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The Turnbull Government has released its response to the 118 recommendations of the National Opera Review Final Report, which was delivered to the government last October as reported in Limelight.
The Review, which was chaired by Helen Nugent, was “aimed at promoting the financial viability, artistic vibrancy and accessibility” of Australia’s four major opera companies: Opera Australia (OA), Opera Queensland (OQ), State Opera of South Australia (SOSA) and West Australian Opera (WAO).
In 2016, The Australia Council allocated $23.7 million in funding to opera, representing 13.7 percent of all arts funding. Recommendations by the Opera Review included a funding increase of $24.1 million across four years, an “appropriate” balance between the numbers of Australian and international singers employed, the elevation of Victorian Opera to Major Performing Arts (MPA) status, and a package to help Opera Queensland achieve financial stability in order to retain its MPA status.
Earlier this year, the Government announced its initial response, agreeing to support a structural adjustment package for Opera Queensland and support for Victorian Opera to become a MPA company. These two recommendations are now in the process of being implemented.
The Government has not made any further funding commitments at this stage but in its Response says: “The Australian Government acknowledges the importance of the operatic artform in Australia’s artistic landscape and is broadly supportive of the recommendations contained in the Report.”
A number of recommendations that have no financial implications for governments are already being explored or implemented by the Australia Council in consultation with state funding agencies and the opera companies. These relate to building audiences, improving collaboration between companies, increasing financial viability, and strengthening governance and management.
One of the most contentious issues raised in the Review was the increase in the number of non-Australian singers employed in leading roles, which at Opera Australia rose from 10 in 2009 to 19 in 2015 and 29 in 2016. While this means that audiences benefit from seeing high-profile international artists, the Review noted a “significant reduction” in opportunities for local singers.
The Review recommended that opera companies could be ordered to employ an “appropriate balance” of Australian and international singers or face fines of up to $200,000 against core funding. The Government has agreed in principle to this recommendation. It also agreed that the Australia Council should report annually on Australia’s most established opera singers and the extent to which they have been employed in leading roles by each major opera company over the prior five years.
The Government agreed in principle that core funding should be targeted to increase the overall number of mainstage productions offered by the major opera companies, with a minimum of three each year at OQ, SOSA and WAO.
The Government also backed recommendations that Opera Australia should be funded to continue providing mainstage opera productions in Sydney and Melbourne, but should not receive specific core funding to deliver mainstage productions in Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth.
As for commercial ventures, the Government agreed that “significant commercial activities” – such as the musicals which OA has been presenting with John Frost – “should be ring-fenced and separately accounted for”.
Other recommendations to which the Government has agreed to in principle include that the opera companies be set specific fundraising targets, and that their cash reserves be increased from 20 to 30 percent of annual costs. It also agreed in principle that governments should support the development of new work, as well as create an Innovation Fund and an Opera Festival Fund.