Submission to the National Opera Review | The Music Trust

National Opera Review Secretariat
November 24, 2015

Music Trust Submission to the National Opera Review

Dear Review Panel

We are pleased to have the opportunity to make this submission.

It has been formulated by The Music Trust, a national organisation established in 2013 to undertake projects to advance music in Australia. Since it is new, a summary of its activities:

• It has advocated on behalf of, inter alia, school music education, strengthening ABC Classic FM, culture’s place in international trade agreements, arts funding policy and via this submission, the development of opera in Australia.
• Its website, the Music in Australia Knowledge Base is an ambitious program to attempt to describe the entire Australian music sector.
• That website has recently added an assessment of the NAPLAN program and a complex economic analysis to project possible best and worst case scenarios for the Australian music sector to the year 2035.
• The Trust organises the prestigious Freedman Music Awards in classical music and jazz, and a research award in music education.
• It undertakes research, produces papers, and publishes monthly reviews of music books and recordings.

In its activities, it is guided by an Advisory Council of very distinguished members of the cultural sector.(ENDNOTE (1)) The Director is Dr Richard Letts and some biographical information can be found in the footnote. (2)

The submission has benefited from input by a number of opera and music professionals and companies, for which we are greatly appreciative.

Yours sincerely
Richard Letts AM



Executive summary Page 3
Introduction 5
A brief summary of our proposals 8

o A. Resources are concentrated on activities that are most likely to strengthen the present and future circumstances of the artform

1. Strategies to increase artistic vibrancy: in repertoire and in the nurture of artists in all aspects of presentation 9
2. Reconceive the structure of opera nationally and the roles of the federal and state funding bodies in supporting it 19
3. Implement strategies for audience development 25

o B. Resources are reduced for, or withdrawn from activities that do not strongly address proposal A. 28

o C. Activities of primarily commercial intent are structured so as to ensure that they do not divert energies from the main task not call upon government subsidies intended for the support of the opera programs 28

o D. An entity is created to oversee implementation, review and continuing development of a national opera strategy 30

o E. Conclusion 30

The situation of classical music: ageing audiences  for live performances? 32
Sequences of operatic works by selected composers 34

Executive summary of the proposals made in this submission

The fundamental problem facing opera in Australia is that on the one hand, its audience has halved from 2007 to 2013 and on the other, to most of the rest of the population, it is an unappealing anachronism. As a consequence it is endangered and priority must be given to a response: not only a more efficient delivery of the status quo but a strategic involvement of the entire opera sector in the creation of opera of our time with quality and integrity, capable of attracting a large audience.

This submission makes the following proposals. Here they are stated very briefly but in many cases, will make sense only when the accompanying argument is read.

We invite your comments and suggestions for this submission. Please email them to

THE FUNDAMENTAL PROPOSAL: Resources are concentrated on activities that are most likely to strengthen the present and future situation of the artform

The particular strategies that follow are these:

Build artistic vibrancy in a way that addresses opera’s existential problem
• Present operas of our time that have the prospect of attracting a large audience. Initially most of these will be foreign and already have demonstrated their artistic success and popularity.
• Create a program to support the development and presentation of operas created by Australians. Verdi’s run of success began with his fifteenth opera. Australian creators need multiple opportunities to write, workshop, produce and present new operas. Some operas will be audience-friendly, some challenging.
• Implement strategies to strengthen the audience for the heritage. We agree with proposals made by the Review.
• Improve the circumstances of singers, musicians and technical staff so that they have greater opportunity to derive a living from their art. We support the proposals made by the Review but concede that some of our other proposals may be in conflict and so make two special proposals.
• Develop programs to bridge the gap between tertiary study and full professional employment. This is not a problem to be solved only by the four companies that are subject to the review. To be considered: creation or strengthening of companies set up to give experience to young artists in performing major roles; utilisation of small touring companies as at present; collaborations between companies and tertiary institutions; young artist programs of the major companies

Reconceive the roles of opera companies of all sizes and objectives
• There should be a national opera strategy for the structure and operation of the opera sector in Australia in which all the major companies are state companies of more equal standing than at present, each with its own identity resulting from its history, circumstances, repertoire choices and style of production. Commonwealth subsidies might be decided in part on the population sizes of the cities served along with the size of investments by state governments.
• The concept of the national company is terminated. Opera Australia no longer tours to Melbourne. The Victorian Opera probably becomes the main provider of opera to Melbourne. Opera Australia remains the largest company serving the largest city and audience and it could on that account, and its history, also perform some special roles in, e.g., maintaining the major workshop for construction of sets and costumes and offering full time employment to principal singers.                                                                                               • Rather than mandate maintenance of a Major Opera Company as a condition of Commonwealth support, states are free to configure opera services as they wish
• Companies would collaborate with festivals in a particular way, to support new opera, encourage the development of distinctive company identity and create a sense of a national opera scene in which all companies are contributors.
• A truly national opera review would consider the fit for purpose of all companies including the small ones, across a wide range of activities – performances, the composer workshops, touring, training, programs for schools.
Implement strategies for audience development
• The Review’s definition of “access” is not that in common usage. It usually refers to obstacles resulting from disadvantage, sometimes from incomprehension. The companies might review their purposes and strategies in this area.
• Develop strategies to build audiences for operas of our time, including operas of wide appeal and operas of a more specialist nature. This should be a concerted national effort, not just the normal company marketing of operas one at a time. That would miss the point.
• Develop the audience of younger adults. Recent research revealed that “social connection is a strong component of music listening; you bond with your peers” over your musical choices. For older adults, music is a “source of meaning and personal growth.” Experiments in attracting young audiences often take into account their social motivation.
• Audiences of school children are served by the companies’ educational programs but research suggests that attendance at performances does not result in children’s emergence as adult ticket buyers. That can follow continuing participation in music making programs. Opera companies cannot mount such programs. How can they support ongoing participatory programs offered by others?

Resources are reduced for, or withdrawn from activities that do not strongly address the fundamental proposal
• Terminate the application of opera subsidies to regional touring. The benefits of living in the regions are multiple but they do not include local access to activities such as AFL finals or opera that depend upon large audiences. The regional audiences for opera, as revealed by the Review, are very small and there is high cost in reaching them. The subsidies should be reapplied to the fundamental proposal. If it is politically impossible to terminate regional touring, the economics should be investigated to discover whether the tours are best delivered by major companies or small, specialised companies.

Activities of primarily commercial intent are structured so as to ensure that they do not divert energies from the operatic mission nor call upon government subsidies intended for the support of the opera programs
• Commercial music theatre ventures should be set up as independent companies which pass on their profits to their opera company investors. This will ensure that opera company funds are separately accounted for and cannot include subsidies. It will also protect the opera companies from financial loss from what are financially risky operations.

Create an entity that oversees implementation, review and continuing development of a national opera strategy
• The implementation of a national opera strategy needs an oversight body that has wider concerns than the daily situation of each opera company. It should be responsive to opera company circumstances but able to take a broader view and to find ways to encourage a common effort. It should be at arm’s length from government in order to protect the Minister from direct lobbying by particular interests and to keep the strategy on track



Imagine if Australian live theatre companies performed virtually nothing written after 1910. If the only novels available to us were written in the 18th and 19th centuries. If commercial radio broadcast no music more recent than music hall songs from World War 1. If nearly all television drama comprised adaptations of 19C plays and these, serialised, were also the source of TV soap operas.

Most of us could readily improvise reasons that these programs would have small and diminishing audiences.

In Australia, Opera Australia has at its disposal 74% of the opera funding for the national and three state companies (excluding Victorian Opera) and the opera audiences in the cities with about 60% of the metropolitan population. It is above all dependent upon box office from ten popular operas from the eighteenth, nineteenth and in two cases, the early twentieth centuries (the latter still very much in 19C mode), which it repeatedly recycles. It has presented few operas written later than World War 1 and most of them were composed by Benjamin Britten between 55 and 70 years ago. Since 1991, 24 years ago, it has presented seven mainstage contemporary Australian operas, the last, Bliss, in 2010. (In 2015, it co-produced and presented a non-mainstage children’s opera, The Rabbits.)

Despite increased concentration on the ten popular operas, the OA audience for mainstage opera has declined from 190,000 to 130,000 (32%) from 2009 to 2014 (Review Exhibit 6.7). The mainstage opera audience for the four companies decreased by about 46% from 2007 to 2013 (Review Exhibit 4.3). The opera audience has fallen in other countries also. From 2002-2012, the opera audience in the USA diminished by one third (see Appendix 1).

The disappearance of the audience in Australia clearly is not a consequence of lassitude by the opera companies. Their marketing is vigorous. The entire strategy of Opera Australia for the programs from around 2012 onwards appears to have been directed to addressing the decline in audience by attracting first-time attendees, for instance by increased concentration on the most popular operas. The Review shows the evidence that the strategy has not worked. It suggests that the GFC is an important causal factor and we accept that. However, while this is an assertion we do not support with research, we believe that the main cause is evident and simple.

Opera as presented in Australia is for the most part, not an art of our time. The dramatic situations depicted in 18th and 19th century European operas are increasingly foreign to Australian audiences. The singing style is alien to the musical expectations and experience of most Australians as is, perhaps to a lesser extent, the music as a whole. (More broadly, live theatrical performance is, for many, anachronistic and apparently unappealing (e.g. Exhibit 4.3.)) Young people are uncomfortable with the setting, rituals and protocols of opera performances, which may also seem to come from another time. While we want to see the survival of the heritage, it would seem that the heritage is not attracting new audience members in sufficient numbers.

For years now, articles in the print media have provoked with headlines asserting that “Classical Music Is Dead”. Dead because it died of old age. In opera, with its static repertoire from past centuries, there are attempts to give life support through the restaging of old operas in present times – a tacit acknowledgement of, but non-solution to the problem.

Surely, whatever the strengths and weaknesses of Australian opera companies in presenting this repertoire, the underlying reason for the difficulties in the sector is that opera, as mostly presented in Australia, is an anachronism. In what it depicts and how it depicts it, the opera heritage does not speak to an audience that, escapism aside, wants the life it lives reflected and explicated on the stage in a language that it finds moving.

Some of our opera companies are responding to this issue through commissioning new works with a contemporary feel that may attract good audiences. WAO and OA commissioned classically trained pop singer Kate Miller-Heidke to write The Rabbits. SOSA is now workshopping the opera Cloudstreet, a story of ordinary folk in Perth and already a hit as a novel and as a play. WAO, New Zealand Opera and Victorian Opera have commissioned rock singer Neil Finn to compose an opera, Star Navigator. It cannot be assumed that such works will be attractive to the old opera audience but some will cross over and new audiences many be drawn in. Together, these works may begin informally to create momentum. What could happen if there were a formal strategy to carry us faster in this new direction?
The task of the Review

The draft Review is a valuable document. In addressing its Terms of Reference, it brings together a wealth of factual information and expert analysis and many interesting options for future development.

Unfortunately, as a “national opera review”, its focus as set forth in the Terms of Reference is too narrow. A review of the performance of only the four major companies now funded by the Commonwealth has produced useful proposals for improved management but does not consider, for instance, many options for how the sector as a whole could be its most productive and whether some of the functions of the four companies might be better managed by other entities. The exclusion from the Terms of Reference of the Victorian Opera – and indeed, important small companies – demonstrates that the present situation is to some extent an accident of history rather than the result of a comprehensive vision of how opera can flourish in this country.

The Review has taken some advantage of the appended Term of Reference: “The Review may also examine and report on any other issues it considers relevant or incidental”, but in ways that tend, for instance, to bring in other companies as extensions of the interests of the funded four rather than centres in their own right. We urge that the “other issues” are fully explored and indeed, our submission assumes that the Review is authorised to do so. We note that this does not preclude full consideration of the main terms of reference.

It is our perception that for all the insightful analysis offered by the draft review, it basically proposes actions that could slow the decline of the status quo and does not deal with the fundamental problem: opera as we are experiencing it in Australia and, largely, elsewhere, is an art form from older foreign cultures, dependent mainly on older audiences who are passing on. Younger audiences are at an increasing distance from the content and ethos of heritage opera.

The thesis of this submission is above all that contemporary audiences may be drawn to opera by new works that speak to their interests. Once enthused by contemporary opera, new audiences may also find the heritage.

This is the reverse of the prevailing concept: that the core audience listens to the heritage and from there, a few adventurers will find new opera. That is a road that the young are not travelling. It has not, and seems unlikely to produce audiences of a size that will be economically viable. And in any case, in Australia, there is little new work and the company with three quarters of the audience is not presenting it.

What could we be seeking?

Yes, we certainly do want the survival of the opera heritage.

But musical genres evolve, sometimes disappear, depending upon the circumstances of the living population. In our world, many musical traditions have become endangered species as the ways of life from which they arose disappear.

If opera as we now know it were to disappear, we want it to be survived by a form that has comparable expressive power, complexity and nuance and is important to an audience large enough to ensure its survival and evolution.

We might hope that it continues to offer opportunity for the unamplified human voice, the symphony orchestra, live performance, but if any of these are overtaken by a new zeitgeist, we still need a dramatic musical form with expressive power, complexity and nuance supported by a sufficient, appreciative audience. Perhaps the best way to achieve this is through evolution from the heritage buyt evolution, not stasis, is essential.

But at the moment, we are hostage to the heritage.

The present situation of opera in Australia is that it is bound to a very small part of the heritage, there is no evident plan to renovate the repertoire so that it attracts audiences into the future, its organisational structure derives from history rather than present circumstances, and to some extent it is spending limited resources on activities that will not strengthen its core institutions and operations.

We propose that the highest priority for Major Opera Companies is mainstage opera or its evolutionary progeny which might include, inter alia, digital forms of opera or opera delivery. Opera audiences are shrinking and fine tuning the system is not an appropriate response. All resources should be directed towards strengthening the artform, its practice and its audience.


A brief summary of our proposals

A. The fundamental proposal: Resources should be concentrated on activities that are most likely to strengthen the present and future circumstances of the artform. These include:

1. Strategies to increase artistic vibrancy: in repertoire and in the nurture of artists in all aspects of presentation

a) Repertoire considerations include:

i. The presentation of operas of our time that have the prospect of attracting a large audience
ii. Creation of a program that will support the development and presentation of opera created by Australians
iii. The presentation of the opera heritage

b) The nurture of artists

i. Improvement of the circumstances of singers, musicians and technical staff so that they have greater opportunity for deriving a living from their art in Australia
ii. Development of programs that assist the transition between graduation from tertiary study and full professional employment

2. Reconceptualisation of the structure of opera nationally and the roles of the federal and state funding bodies in supporting it

a) Development of state companies of greater equality and strength, each with its own identity resulting from its history and circumstances, repertoire choices and style of production
b) Termination of the concept of the national company                                                                              c) Another option: the states may organise their opera provision as they wish
d) The utilisation of festivals as one means of building the identity of state companies and supporting the development of new opera
e) Consideration of the roles of smaller companies and how they are to be supported

3. Implementation of strategies for audience development. These will include:

a) Access strategies
b) Audiences for operas of our time, including operas of wide appeal and operas of more specialist nature
c) Audiences of younger adults
d) Audiences of school children

B. Resources are reduced for, or withdrawn from activities that do not strongly address proposal A. These include:

1. Regional touring

2. Community programs

C. Activities of primarily commercial intent are structured so as to ensure that they do not divert energies from the main task not call upon government subsidies intended for the support of the opera programs

1. These include commercial musical theatre ventures, which should be set up under independent companies which pass on their profits to their opera company parents

D. Creation of an entity that oversees implementation, review and continuing development of a national opera strategy

E. Conclusion

The submission works through the proposals in the sequence shown above. It frequently refers to the draft Review, identifying Review items by their code numbers.


A. Resources are concentrated on activities that are most likely to strengthen the present and future circumstances of the artform. These include:

1. Strategies to increase artistic vibrancy: in repertoire and in the nurture of artists in all aspects of presentation

a) Repertoire considerations:

i. The presentation of operas of our time that have the prospect of attracting a large audience

Few as they have been, most new operas presented in Australia in recent decades have been modernist and difficult for audiences. There probably is an expectation in the general opera audience that if a work is new, it will be unpleasant. For this artform, in which major companies need large audiences and long runs in order to minimise financial losses, the consequence has been a heavy concentration of companies and audiences on the opera heritage.

The Review has shown the consequences. Too many performances of about ten popular operas in an effort to build the audience which nevertheless has dwindled, a reduction in the number of productions and performances of less familiar works with an even greater loss of the committed audience. From the national company’s director, an almost belligerent assertion that it would not be presenting new works.

The task is to evolve an opera of our time that appeals to a large audience. Our proposal is, initially, to present existing operas with this potential. We have seen some here already: Moby Dick, Of Mice and Men, Dead Man Walking, Nixon in China, the Glass trilogy (most under auspices other than those of Opera Australia). As noted, Australian companies are beginning to commission operas of this sort.

Probably such operas do not yet have a substantial audience in Australia. They are unfamiliar territory for an audience that is strongly given to familiarity.

However, Australia has the advantage that a good number of these operas have been tested elsewhere. Companies can choose works a) of quality and integrity that b) have already been relatively successful with audiences. Over time, companies can give audiences a consistent experience that says new operas will not be unpleasant, in some cases will be moving or invigorating or even fun, and have connections to our world.

New opera in the USA was mostly not committed to modernism and followed a more audience-friendly path. We are told anecdotally that regional companies, especially, are succeeding with these operas. Works also appear from other countries such as Finland. If there is a sufficient flow and skilful marketing, an audience will develop. The strategy needs to be given, say, a decade to work.

[The Philadelphia Opera now has a guiding narrative that has turned things around for the company. Music director Corrado Rovaris says the company is continuing with core repertoire but also developing genre-bending works, adding that what might have once seemed like the “safe road” in terms of repertoire would not have, in fact, been safe. Audiences for traditional works in the canon continue to contract, the company’s research shows.

Australian works must be included but it may be that few exist at this time. Our next section has a proposal to remedy that. Both categories of operas of our time will need special financial support and we here propose how that might be achieved.

It is proposed to construct a fund from the $1.4m budget of the Opera Conference including funds for regional touring, and $3m in Commonwealth core subsidies to opera including funds no longer needed by OA for travel costs for its Melbourne seasons. (For an explanation, see A2b). It would be used to support 1) production and presentation of contemporary operas, both those appealing to larger audiences and more difficult works appealing to more specialist audiences (the “Production Fund”), and 2) the commissioning and workshopping and possibly public presentation of new works by Australian composers (the “Australian Opera Development Scheme”).

Should the overall sum available be less than $4.4m, we suggest that a reduction should be made firstly in the Production Fund.

The Production Fund. This would be a fund of up to $3.2 million per year allocated through competitive applications on a project by project basis.

Criteria would be established to ensure that the funds are used for the purpose of production and presentation of operas of our time, as per the thrust of this submission. The fund is not intended for the production of heritage operas. All companies except Opera Australia would have larger core subsidies from which they can produce, separately or in partnership, new heritage productions.

The criteria might consider issues such as these:

• The perceived value of the opera in advancing the art form, attracting audiences to new work, mitigating financial risk
• Whether there is collaboration among Australian companies
• The commitment to this repertoire demonstrated through the regular activity of applicant companies
• Value for money. Includes the possibility of matching funds from other sources
• Whether the work was created by Australians. Some priority would be given to the products of the Australian Opera Development Scheme (see below).

Some of these criteria may be in conflict. Criteria need to be carefully considered. We have not given deep consideration to the criteria.

The funding decisions might be made by a disinterested third party such as the Australia Council, perhaps with some sort of input or participation from companies. They could be open to all Australian opera companies, not the major companies only.

A note on the Opera Conference funding

The Review reports a difference of opinion between OA and the three state opera companies, the OA wishing to use the fund to pay for productions of less popular operas and the state companies to use it for productions of the most popular, box office rewarding operas.

This scheme favours the OA’s preference, for reasons given. The state companies, however, have additional core funds that they can use for production of heritage operas.

That said, we suggest that one criterion for the award of subsidies from the new production fund could be that applicant companies have included in the presentations, paid for from their core subsidies, operas of our time. The inclusion of these works should be a part of normal business and should not happen only when supported from special funding.

ii. Creation of a program that will support the development and presentation of operas created by Australians

This issue is raised in the Review under this option:

10.2.6 Use Opera Conference funding every second or third year to produce a new work: provide a distinctive Australian voice by commissioning new works.

We certainly support the creation of a distinctive Australian operatic voice but question this strategy.

How is the production of one new Australian opera every second or third year going to lead to the creation of even a competent Australian operatic practice? How could it possibly lead to a practice that is distinctively Australian? How could we even identify what is “Australian” about it? If we were able to listen to a set of operas and identify the one that is Australian, we would have previously heard a number of operas, written by Australians, that share stylistic characteristics. If there are only, say, four written and presented per decade, how likely is it that they would share characteristics that we hear, not as identifying the composers, but as Australian?

But in any case, whether these new works display a distinctively Australia character is a secondary issue. Furthermore, such a character either emerges or it doesn’t. The most that authorities can do is support a level of activity which makes it possible.

We propose another means of pursuing this objective.

But firstly, let us look at the professional achievements of some famous operatic composers.

Of the operas by Verdi now familiar to us – i.e. they have survived the passage of time and still successfully attract an audience, the earliest in his oeuvre is Nabucco (#3). The next is #10, Macbeth, although this was rewritten much later. Then come numbers 15 (Luisa Miller), 17, 18, 19, 20, then 23, 25, 26, 27 (Macbeth again), 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34/35 (31 again), 36, 37. An amazing achievement. The writer is not well-informed enough to know which of these were popular in his day; it can be assumed that many of those not listed above achieved some popularity otherwise numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 would not have been seen nor possibly composed. But before Verdi wrote Rigoletto, he had written two other operas that survive and are performed and fourteen which are not heard here. (The fact that the fourteen were performed when written suggests that the audiences of the day expected that all of Verdi’s operas would be successful. The criterion we are applying is more demanding and perhaps different.)

In Appendix 2 are also shown the operas, in order of composition, written by Mozart (heard in Australia, numbers 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 – as with Verdi, the successes are concentrated at the end of his career), Wagner (begins with #8, Rienzi, again most successes at the end), Rossini (begins at #10), Donizetti (begins late), Richard Strauss (first opera 1894; Salome, the third, 11 years later, then a run of successes).

It may be that some opera composers were fairly consistently successful beginning from their first or early efforts. Assume that is so. Nevertheless, the careers of the composers cited above show that we should expect that mastery will require an accumulation of experience over a good number of attempts.

The Review’s proposal that Australia should produce a new opera every two or three years is born of a situation wherein few Australian operas are commissioned or produced. There consequently are very few Australian composers with experience of writing for the opera stage and even fewer who have had the opportunity to follow Verdi’s path and have their second big success with their tenth opera. Richard Mills has brought three operas to the stage. Larry Sitsky has written seven but of these, only two were put on stage and one was recorded. He stopped writing operas in 1988. Others: Richard Meale, two; Ross Edwards, one; Brian Howard, three; Andrew Schultz, three. Barry Conyngham holds the record among those we investigated: seven, most or all performed.

If we want Australian composers to produce fine operatic works, they have to be given the opportunity to write them and to test them on stage and then rewrite them, even several times, to learn not only about operatic composition and voices but drama and the stage.  (3)

Although new mainstage opera is, according to its Artistic Director, beyond the capacity of the national company, three of the four state companies are regularly involved in commissioning and producing new works. The tiny State Opera of South Australia has a long record of producing new work and of course, is funded to do so. At present, it has commissioned, is workshopping and may present productions of three operas created by Australians. The first, Cloudstreet, was perhaps an opera waiting to happen, already highly successful as a novel and as theatre. The score is being written by George Palmer, whose style is comparable in a general way to some of those currently successful American composers. He has written vocal works, mostly religious in theme, orchestral and chamber works, but no dramatic works. As a new composer of opera, it should be assumed that he needs and should receive considerable dramaturgical and workshopping assistance. (That comment applies equally to all new opera composers and, indeed, old ones.) As noted, Victorian Opera commissions a work each year. The Rabbits and Star Navigator have been mentioned.

Our argument and proposal: Australia should embark on a long-term, structured program for the creation of new Australian operas. The key to this is to enable the creative teams of, usually, composer and librettist, opportunities to create, workshop, revise, workshop (repeat until ready) – and ultimately be involved in the production and presentation of public performances of new operas, and for the most promising teams to have multiple opportunities to go through this process. We can assume that the composers bring advanced compositional skills to bear but will not have had the opportunities to learn about the stage. The librettists may have a similar deficiency. Commonly, a dramaturg could be a part of the team as a consultant. There may be other members of the creative team as demanded by the concept for the work.

These works would be written for small forces. To bring them to the stage would not be phenomenally expensive. From those chosen for staging, some works – or their teams – could eventually be scaled up for large theatre production. So there would be a culling process that multiplies the prospects for public success at that level.

The small scale operas emerging from this process and given public performances would themselves develop opera in Australia and begin to build an audience at the level that realistically, new music can command. That in itself is a worthwhile outcome.

This work could be carried out under the auspices of the Major Opera Companies. The State Opera of South Australia already has its commissioning and workshopping process. The Victorian Opera regularly commissions and stages new Australian work.

Small companies such as Sydney Chamber Opera could also participate, selected on merit. Or an organisation could be created to conduct the scheme. A process is needed to investigate alternatives and decide on the most cost-effective.

Under Moffatt Oxenbould as Artistic Director, The Australian Opera instituted a workshop process for Australian composers called the National Opera Workshop. The committee could inquire of Moffatt about the success of the Workshop. Our understanding is that it produced works both good and poor, as would be expected, and some additional important serendipitous benefits. Its disappearance was a result of unrelated circumstances rather than failure in achieving its purpose, although it probably needed years more for that to be assessed.

We argue that opera’s future depends upon strengthening the process of creation and production of new work of artistic integrity and audience appeal and persevering with and testing it for at least ten years.

We propose a formal, structured program to carry this objective forward:

Australian Opera Development Scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to support a number of Australian creative teams each year to create new operas and develop them to a level where they are ready for production. We suggest more detail.

o Presumably the creative teams would normally comprise a composer and a librettist, possibly assisted by a dramaturg, a director, a designer, other, depending upon the proposal of the creators or the conception of the company
o The commissioning companies could seek subsidies to stage some or all of the works that emerge from the scheme

The scheme could work like this.

• Participating companies are chosen year by year and funded for projects. They could be chosen by a special panel appointed by the Australia Council based on proposals addressing published criteria
• Applications are invited from creative teams by the companies selected to participate

o Companies can specify aspects of the work such as maximum number of singers, number of players in the ensemble or any other requirements or possibilities
o Creative teams submit a verbal outline of the work, including illustrative musical sketches of episodes within it
o The same submission may be made to more than 0ne company; perhaps a limit could be set

• Participating companies select up to two creative teams and commission them to create complete works without orchestration

o During the creative process, a dramaturg is made available to the creative team or is a member

• Upon completion of the first draft, the work is workshopped with professional performers in front of a small studio audience
• The work is amended or further developed, again with the dramaturg available, and again workshopped
• The company could have the option of terminating the process with one or both teams if it believes that a good outcome is unlikely
• The workshop process could be repeated a third time

o Costs would be covered by a supplementary grant to the commissioning company provided automatically upon request
o Subsequent workshopping would be paid for by the company. It could be included in the production process, should that ensue

• A decision is made whether to go to production

o The work remains the property of the creative team, which may elect to proceed with the commissioning company or with some other
o Alternatively, the right of first refusal could be left with the commissioning company. Discuss.

• The selected company seeks subsidy for the production

o The composer may receive a fee for orchestration and this would be among the costs for which subsidy is sought
o Depending upon the generosity of the commission fee, the creative team may receive performance royalties or not

• The work is staged

o Works that are very successful could be staged again in subsequent years or selected to be scaled up for mainstage production. Subsidy can be sought from the Production Fund for high risk productions.

In this sequence, works generally would be ready to be staged in the third year or perhaps occasionally, the second year.

New applicants to the scheme would be invited each year. However, it is not essential that participating companies invite new applicants every year. They can make a judgement about their capacity to support additional projects. There are more potential participating companies than schemes that could be funded and commenced in any one year.

Creative teams whose proposal is rejected by a company are free to submit it to other companies or to the same company in a later round, probably amended.

One company with which we discussed this scheme suggested the following rough budget.

Expenditures per project
Commission fee, including fee to dramaturg and possibly others     100,000
Workshops 3 @ $25,000, cover performer fees and other costs         75,000
Company costs, overheads                                                                           50,000
TOTAL                                                                                                            225,000

Let us say that five new commissions are issued each year. That entails a total budget of up to $1.125m. Add a contingency fund of $75,000 for a total of $1.2m. It may be decided that the scheme should also have funds available to support productions or that productions are funded from the Production Fund (see previous section of paper).

In any year, 10 creative teams would be working on new operas – five beginning that year, five in their second year. For simplicity’s sake, let us say that in year 3, the teams from the first year have completed their works and some or all are being brought to stage. However, probably the companies have decided not to stage every one of the commissions so perhaps one has been dropped, one was staged in year 2, one is delayed to year 4. So in year 3, around Australia, 3 new works are staged. In year 4 and subsequent years, 4 new works are staged. This may be in addition to operas that companies have commissioned as part of their normal operations as at present.

In year 2, the applicants to the scheme probably would not include the 5 teams already commissioned in year 1. So there would be 10 different teams involved. In subsequent years, previously successful teams could apply again but not all will do so and not all will prevail against the competition. There will be a gradual increase in the number who have been involved. Also we could expect that with this improved prospect for performance, some will set about creating works before applying to the scheme and may even present completed works to gain access to the workshopping process. (In this case, they presumably receive a fee other than a commission fee.)

Is this scale of activity appropriate and sustainable? It seems to us that in a country of 24 million people, it is modest. It may supplement the existing activity by the state companies, which already produces say two works per year. Perhaps the key question is: will this project, at this scale, have the possibility of producing a body of Australian operatic works that is artistically successful, attracts a growing audience, possibly develops an Australian character (NOT a requirement) and can be financially sustained through government subsidies and earnings?

Readiness of composers. It is the experience of commissioning companies that many composers who aspire to write opera have insufficient understanding of the human voice and voice setting. We suspect that in part, this may be due to a deficiency in composer education at tertiary level. We suggest some discussion with the conservatoria in order to improve composer education and would be happy to assist.

10.2.5 Co-operate with festivals to develop new more challenging work: create a fund where the Major Opera Companies work with festivals and venues to develop new and/or more challenging works, or works of special interest.

Please see section A2c) below.

10.2.7 Create alternative formats for the staging of new works: explore the development of alternative formats, including potentially with some of the smaller opera companies.

We support the arguments for this proposal. As with option 10.2.3, we have a concern that collaborations with smaller companies should only strengthen them.

The stated disadvantages again seem insubstantial.

What would be the nature of the encouragement to the companies, other than the intrinsic merits of the proposal?

iii. The presentation of the opera heritage

We recognise that along with strategies to bring this artform into our time, a primary objective is to ensure the survival of the heritage. The Review is mostly directed to this end and our contribution is mainly to comment on the Options it presents.

10.2.1 Increase the number of mainstage opera productions

We agree with the stated advantages and disadvantages.

The financial implications are not clear because, as the Review suggests, at least in the case of OA the financial difficulties may have been caused in part by the reduction in the number of mainstage productions and performances. However, it is possible that increasing the number of productions would require greater subsidy.

The Review sets Handa on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) aside as a special project. HOSH is spectacular and in its way, a great achievement. However, we assert that it can easily be seen as part of the mainstage operation, only excepting that the stage is not in a theatre and the funding is achieved in a different way.

So while the theatre mainstage seasons have been reduced although the subsidy is unchanged, mainstage performances are increased by HOSH but require additional project funding and private support. The total subsidy for mainstage opera is increased.

HOSH draws an audience of which a large percentage is new to opera. The underlying objective of pursuing this new audience must be to reverse the overall decline of audience numbers by attracting audience members to attend other mainstage performances. We could suppose that this was an important consideration for Opera Australia.

In the event, while a good number of attendees are new to opera, only a small percentage buy tickets to other Opera Australia productions – presumably opera or music theatre. From the figures given by the Review, it is difficult to extract the number purchasing opera tickets but we could guess that in 2015 it may have been of the order of 2,000 – 2,500. Total mainstage attendances were 130,000.

While we must be impressed that HOSH 2015 attracted 50,000 attendees, the strategic value of HOSH in building the opera audience more broadly seems minimal.  This presumably will be a factor in the overall strategic planning for the OA.

10.2.3 Expand the number of less familiar works: encourage the companies as part of their strategic plans to be presented to the funding agencies to balance popular and less familiar works, with a view to growing new audiences while retaining and building a subscriber base. This may be done in conjunction with some of the smaller opera companies.

We assume that this objective pertains to “less familiar works” from the heritage rather than to new works. We support most of the positive arguments listed as advantages.

Two of the positive arguments raise questions:

Enhances Australia’s artistic reputation and credentials internationally

To present a standard repertoire that is more balanced between the popular and less familiar works would simply align Australia with common practice among major companies internationally. It would “enhance” Australia’s reputation only inasmuch as it dispels the impression that our national company presents mainly the operatic hit parade. (4)

If Australia wishes to build its international reputation, it could seek to devise new operatic practices of such merit that they influence the activities of overseas companies.

• Offers the potential to work with smaller opera companies

Which smaller opera companies? What would be the nature of the collaboration? While there certainly is advantage in collaboration, we would hope that in this case it builds the strength and enhances the special character of the smaller company. If the Review were not constrained by the Terms of Reference, it might have recommended direct financial support to smaller companies rather than support only through the services of the Major Companies.

10.2.4 Increase the variety of repertoire choice: provide an incentive to offer more varied repertoire.

It is interesting that the Review added this Option, which seems to be a qualification on the previous Option.

We support it, of course. However, we wonder what would be the nature of the incentive. Again, above we have offered a particular view of the priorities for increasing the variety.

b) The nurture of artists

i. Improvement of the circumstances of singers, musicians and technical staff so that they have greater opportunity to derive a living from their art in Australia

10.2.8 Selectively enlarge Opera Australia’s ensemble to increase the number of principal artists on contracts and increase employment certainty: fund an increase in the size of the ensemble for principals employed on contracts that provide greater certainty of employment.

Opera singers in Europe have the possibility of moving easily among many companies located in relative proximity. In Australia, it is much more difficult to patch together a full time operatic career based upon casual engagements.

We do support the objective of this option but concede that our agreement with the proposal below to change OA into a state company does have the possible disadvantage of reducing its ability to offer full time employment to artists. We do not know that that is the case but it may be. Below, we propose a remedy. On the other hand, our proposal to build up the state companies would lead to more opportunities for casual engagements.

International singers. OA has doubled its use of international guest singers. Concurrent with this practice, it has reduced the number of full time principals, causing considerable distress in the profession.

It is good that Australian audiences hear top singers from abroad. They encourage audiences to expect the highest standards and the companies to work to achieve them. There are occasions on which the international guests are not superior to the Australians they displace although generally, we have the impression that under the current Artistic Director, high quality is more consistent.

The Music Trust has formed a list of Australian classical musicians who have achieved at a high level overseas. Of a list of some 350, 118 are singers, mostly of opera. A surprising number are conductors. A large number of these singers, but not conductors, are seen in Australian productions as visiting artists. Are they counted among the 19 cited by the Review or are they additional? The list can be read at (Note that there is an interesting accompanying statistical analysis in a separate file. The link is given there.) Based upon anecdotes, we conjecture that for the majority of Australian singers abroad, they have no greater wish than to perform in Australia.

10.2.9 Selectively enlarge the size of Opera Australia’s chorus: fund an increase in the size of the chorus that is employed on contracts.

The objective to enable more, and more reliable, work for chorus members has our support. The financial disadvantage is acknowledged.

We add two proposals:

An effort could be made to increase the public status of choruses and chorus members. Chorus members in many cases seem to think that they have not succeeded unless or until they have become principals. There is rarely any promotion by the companies to honour the chorus.

Secondly, choruses could be presented once or twice a year on stage in their own concerts. They might take place at a time when the chorus is lightly used in the opera productions. Solos could be given to chorus members. Marketing would boost the public regard for the chorus. The concerts could take place in the more appropriate acoustic and larger seating capacity of concert halls. Opera Australia presented its chorus in such a concert some years ago.

Generally, concert activity is shown by the Review to produce a positive financial outcome. The incremental costs for OA, at least, should be minimal and the profit might support the increase in chorus size, or some other priority objective.

10.2.10 Selectively enlarge the size of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra: fund an increase in the size of the orchestra that is employed on contracts that provide greater certainty of employment.

We support the objective in principle but at this time when there are survival issues at stake, we would not accord it high priority if it became an obstacle to other initiatives that support the fundamental proposal. It appears to us that there are more opportunities for orchestral musicians to find casual work than there are for singers, so the need to offer full time employment is not quite as urgent. However, in the interests of orchestral quality, the great majority of members should be full time.

That said, the stated disadvantage that Orchestra Victoria could expect the same treatment as AOBO is manageable. There is a rational limit to the size of the permanent ensemble based upon the likely utilisation of the permanent members.

10.2.2 Increase the number of Australian sourced new productions

The arguments for this proposal are powerful. This is the key proposal that will result in more work for technical people and more opportunities for Australian opera to develop its creative capacities for production design.

It is essential to bring new productions before the public. The Review has not shown that creating them in Australia is more costly than creating them elsewhere; the consequences for the cost base for individual companies can be ameliorated through co-production arrangements.

ii. Development of programs that bridge the gap between graduation from tertiary study and full professional employment

10.2.11 Support further development programmes for young artists: seek tied government income to support paid development programmes for emerging young artists.

The Major Opera Companies offer young artist programs to a very small number of people. The experiences are variable. They are unlikely to offer frequent opportunities to play full major roles and yet it can be argued that this is the experience most likely to benefit the artist.

Otherwise, there are very few companies that can offer major roles, even on an unpaid basis – indeed, even on a basis where the artist pays to perform, as is the case with one company. The main opportunity available to young artists is to compete in singing competitions. These have some value and for the winners, can give them a footing in Europe – a mixed blessing for opera in Australia. On the other hand, there is pressure to sing from a rather thin song book of virtuosic popular arias and it usually would be tactically unwise to sing from new operas of the taxing variety.

For the Review, broad consideration of this issue is hobbled by the Terms of Reference. Young artists need the opportunity to perform roles and in general, build their skills to a fully professional level after graduation from the conservatorium. The Terms of Reference incline the Review to ask only how the Major Opera Companies can provide this service rather than how the problem can be approached taking into account all the possibilities.

We suggest that the Review reconsiders this issue from that broader perspective. What program could be devised and then, what is the optimal role of the Major Opera Companies?

Before asking some key questions, mention should be made of the program offered until recently by the Victorian Opera in collaboration with the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne. The artists enrol in a Master’s course at the Conservatorium and are also employed (!) at award wages by the VO, which provides them with professional experience. This program depended in part upon funding from the state government and has had to be abandoned because of termination of the state funding. It is said to have been very successful.

Here are some questions to consider:

• To what extent could this need be met through support to companies such as Pacific Opera or Opera New England, set up expressly to offer young artists the opportunity to perform roles and create productions? Would more be achieved at lower cost through such programs?

• To what extent could this need be met through the operations of small touring companies such as those operated by some Major Opera Companies and/or small independent companies such as Co-Opera? The singers perform major roles but do they receive training or only direction?

• To what extent could this need be met through collaborations between professional opera companies and conservatorium opera training programs? Why would professional companies engage with trainee singers before they have received their degrees? Why would conservatoria engage with professional companies to train singers after they have completed their degrees? What are the respective duties of the two organisations and their financial responsibilities? What are the merits of such arrangements?

• Programs of the Major Opera Companies have the advantage of bringing the young artists into direct contact with opera professionals – perhaps the moreso with Opera Australia, operating full time, than the part time state companies. On the other hand, the artists will not have access to major roles unless possibly they are very highly selected. (If they are given major roles, is the young artist program serving mainly to engage fine singers for low fees?) Do they receive training or only direction?

• What is the need for instruction in these programs and under which auspices is it most likely to be offered and to be of high quality?

2. Reconceive the structure of opera nationally and the roles of the federal and state funding bodies in supporting it.                   

a) Development of state companies of greater equality, each with its own identity resulting from its history and circumstances, repertoire choices and style of production

Our picture is of a dynamic major opera company in each of the five main states. They are of more equal standing than at present. Each one has developed a particular style and character. There are also small companies and opera-related programs of special purpose and character. All participate in a nationwide opera culture.

Right now, each of the state opera companies is able to present work of high accomplishment. Each has responded to its own history and state circumstances and so has a particular identity. By comparison with the national opera company, each one is tiny and it could be argued that the service offered to audiences in the smaller states is inequitably small. According to the Review, there is some resentment among the state companies about the pressure from the much larger OA, for instance in the application of Opera Conference funds. The 80/20 State/Commonwealth division of funding responsibilities for state companies makes some sense if the role of the state companies is only to supplement services from the national company. Excepting in Victoria, that has never been the case and nor should it be. Rather, the Commonwealth should distribute the opera budget more equitably, and so enable development of the state companies.

The current state companies were established between 1967 (WA) and 2005 (Victoria, although the preceding but now defunct Victorian State Opera gave its first performance in 1972). The city of Perth has more than doubled in size since 1967 and there has been enormous population growth in all of the capital cities except Adelaide. Based upon population, all should be able to sustain more opera activity but their programs have not expanded proportionately. Expansion depends not only upon population size but on subsidy levels. We are proposing support to increase activity in Adelaide and Perth, and when it has demonstrated need and the quality of supply, Brisbane. The Victorian Opera would also be included in this national scheme. We are guessing that other cities are not large enough to sustain a resident opera company. (But, as a marker, the company in Karlsruhe, Germany, for instance, population about the same size as that of Canberra, is full time and produces seven operas a year.)  (5)

A question: How much live opera activity in a city is needed to build a committed, substantial, resilient audience? We would guess that one production a year is insufficient. Three? Four? Five? Such answers are too simple but the question seems worthy of more detailed consideration.

We note in passing the achievement of SOSA. It manages to operate with a very small administrative staff and from recollection, at the time it presented The Ring, there was an administration of three (now blown out to five!). Its overheads as a percentage of budget are much lower than those of OQ or WAO and this is a result of tight managerial discipline. Its programming is adventurous although we acknowledge that it has special Commonwealth subsidy to support innovation. Although the Review does not do so, it seems that there is reason to regard SOSA as a model for emulation.

b) Termination of the concept of the national company Have Opera Australia focus exclusively on Sydney, find another approach for Melbourne. Embedded in this approach is the proposition that each Major Opera Company should focus on its resident geography. Under this option, a solution would need to be identified for the delivery of the highest quality opera into Melbourne. Victorian Opera would undoubtedly have to be considered to be part of any such solution.

This option by the Review has our support. We offer the following arguments and additional suggestions.

Until around the time of the establishment of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust’s opera company and then The Australian Opera, opera in Australia was commonly provided by touring companies. The Australian Opera was designated the national “flagship” opera company and was assigned the lion’s share of Federal funding to opera. It was not surprising then that the concept “national” carried with it the idea that the company would serve the whole country through touring. That has not been practicable because of the cost and in more than 50 years has not in practice marked the company as “national”. For Opera Australia to provide a comprehensive touring service to benefit citizens even in only the five main state jurisdictions would require a large increase in Commonwealth subsidies (recalling as evidence the $2m+ deficit from OA’s two productions in Brisbane in 2012). At the same time, it could result in weakening the operations of the state companies. No other activities of any weight have emerged to give practical justification to the designation of OA as the national company.

Nevertheless, the idea has not completely died and the absence of national touring remains as an irritant and source of dissatisfaction for some. It probably is a distraction from a more natural role for Opera Australia and a more productive concept for opera in Australia.

The concept of “national” would be much more usefully discharged through the development of a national opera strategy than the assignment of the title “national company” to a company with no real national role. Under a national opera strategy as it applies to Major Opera Companies, the Commonwealth would apply its budget equitably to the companies in the five largest states or more accurately, their capital cities. As a basic concept for dividing the funds, they could be calculated to be proportional to the populations of the cities served, then modified by the financial commitments of their respective governments.

This would mean that there would no longer be a justification for Commonwealth preference to a company because of its designation as “national” and it would not be providing 80% of the company’s subsidy. On the other hand, nor is there justification for it providing only 20% of the total subsidies to the three state companies it now funds.

Opera Australia would be relieved of the responsibility to tour to Melbourne. Melbourne now has a fine state company which has been tested for ten years and has shown itself capable of providing Melbourne with high quality opera performances and a more varied repertoire than does OA in either Melbourne or Sydney. It also offers other services that respond to local need and opportunity. Melbourne’s needs can be at least as well served by Melbourne’s own company. The OA would no longer be subsidised for Melbourne performances and the relevant subsidy would in effect be transferred to the Victorian Opera, subject to the formula for the overall redistribution of Commonwealth funds. The subsidies that support OA’s considerable travel costs could be more fruitfully applied to the funding of opera instead of the travel industry and could, for instance, be used to support the risks involved in the presentation of contemporary works.

Opera Australia is based in the nation’s largest city, with a disproportionately large proportion of the national opera audience and box office. Possibly this success is a result of its level of funding, the level of interest in opera by Sydney residents and the level of interest from tourists, some of which is in the Sydney Opera House rather than the opera company. On the face of it, Opera Australia should remain the largest opera company in the land. In this, it retains status.

The Review seems to suggest that under Option, Opera Australia would continue with its present subsidy and would expand the Sydney seasons to fill the time previously given to Melbourne. There seems to be no good reason that it would retain the Melbourne subsidy. It also seems extremely unlikely that it would be able successfully to add three months a year to its Sydney seasons. Indeed, even if it were to retain all of its current subsidy, such an expansion surely would put it in jeopardy.
In its discussion of the qualifications required to be designated a Major Opera Company, the Review states that Opera Queensland is not meeting the requirements and therefore that its status could be terminated but that the Victorian Opera appears to qualify and therefore could be admitted as a major company. It appears that the Review may have been considering the possibility that this change could be effected by transferring the OQ federal subsidy to the VO.

Under the proposal of this submission, both companies would be funded from the total Commonwealth opera subsidy. OQ’s share of the subsidy, based upon Brisbane’s population, would add to its total government subsidy. This would be a major change in its circumstances. However, the Review Committee may wish to reach a decision on whether OQ’s activities warrant continued funding as a Major Opera Company. We can say that if the proposed funding scheme were implemented, no immediate decision on the termination of funding to OQ would be necessary. OQ could be put on notice of requirements to be fulfilled over some period and if these are not met, its subsidy could be reapplied to some other aspect of a national opera strategy.

Reallocation of opera subsidies

The proposition is that opera in Australia will have greater vitality, be more responsive to the times, more innovative, if there is more equality among the major companies and more support to the smaller companies. The fundamental proposition remains that opera programs should evolve so that opera is seen not only as a heritage art but as an artform of our time and place. Here, we deal with the ways and means of those two propositions.

In order to achieve greater equality among the companies, the concept of the national company is disbanded. The services to Melbourne now provided by Opera Australia are offered by a Victorian company, presumably the Victorian Opera although that is a matter for decision in Victoria. The Commonwealth funds assigned to give core support to opera are redistributed equitably among the companies. The funds now used to cover OA’s costs for company members’ travel, accommodation and per diems to Melbourne are no longer required for that purpose and can be redirected. These along with the production funds now administered through the Opera Conference and funds now spent on regional touring, and possibly an additional amount from the total Commonwealth opera subsidy will constitute a fund to be made available through competitive applications for projects to create and present operas of our time.

It is a complex task to present a picture of how this might happen – a complexity made greater by what appear to be some inconsistencies in the financial information provided in the discussion paper and probably the difficulty for volunteer writers in comprehending all of the detail. However, having made these rather radical proposals, it seems incumbent on us to present a scenario that sets forth some possible means of implementation.

At present, the share of Commonwealth and state governments in the funding of the Major Opera Companies is, conceptually, as follows. We include the Victorian Opera because, frankly, it is a nonsense to omit it.

Commonwealth        State
Opera Australia                               80%                  20% *
WA Opera                                         20%                  80%
Opera Queensland                          20%                  80%
State Opera SA                                 50%**              50%
Victorian Opera                                  0%               100%

*Shared between NSW and Victoria
** Based upon a formula no longer officially agreed but not superseded, to provide extra funding in return for presenting new operas

On what basis could the available Commonwealth funds be redistributed among the five companies? The present concepts for the sharing of responsibilities obviously do not result in equitable treatment. Neither would simply dividing the funds into five equal parts because the companies serve populations of considerably different sizes and the investments by state governments may differ depending not only upon the available resources but also their respective interest in and commitment to the provision of opera to their citizens.

The purpose of this exercise is to strengthen the state companies, so as a general principle, it would not be acceptable that if more Commonwealth funds are provided to a state company, the state government reduces its support.

We have experimented with calculating the basic distribution of Commonwealth funds according to the populations of the cities in which the companies are based. It would be possible to base the calculation on state populations but it is in fact the city populations that are served. That is an unavoidable reality for an artform that requires audiences of a size that are not available in regional centres.

The total population of the five cities was 13,861,000 in 2014. The total Commonwealth core subsidy to the four funded companies was $22,340,000.

Of that amount, a substantial sum goes to the OA for its touring costs to Melbourne. According to the discussion paper, OA’s total touring costs for Melbourne and regional touring appear to be $6.8m. The OA Annual Report 2014 shows travel costs of $7.806m. These would include costs associated with international principals as well as company touring. Some travel costs are covered by grants from government agencies other than the Australia Council. Since these are tied to specific purposes, they are not available for allocation as core subsidies nor for the Production Fund. Lacking specific knowledge of important information we will assign $3m from the overall Commonwealth subsidy, plus the Opera Conference fund of $1.4 million to the production fund. This scenario is conceptual and the actual amounts will be adjusted by the Review if it decides to take up the ideas. So the funds available for distribution as core subsidies are $19,340,000.

If the $19.340m Commonwealth subsidy were distributed according to population sizes, it would look like this.

Population      %        Share of subsidy
Sydney                 4.373m         32               $6.188
Melbourne           4,181            30                  5.802
Brisbane               2.143            15                  2.901
Perth                     1.901            14                  2.708
Adelaide               1.263             9                   1.740

The three funded state companies receive orchestral services from their local symphony orchestras; this requires Commonwealth and state subsidies but the value is not reported by the Review and presumably is additional to the core subsidies. OA cannot receive services from the Sydney Symphony because it is fully occupied. So provision must be made to allow OA to maintain the AOBO for its own purposes and to serve the Australia Ballet. The cost is now included in the present subsidy to the OA.

To manage the problem of providing OA with the considerable extra support it needs to maintain AOBO, we can add an amount to its subsidy by weighting the percentage of total Commonwealth funds available to Sydney. Since we do not have a basis for deciding the weighting (we have found no source that can give us the current cost of the orchestra), our method is conceptual only. Let us add 40% to the Sydney population, producing a result that approaches workability.

The table then looks like this.

Population        %         Weighted %       Share of subsidy
Sydney                   6.123m          32                39                      $7.543m
Melbourne            4,181              30                27                         5.221
Brisbane                2.143              15                 14                         2.708
Perth                      1.901               14                12                          2.321
Adelaide                1.263                9                  8                           1.547

The rounding off o f numbers causes a slight discrepancy in total outcome but the chart is only intended to be illustrative.

What contribution should be expected from the states? There is great variation now because of the historical circumstances. The populations of NSW, and to a lesser extent Victoria, have had enormous benefit from the national company concept but have paid little for it.

The most obvious concept is an equal responsibility between Commonwealth and states. That rationale receives some support also from the historical agreement for equal co-funding to SOSA to support it in doing something like that which is now proposed for all companies: more investment in the presentation of operas of our time.

Under this formula, each state would match the Commonwealth core subsidy. If they did so, their subsidy levels would change as below.

We propose that the Commonwealth does not provide more than 50% of the total core subsidy from Commonwealth and state governments. If a state government provides less than half of the agreed total, the Commonwealth will reduce its contribution to match.

Proposed            Current state            Change in
C’wealth subsidy             subsidy               state subsidy
NSW                        $7.543m                   3.286m                   4.257m
Victoria                      5,221                      4.732                        0.469
Queensland               2,708                     2.501                        0.207
WA                              2,321                      1.870                        0.451
SA                                1,547                      1.551                              -0-

Under this scenario, the total federal plus state subsidy to OA falls to $15.086m. Conceptually, we have taken into account a reduction of the number of mainstage performances following withdrawal from Melbourne and the associated travel costs, and allowed that the AOBO is a direct cost in Sydney which does not change and for which there is not an equivalent cost for other Major Opera Companies.
Proportionate to population served, OA is then receiving more than its share of the available

Commonwealth funds available for core support, based only upon population. It also is receiving more than heretofore from the NSW government, although justly so in terms of service to populace. We would expect to hear arguments that the proposed subsidy is insufficient. These would need expert assessment by the Review Committee.

c) Another option: the states may organise their opera provision as they wish

The scenarios described above preserve essentially the present structure based around Major Opera Companies, consistent with the Terms of Reference of the Review. But there are other possibilities.
Opera Queensland, for instance, has not been successful in attracting an audience of viable size to full scale grand opera productions. At this stage, it is presenting only one such opera production a year and is experimenting with other types of activity to provide a service and draw an audience. A financial consequence is that the company no longer meets the criteria for categorisation as a Major Opera Company and the Review suggests that it therefore should lose that status and presumably, the funding that accompanies it.

Our proposal divides the Commonwealth opera budget proportionally to the populations of the major cities served. Based upon this principle, each state could be seen to have an allocation of Commonwealth funds to spend on opera services provided it is matched dollar for dollar by the state. Decisions could be made locally on whether to spend those funds on a Major Opera Company for the state or in some other way, probably to be agreed by state and Commonwealth.

Consider possibilities from other cities. Sydney has a baroque company, Pinchgut Opera, that performs two seasons a year in a 1200-seat theatre, with relatively modest public funding. The Sydney Chamber Opera presents four, perhaps more, seasons a year of usually very difficult new small-scale operatic works with multiple performances in a theatre seating about 400. Co-Opera, based in Adelaide, has presented a small company in extensive tours to small towns; the total audience, when it was funded, was up to 20,000 and the subsidy was about $400,000. Opera Queensland has presented popular heritage operas in a medium sized theatre at less cost than the productions in the large Lyric Theatre. It would be possible to set up a company to commission and workshop new operas, using core funding plus project funding. Victorian Opera maintains a youth opera company with performances by and for youth.
If funding were available on suitable terms, a state could choose a configuration of such activities with multiple specialist companies.

d) The utilisation of festivals as one means of building the identity of state companies and supporting the development of new opera

Here is an idea born of the Review’s proposal regarding collaboration with festivals.

10.2.5 Co-operate with festivals to develop new more challenging work: create a fund where the Major Opera Companies work with festivals and venues to develop new and/or more challenging works, or works of special interest.

While this Option could be applied to old works presented in innovative ways, we suggest that priority is given to support for new Australian operas or, as a second priority, other new works that serve the overall strategy described in this submission.

We support the arguments for this proposal, as set out in the Review’s list of advantages. It should be said that the presentation of opera, including new opera or old opera in new clothing, is common practice for festivals and indeed, it is at festivals where audiences are willing to take risks with new work that they otherwise might avoid.

(Consequently, the stated disadvantages again seem, frankly, of little account. Yes, of course audiences may not attend as with any item on the festival program, may not choose to “cross over”, and every director will follow his/her inclinations. If the state opera companies work with a festival, why would this reduce their options?)

Our response to this proposal could strongly affect the culture of state opera companies as well as support the presentation of new opera. The actions:

• A condition is imposed by states on their funding to the major festivals: that a specified minimum amount is committed to assist the purchase of a festival presentation of an opera produced by a company based in another state

• Opera companies (which might include companies that are not Major Opera Companies) prepare and present productions with a view, in part, to competing to be chosen by the Festival director for inclusion in the Festival, presumably in the following year. Since they will have in mind this continuing opportunity, their regular program planning could on that account become more innovative. Under our agenda, funding could be available from the Production Fund for the initial production

• Since the festival takes place in a state other than the state of residence, companies will have the opportunity for their work to be seen by audiences other than the local audience. This should stimulate creativity and a sense of wider relevance for the company.

• In this way, over time, a sense of a national opera scene is created to which the various member companies contribute. Each company is encouraged to build a style or character, an identity, which will be seen to have particular strengths and will contrast with the identities of the other companies.

• This scheme will assist to invigorate opera in Australia, build national opera identity (an identity embracing a certain diversity) and strengthen the smaller companies.

• Financially, it is supported by the normal financial operations of the opera company and the festival, with touring and some other incremental expenses covered by the additional funding to the festival.


e) Consideration of the roles of smaller companies and how they are to be supported

A negative consequence of the funding structure that separates major performing arts organisations from all the others is that the small organisations can be left out of consideration in policy reviews such as this one. In fact, the small organisations take the artistic risks that are not possible for a large company needing audiences in the thousands, such as Opera Australia. In Sydney, for instance, there would be virtually no new opera performed were it not for the Sydney Chamber Opera. While OA has in the past presented some early opera, Pinchgut is now the only provider.

Small companies may be the most economical, flexible and effective providers of new, small scale opera, the proposed creative workshops, performances for schools, regional touring, training and opportunities for emerging professionals. Prejudgements are not necessary but it could be advantageous to invite them to put forward their proposals.

3. Implementation of strategies for audience development. These will include:

a) Access strategies

Usually, the artspeak definition of “access” policies has to do with solving problems of lack of access to art works or performances that follow on from the circumstances of the potential audience member. The Review uses “access” to replace the word “marketing” and thereby skirts the issue of accessibility.

The 2011 CMC Framework gives companies a responsibility to deal with access issues, by implication defined as above:

Demonstrate a leadership role in the development of audiences including young and disadvantaged audiences, multicultural audiences and more equal access for people with disability

Demonstrate a commitment to engaging with audiences in regional communities

Regional touring is addressed in this submission at B1 below.

Surveys to discover the reasons that people find an artform inaccessible usually come up with explanations such as these:
• Cannot afford the ticket price
• Don’t have the time
• Too far away
• No access for the disabled
• It’s for other people (the rich; white people etc.)
• Don’t understand what it’s about
• I’m in prison / at sea in a submarine / baby-sitting

Access problems for opera could be put into two categories: access for people who would be able to purchase opera tickets if the obstacles to access were removed; and access for people for whom the obstacle is some form of personal disadvantage.

The obstacles of disadvantage mostly cannot be solved by persuasive marketing. If there is no wheelchair access, the prospective disabled audience member is unlikely to be swayed by a marketing pitch that they don’t need their wheelchair. The response must somehow remove the obstacle or the perception of the obstacle. Install a lift or a wheelchair ramp. For the prisoner, take the opera to the prison. For those with little money, offer cheap seats.

Addressing access problems arising from disadvantage is unlikely to be profitable. It will be at a cost to the company that may never be recovered. Do the companies have strategies that serve the disadvantaged and also benefit opera? The question is a little bit cynical but on the other hand, a positive answer could motivate companies towards more activity. Opera Australia organised the two projects involving Aboriginal communities. So far as we are aware, no outcomes have been publicised. The projects were expensive and on the face of it, reached few people. Was the cost justified? Did the projects benefit anyone beyond those small communities? Did OA discover new possibilities for benefit to Indigenous people, or opera, or its own operations? What are the benefits and to whom, of its choral programs?

For those who could buy a ticket if they so chose, the obstacles to access may be practical or obstacles of perception. The latter can be susceptible to normal marketing strategies: remove the perception that the art is for other people, or find ways to increase understanding and therefore enable appreciation and pleasure. Even apparently practical problems can be solved by changing perceptions. The respondent who says that the opera is too far away may live in a suburb from which other people regularly attend. Marketing strategies can change perceptions.

b) Strategies to build audiences for operas of our time, including operas of wide appeal and operas of more specialist nature

The strategies proposed in Chapter 11 seem to us expert and appropriate. In some cases, the listed advantages suggest strategies that would seem to be fundamental; if they are not in place, is the quality of the marketing operation adequate? Examples: the recommendations around engaging with the subscriber base, or for connecting audiences and artists.

However, our special concern is that if our proposed agenda is adopted, there would need to be a concerted national effort for continuing vigorous promotion of the idea that opera is an artform of our time, based around the presentation of operas of our time: both those directed to a broader audience and the more demanding new operas that appeal to a specialist audience.

Simply to present these operas as single works in their own right with no promotion of that wider agenda would miss the point.

c) Audiences of younger adults

We draw your attention to new research proposing that older and younger people have different reasons for listening to music. Clearly, the research was not about the opera audience specifically but nevertheless, it seems applicable.

“For younger adults, social connection is a strong component of music listening; you bond with your peers over your choice in tunes… Older adults largely looked at music as therapeutic—a source of meaning and personal growth. While some younger participants did refer to music’s ability to provide them with a private “personal space,” the bulk of the responses suggest older people are more interested in music as an intense, inner experience, while younger ones view it as a way of escaping bad moods and connecting with friends.” The researchers assembled groups of music lovers aged 18 – 30, and 60 – 85. Perhaps their findings explain why contemporary music builds its audience among the young but classical music listeners tend to come to the music in middle age.

(There is a newspaper summary at The study is titled “Enhancing wellbeing: An emerging model of the adaptive functions of music listening” and is by Jenny M. Groarke and Michael J. Hogan. Find it at

The Review’s strategy 10.2.7 Create alternative formats for the staging of new works is relevant in connecting with this young audience. Orchestras such as the New World Orchestra in Miami have experimented with special program formats and locations that emphasise the social aspect of attending live performances (not necessarily successfully). It is simply the norm for much popular music; although not perhaps transferable to opera, perhaps clever marketers can see a way. Musica Viva had a concert series in the Arthouse bar in Sydney. We believe it lost money and therefore was terminated. There is a need for persistence, and experimentation with different models. And new operas.

d) Audiences of school children

The opera companies produce special performing programs for school children. The objective from a marketing perspective is generally to give children experiences that will lead them to become audience members as adults. The study cites the research that shows non-musical (e.g. cognitive, academic) benefits from participation in music education.

We note briefly two things:

• Such benefits will not follow from occasional attendance at a live musical performance. They depend upon continuing participation in music making over an extended period.

• US research by the Knight Foundation has shown that attendance at classical music performances does not of itself influence children to become adult ticket buyers. They are, however, influenced by extended participation in music making programs. (Unfortunately we have been unable to find this research but the Foundation may be able to assist.)

That is the research. Intuitively, one would think that exposure to opera performances would at least break the ice, bring opera within the world of the children, make the idea of attending a performance less forbidding.

However, companies might reconsider their activities in the light of the research. They are not really in a position to offer ongoing participatory music education to large numbers of children. How could they support those who are?

B. Resources are reduced for, or withdrawn from activities that do not strongly address proposal A. These include:

1. Regional touring

Regional touring is expensive, reaches small audiences with very modest capacity for growth and in the present situation, which we are characterising as a slow-moving crisis, seems of low priority.

Opera is an expensive form requiring large audiences even to approach financial viability. Small towns cannot provide large audiences. Living in the country brings benefits – fresh air, greenness, neighbourliness. The benefits do not include activities requiring massive audiences like AFL finals or mainstage opera. Such experiences are available to city-dwellers (and country visitors). A record total audience of 32,000 in 2014 for Major Opera Company touring is a very small percentage of the non-metropolitan population. The subsidy could be better applied to other priorities.

If it is found necessary to persist with regional touring, an examination of the economics of provision by Major Opera Companies vs small, specialist companies is suggested. The Adelaide-based company Co-Opera, set up tours to towns of 5-20,000. In 2012, the last year in which it received core funding, it reached 18-20,000 audience members with 70 performances. We do not know the quality of its work nor the reason that funding was discontinued but in scale, it was comparable to the productions of the Major Companies. Its subsidy for the years leading up to 2012 was around $400,000. In 2014, Opera Australia’s regional touring progream gave 33 performances to a total audience of 15,000. Its loss was $1.074m before external funding, and $412,000 afterwards. Opera Queensland in 2014 gave 10 performances in the larger Queensland towns. It sold 8,900 tickets and received $540,000 subsidy.

2 Community programs

We are entirely supportive of arguments for the benefits of arts activity in communities. To have major opera companies provide such programs benefits the communities and probably helps to maintain broader values in the companies otherwise focused on the art form and industry politics.

There are two issues. Firstly, from the viewpoint of the communities, are the opera companies the best and most economical providers of community arts services? Secondly, for an art form in crisis, is the expenditure of not inconsiderable funds on audiences which may not be its natural audiences and activity which is not core activity, timely?

C. Activities of primarily commercial intent are structured so as to ensure that they do not divert energies from the operatic mission nor call upon government subsidies intended for the support of the opera programs

1. These include commercial musical theatre ventures, which should be set up under independent companies that pass on their profits to their opera company parents

Chapter 11 opens with this statement: “In the wake of the GFC, Australia is one of the few countries in the world where attendances at performances by opera companies have increased. Indeed, since 2009, attendances in capital cities have increased by 73 percent or 11.6 percent per annum. This is a remarkable achievement.”

This is  very misleading statement, as is shown in the following paragraphs which distinguish between the activities in mainstage opera and musical theatre. The foreign opera companies cited in the report are, with one exception, not presenting musicals so on those grounds alone, there is here no legitimate comparison. Most importantly, when the OA attendances for mainstage opera are isolated, we see that the audience has not increased but significantly declined.

At various place in the Review, musical theatre and opera activity are rolled into one. They should not be. It is not the mission of Opera Australia to present musical theatre. Our understanding is that it has substituted musical theatre for its previous long-standing production of operetta in order to generate profit which can be applied to support its operatic mission.

The circumstances of musical theatre are quite different. As the Review tells us, the up-front production costs are around five times those for mainstage opera, but the costs per performance are half. Musicals can expect to amortise the production costs over long runs with a single cast performing eight times a week with no dark nights. This has made it possible for OA in only its third year to present more musical theatre performances than performances in its entire opera program in two cities.

The Review reports (Exhibit 6.4) a contribution to core costs from musical theatre of $4,424,000. The concerns of commercial competitors that Opera Australia is using its government subsidy to compete unfairly are denied. Others express concern, according to the Review, that for Opera Australia personnel, the musical theatre activity is a distraction from its mission. Whether this is true, we do not know. But a program of this scale is not achieved without thought and effort.

There are some questions to be asked. In section 6.1.1, it is stated that “Opera Australia has not provided data allocating semi-fixed costs to musicals.” It is not clear to us whether not providing data can be interpreted to mean only that the information has been withheld (if so, why?) or that these costs have not been assigned to the musicals before the contribution is calculated.

There has been a reduction in the number of mainstage opera performances but apparently, in 2014, the AOBO supported 70 Sydney performances of a musical. (This must have been a testing time for players). Are these paid for from subsidy or charged to the musical? Marketing costs are assigned to their respective activities but overheads are not. Overheads rose from $15m in 2011 (Exhibit 6.27), the year before the musicals program began, to $21m three years later. Remembering especially the reduction in mainstage opera activity, how much of this $6m increase in overheads paid for activities in support of the musicals program?

These questions do not stem from a dislike or disapproval of musicals. The writer just attended a performance of Anything Goes; it was extremely well produced and performed and wonderfully enjoyable. But if the musicals program is not safely making a financial contribution to this company that has been incurring a $2m a year loss, then it should be abandoned.

Because the financials around the musical theatre program seem to us to lack some transparency, we propose the possibility that musical theatre activity and any other substantial activity that does not address the OA mission and has primarily a commercial purpose should be set up under a separate company. In the case of musical theatre, the company could have two principal investors, the OA and the Gordon Frost organisation. OA funds provided to the company would have to be reported, would not include subsidy funds, and the OA would be protected from financial loss. As we recall, the financial troubles of both the AETT and the VSO arose in part from their involvements in musical theatre.

D. Creation of an entity that oversees implementation, review and continuing development of a national opera strategy

If an agenda along the lines proposed above were to be adopted, there would be no need for the companies to advance in lock-step. Indeed, for evolutionary success, there would be advantage in each one following its own path.

However, there is a need for some alignment of approach and action in order to bring some cohesion to the national concept of opera in our day. The company boards can be expected to be concerned mainly about the governance and viability of their own companies, especially so given the inherently risky nature of opera. They probably will not be voluntarily thinking of, let alone committing to a national opera policy – nor assessing their contribution to its progress.

There needs to be a national body to carry forward such a policy agenda. It certainly should include representatives of the companies but should not be in their control. Some members could be directly impacted by its decisions and others less so. It needs to have some powers for implementation and not be simply a think tank.

It might be established as a separate funding entity, a possibility advanced in the Review. It could come under the auspices of the Australia Council but perhaps it should take in more than the major opera companies so that it can take the comprehensive view; that would breach the current structure of the Council. A difficulty with the Australia Council in its new formation is that there is no ongoing structure to look after specialised policies even for the different artforms, let alone subsections of them such as opera.

It must be at arm’s length from government. The Minister can control policy but under arm’s length arrangements, cannot dictate individual funding decisions or other decisions as stated in the legislation for the body. The Review itself implies the propensity of powerful figures associated with the large companies to directly pressure the Minister to take particular decisions. With the policies proposed here and the effort needed to carry them through, the process needs to be beyond that sort of narrow interest.

E. Conclusion

Through more equitable distribution of funding, the activities of most of the companies would expand and strengthen. The Victorian Opera would be added to the set of Major Opera Companies. Opera Queensland would be given some time to justify its continued status as a Major Opera Company. Opera Australia would no longer have the status or the cloudy responsibilities of a national company; its funding would be reduced since it would no longer have the responsibility of touring to Melbourne but its allocation would take into account its responsibility for maintaining a full time Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. The Opera Conference funds, and funds from the overall opera budget including those formerly needed to cover OA travel and related costs for its Melbourne season, would be redirected to two new funds that support the creation and presentation of operas of our time.

The core program of the Major Opera Companies probably would continue for the foreseeable future to present the heritage repertoire. The most crucial change under the plan proposed here is that there would be a concerted effort to recast opera as an artform of our time, through presentation of operas written in, and mostly about, our time. These could include existing mostly foreign operas and new operas by Australian creative teams. While many of these works would be musically attractive to large audiences and some would already have demonstrated popularity with audiences, even they nevertheless will carry financial risk (at least in the early years) greater than that incurred with presentation of many works from the heritage. Therefore the companies will be given some protection from this risk through reapplication of government funds to presentation of such works, and also to the programs for the creation of Australian works.

From a few statements in the Review, it would seem that in its final version it may propose increased subsidy to opera.

Also, in addition to the cost of, for instance, more productions of the heritage, the former Minister seemed headed in the direction of funding international touring by major performing arts organisations and this (“cultural diplomacy”) has been mentioned also by the new Minister. In our view, this would be a very expensive diversion from the key agenda.

While we support an increase in opera funding, we are very conscious of opera’s large share of the arts subsidy and we are of the view that that share should not increase.

That is a dilemma.



The situation of classical music: ageing audiences for live performances?

For many years, attendees at Australian classical music concerts have commented on the advanced age of audience members. Chamber music concerts in particular had strong support from WW2 refugees from Europe. As it aged, there were observations that this audience would pass on and that since it appeared that it was not being replaced by young people, eventually there would not be sufficient ticket buyers and classical music would collapse.

But the dire predictions were not fulfilled. Audiences kept materialising. It was concluded that the classical music audience is replenished not by people in their 20s, but upon reaching middle age.

This conception replaced the previous one. Along with it grew an assumption that classical concerts are not for the young: It is a music that many people are ready for only once the hormones have settled, the children have left home and they have achieved a certain calm and maturity.

We have unearthed some data from the USA and France that call this into question.

The median age of attendees at orchestral concerts, USA (Sources: various, including the National Endowment for the Arts)

Year Age
1937        30
1962       38
2012       60 approx, for classical music  (6)

Here are figures for France:

Average age of classical music attendees, France (Norman Lebrecht, never shy of an opportunity for gloom, reports study at University of Limoges)

1981       36
2013       61

• The classical audience was not always dependent upon replenishment from people entering middle age
• It is not a law of nature that classical music is beyond the interest of young people. (Of course, there always have been wonderfully accomplished young practitioners of classical music, but here we are talking about the audience, formed partly by fashion.)

Percentage of the adult population attending performances of classical music, USA. Source: National Endowment for the Arts

2002      11.6%
2008       9.3
2012       8.8

USA opera
2002      3.2
2008      2.1
2012       2.1

So classical music attendance fell by one quarter and opera attendance by one third.

It is possible that the classical audience is diminished directly by the absence of a younger cohort and also that some of the people who join the audience in middle age were interested in classical music in their youth and are not so much discovering it as returning to it. If the number of young people interested in classical music diminished as suggested by the statistics, so then also would be the number who are available to reassert an interest in later life.

It is important to note that US research shows both a decline in attendance and an ageing audience at live events in most performing arts categories – theatre, dance etc. So this is to some extent about a diminishing interest in live events. Audiences for drama presumably have found a satisfactory substitute for theatre in cinema and television. This is not the case for classical music, opera, ballet and dance which rarely are seen in their own right in cinemas or on television. For classical music, listening-only media remain the alternatives.

We do not have data on average age of attendees in Australia. Anecdotally, people recall a stronger presence of young people at classical concerts in the 1960s – eg the oft-cited Sydney Proms for which young people queued through the night for tickets. So for some, an interest in classical music was at the least, fashionable. We do have data for the percentage of adult population attending classical concerts more recently:

Year    % attending
1991         8%
1995         8%
1999         9%
2002        9%
2006        9.4%
2010        8.9%

This looks healthy although continuation of the 2006-10 decline to 2014 would not.

The ageing audience and strategies for attracting a young audience are a continuing issue for those who present live performances of classical music.

• The serious decline in classical music audiences in the USA is not echoed so far in Australia but there are reasons that we should act to pre-empt it
• The absence of a young audience may contribute directly and indirectly to the decline
• Since in the USA, the decline is seen across all live performing arts, it may not be specifically a classical music problem but classical music needs a solution.


Percent of U.S. Adults Who Attended a Classical Music Performance, by Age: 2008 and 2012
2008            2012
All Adults                             9.3%            8.8%
18-24                                    6.9%             6.7%
25-34                                    7.0%             7.3%
35-44                                    8.9%             6.4%**
45-54                                  10.2%             8.2%**
55-64                                   11.6%            11.0%
65-74                                    12.2%           13.9%
75 and over                           9.7%            10.9%
**change is statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level
Source: National Endowment for the Arts.
The average age in 2012 must be towards the middle of the 55-64 age group.
The NEA figures come from a formal national survey. We do not know the provenance of the figures for the earlier years. Assume they are much less reliable. Nevertheless, they are consistent with some from other sources and are at least indicative.


Sequences of operatic works by selected composers

Information from Wikipedia files

Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Janacek, Richard Strauss


1. Apollo et Hyacinthus, K. 38 (1767)
2. Bastien und Bastienne, K. 50/46b (1768)
3. La finta semplice, K. 51 (1768)
4. Mitridate, re di Ponto, K. 87 (1770)
5. Ascanio in Alba, K. 111 (1771)
6. Il sogno di Scipione, K. 126 (1772)
7. Lucio Silla, K. 135 (1772)
8. Thamos, König in Ägypten, K. 345/336a (1773, 1775)
9. La finta giardiniera, K. 196 (1774–75)
10. Il re pastore, K. 208 (1775)
11. Zaide, K. 344 (1779)
12. Idomeneo, K. 366 (1781)
13. Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K. 384 (1782)
14. L’oca del Cairo, K. 422 (1783)
15. Lo sposo deluso, K. 430
16. Der Schauspieldirektor, K. 486 (1786)
17. Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492 (1786)
18. Don Giovanni, K. 527 (1787)
19. Così fan tutte, K. 588 (1789)
20. Die Zauberflöte, K. 620 (1791)
21. La clemenza di Tito, K. 621 (1791)


When a work appears more than once, the later mentions are rewrites.

1 Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio
2 Un giorno di regno, later Il finto Stanislao Felice Romani
3 Nabucco
4 I Lombardi alla prima crociata
5 Ernani
6 I due Foscari
7 Giovanna d’Arco
8 Alzira
9 Attila
10 Macbeth
11 I masnadieri
12 Jérusalem
13 Il corsaro
14 La battaglia di Legnano
15 Luisa Miller
16 Stiffelio
17 Rigoletto
18 Il trovatore
19 La traviata
20 Les vêpres siciliennes
21 Giovanna de Guzman
22 Le trouvère
23 Simon Boccanegra
24 Aroldo
25 Un ballo in maschera
26 La forza del destino
27 Macbeth Francesco Maria Piave 4 acts, Italian Théâtre Lyrique, Paris,
28 Don Carlos
29 La forza del destino
30 Aida
31 Don Carlo
32 Simon Boccanegra
33 La force du destin
34 Don Carlo
35 Don Carlo
36 Otello
37 Falstaff


1 Leubald
6 Die Laune des Verliebten (unfinished)
31 Die Hochzeit (unfinished)
32 Die Feen
38 Das Liebesverbot
40 Die hohe Braut
48 Männerlist größer als Frauenlist, oder Die glückliche Bärenfamilie (unfinished)
49 Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen
63 Der fliegende Holländer
66 Die Sarazenin
70 Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf dem Wartburg (usually shortened to Tannhäuser)
75 Lohengrin

76 Friedrich I Oper? 5 1848–49 Unperformed
80 Jesus von Nazareth
81 Achilleus
82 Wieland der Schmied
86A Das Rheingold
86B Die Walküre
89 Die Sieger
96 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
86C Siegfried
86D Götterdämmerung
102 Eine Kapitulation
111 Parsifal


Many of these works underwent revisions, some had multiple revisions

  1. Demetrio e Polibio
  2. La cambiale di matrimonio
  3. L’equivoco stravagante
  4. Ciro in Babilonia,
  5. La pietra del paragone
  6. L’occasione fa il ladro,
  7. Il signor Bruschino,
  8. Tancredi
  9. L’italiana in Algeri
  10. Aureliano in Palmira
  11. Il turco in Italia
  12. Sigismondo
  13. Torvaldo e Dorliska
  14. Il barbiere di Siviglia
  15. La gazzetta
  16. Otello
  17. La Cenerentola
  18. La gazza ladra
  19. Armida
  20. Adelaide di Borgogna
  21. Mosè in Egitto
  22. Adina
  23. Ricciardo e Zoraide
  24. Ermione
  25. Eduardo e Cristina
  26. La donna del lago
  27. Bianca e Falliero,
  28. Maometto II
  29. Matilde di Shabran,
  30. Zelmira
  31. Semiramide
  32. Ugo, re d’Italia
  33. Le siège de Corinthe
  34. Moïse et Pharaon,
  35. Le comte Ory
  36. Guillaume Tell



Many revisions.

  1. Il Pigmalione
  2. Olimpiade Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade
  3. L’ira di Achille 1 act incomplete, composed 1817[4]
  4. Enrico di Borgogna
  5. Una follia
  6. Il falegname di Livonia, o Pietro il grande, czar delle Russie
  7. Le nozze in villa
  8. Zoraida di Granata
  9. La zingara
  10. La lettera anonima
  11. Chiara e Serafina, o Il pirata
  12. Alfredo il grande
  13. Il fortunato inganno dramma giocoso 2 acts Andrea Leone Tottola
  14. L’ajo nell’imbarazzo
  15. Emilia di Liverpool
  16. Alahor in Granata
  17. Don Gregorio
  18. Elvida
  19. Gabriella di Vergy
  20. Olivo e Pasquale
  21. Il borgomastro di Saardam
  22. Le convenienze teatrali
  23. L’esule di Roma
  24. L’eremitaggio di Liverpool
  25. Alina, regina di Golconda
  26. Gianni di Calais
  27. Il paria
  28. Il giovedì grasso, o Il nuovo Pourceaugnac farsa[12]
  29. Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth
  30. Alina, regina di Golconda [rev]
  31. I pazzi per progetto
  32. Il diluvio universale
  33. Imelda de’ Lambertazzi
  34. Anna Bolena
  35. ianni di Parigi
  36. Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali
  37. Francesca di Foix
  38. La romanziera e l’uomo nero
  39. Ugo, conte di Parigi
  40. L’elisir d’amore
  41. Sancia di Castiglia
  42. Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo
  43. Otto mesi in due ore [rev] op
  44. Parisina
  45. Torquato Tasso
  46. Lucrezia Borgia
  47. Il diluvio universale [rev]
  48. Rosmonda d’Inghilterra
  49. Maria Stuarda
  50. Buondelmonte
  51. [rev of Maria Stuarda]
  52. Gemma di Vergy
  53. Marino Faliero
  54. Lucia di Lammermoor
  55. Belisario
  56. Il campanello di notte
  57. Betly, o La capanna svizzera
  58. ‘assedio di Calais
  59. Pia de’ Tolomei
  60. Pia de’ Tolomei [rev]
  61. Betly [rev]
  62. Roberto Devereux
  63. Maria de Rudenz
  64. Gabriella di Vergy [rev]
  65. Poliuto
  66. Pia de’ Tolomei [rev 2]
  67. Lucie de Lammermoor
  68. [rev of Lucia di Lammermoor, in French] grand opéra[22]
  69. Le duc d’Albe
  70. L’ange de Nisida
  71. Lucrezia Borgia [rev] dramma per musica prologue & 2 acts Felice Romani, after Victor
  72. Hugo
  73. Les Martyrs
  74. [rev of Poliuto, in French] grand opéra
  75. La fille du régiment
  76. Lucrezia Borgia [rev 2] dramma per musica prologue & 2 acts Felice Romani, after Victor
  77. Hugo
  78. La favorite
  79. [rev of L’ange de Nisida]
  80. Adelia
  81. Rita
  82. Maria Padilla
  83. Linda di Chamounix
  84. Linda di Chamounix [rev]
  85. Caterina Cornaro
  86. Don Pasquale
  87. Maria di Rohan
  88. Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal grand opéra
  89. Dom Sebastian von Portugal
  90. [rev of Dom Sébastien]
  91. Il duca d’Alba [completion by Matteo Salvi of original Le duc d’Albe] o


First opera in 1894, 168th work. Strauss wrote many many other works, including many vocal works, before composing his first opera, never heard today. Nearly all of his operas are famous and fairly often performed.

Third opera, Salome, eleven years later.

1905 opera Salome, opera in one act

1909 opera Elektra, tragedy in one act

1911 opera Der Rosenkavalier, opera in three acts

1912 opera Ariadne auf Naxos, opera in one act

1919 opera Die Frau ohne Schatten, opera in three acts

1924 opera Intermezzo, opera in two acts

1928 opera Die Ägyptische Helena, opera in two acts

1933 opera Arabella, opera in three acts

1940 opera Die Liebe der Danae, opera in three acts

1942 opera Capriccio, opera in one act




1. Advisory Council members: There are two main websites: and and a special music education advocacy site,

2. Richard Letts has been a practising musician. He holds a PhD from the University of Californian at Berkeley, was Director of two performing arts schools in the USA, returned to Australia as Director of the Music Board of the Australia Council, then of the Australian Music Centre. While at the Music Board, he wrote the ‘Tribe Report’ which led to the independence of the former ABC orchestras. In 1994, he established the national music council now known as Music Australia, and left it in 2013 and set up The Music Trust. He has completed major research projects and published books and many papers. From 2005 to 2009, he was President of the International Music Council, based at UNESCO, Paris. He has not worked in opera.

3. Marvin Hamlisch, composer of Chorus Line, says that it took eight years of workshopping before its eventual full production. The test for musicals is ultimately, will they make a profit? The test for serious opera is, is it good?
It may be helpful to make the following distinction in matters of government financial assistance.
‘Industry assistance’ to commercial activity such as the production of popular musicals (were it available) has the objective of supporting activity to enable it to make a profit. If it makes a profit, it has succeeded; if it does not make a profit, it has not succeeded even if, artistically, the work is good. If it was not commercially successful, the conditions for further assistance probably are not present, and if it was successful, further assistance is not needed.
‘Artistic subsidy’ is to support work considered to be of high artistic value, which cannot be produced on earned income alone. Its success is measured artistically. There may be financial benchmarks but normally it would not be expected that with artistic success comes financial viability. Success is artistic and recommends the producers for further subsidy, quite the opposite to the situation with industry assistance.
Apologies to committee members for whom this was already obvious. We find considerable confusion in the community on this matter.

4. Review Exhibit 2.11 shows that Opera Australia had a less diverse repertoire than the cite foreign companies with the exception of Teatro alla Scale which had the greatest focus on 19C works. In 2012, OA was one of the five, out of 12, with no 21C works.

5. A random group of other German cities with full-time opera companies, and their populations: Aachen, 240,000; Augsberg, 273,000; Karlruhe, 296,000; Saarbrucken, 176,000; Trier, 105,000; Wiesbaden, 272,000; Wuppertal, 342,000. It is likely that these companies receive about 80% of their budgets in subsidy. However, they must be able to present a substantial annual program to good audiences – which is to say, they find it possible to attract audiences to programs comparable to or larger than those of any of our state companies.








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