders, including government, to do this.’

Opera Australia, which receives just 25 per cent of its income from government, has performed very strongly in recent years. It instituted a new business model that raised its income (not including government grants) by 60 per cent, jumping from $45.9 million in 2011 to $73.7 million in 2012. This income was maintained in 2013.

Similarly its audience numbers have also reflected strong growth, increasing 40 per in 2012 over 2011. The new business model is one that seeks a diversified repertoire and audience. It is reflected inthe annual big musical productions and Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, where 60 per cent of the audience in its first year had never before experienced opera.

Certainly sustainability is a key component in any business model of a major arts company, where government funding is bolstered by support from the private sector and a vibrant box office.

But as State Opera of South Australia CEO, Tim Sexton, said, an art form like opera can’t be measured purely in terms of profitability (indaily.com.au, 29 July 2014).

He said opera should be considered in terms of the influence it provides culturally and across other sectors.

‘The review is an opportunity to evaluate opera in light of the huge contribution it makes.’

He said the work that state companies do is vital and pointed to SOSA’s latest production, the $1.7 million world premiere of thePhilip Glass Trilogy, as a case in point.

‘In terms of commitment to the arts, we had 150 performers in Philip Glass—dancers, singers, musicians—virtually all of whom are South Australians. That is a huge figure and a rare occurrence.

‘So there is a cascade effect that carries through from one industry to the next.’

The ‘cascade effect’ has been the major impetus behind Opera Queensland’sProject Puccini that is reaching out to communities in eight locations around the state—and in the process, hopefully creating new audiences and bringing new operatic experiences to those communities.

It is part of the company’s drive to build sustainability for the artform in the state.

Opera Queensland's Artistic Director Lindy Hume said, ‘The Federal Government's call for a National Opera Review to address the sustainability of the art form … is an initiative we welcome with open arms.

‘The National Opera Review recognises that opera is an essential voice in the national and global cultural discourse, but that there is a real danger of the ecosystem failing.'

Carolyn Chard, General Manager of the West Australian Opera (WAO), also welcomed the review, expressing a desire to see more equality in federal funding to the state opera companies.

‘WAO appreciates the support of government in reviewing the sector. WAO receives under half a million dollars in federal funding and has long been keen to have a deeper market penetration in the state for which additional funding is required,’ she said.

This review follows the review into the Opera Conference (March 2012) which underscored the importance of the artform and continued the concept of collaboration in the sector.

In a recent article in The Australian (11 September 2014), arts editor Matthew Westwood, said: 'Australian audiences should continue to have access to repertoire performances in the grand tradition: opera that is fabulously sung and imaginatively staged.

'But we should not forget the many various ways in which opera is enjoyed: in nimble touring productions, in community singalongs, in experimental black-box theatres and on touchscreen tablet devices. Those who love opera, and the opera sceptics, should keep an open mind about its future.'

He said the spread of opera resources goes a long way and their reach is extraordinary. In the light of the review, that's a pretty strong place to start.

National Opera Review—Terms of Reference

The following opera companies fall within the scope of the National Opera Review and its Terms of Reference: Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, State Opera of South Australia and West Australian Opera.


The companies' ongoing financial viability is to be assessed, including having regard to the following:

·The effectiveness and efficiency of the delivery of opera performances in Australia by the four opera companies, including developing an assessment of:

·Their cost-revenue dynamics, balance sheet strength and ongoing sustainability;

·The competitive dynamics which might be affecting the operations of the companies;

·Their workplace arrangements, including workforce flexibility and the sustainability of the approach adopted;

·The cost and value of the assets of each company, including foundation assets where applicable;

·The corporate structures, constitutions, management and governance of each company to ensure they are fit for purpose.

·An assessment of the extent of co-operation among the companies and the appropriate approach going forward, including the role of Opera Conference.

·Benchmark information on the delivery of opera in Australia versus comparable opera companies internationally.

·The rationale and role of government funding in supporting the operations of the companies.


The companies' ongoing artistic vitality is to be assessed, including having regard to the following:

·An assessment of the artistic vibrancy of the companies and the relationship with their financial strength;

·An analysis of the ways the delivery of opera in Australia contributes to the development of artists, musicians and other practitioners from the early to later stages of their careers.


The extent of access provided by the companies and the way that interrelates with their artistic vibrancy and financial viability, including having regard to the following:

·An assessment of the delivery of opera in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, including through:

·The delivery of performances, including regional touring;

·Education programs.

·Ways to broaden and increase audience engagement across all Australian states.

·Ways by which the appreciation of opera as an art form in the Australian community can be increased.

The Review may also examine and report on any other issues it considers relevant or incidental. The Review will consult with stakeholders, including state governments, as is thought necessary.

It will report to the Australian Government Minister for the Arts by 30 June 2015.



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