The opera powerhouse gets back in the black in 2011.

Opera Australia has something to sing about this financial year, posting an operating surplus for 2011 – its first after two successive deficits.

The company’s reported profit of $319,189 in 2011 is a significant turnaround from the previous year’s $500,258 loss.

Chief executive Adrian Collette credits the new staging of Puccini’s La Bohème, directed by Gale Edwards, as the catalyst for this change in financial fortune. Set in the decadent cabarets of 1920s Berlin, the production sold $6.9 million worth of tickets in Sydney and Melbourne.

It accounted for 20 per cent of total box office takings for 2011 ($35.5m compared to $34.2m in 2010), a season featuring critical successes that were nonetheless harder sells: Handel’s rarely performed Partenope and American composer Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men.

The financial report serves as powerful vindication for artistic director Lyndon Terracini, whose first programmed season began with La Bohème. His purported strategy has been to entice broader and younger audiences, as well as to strip opera of its reputation as an elitist artform.

This year, too, has begun encouragingly for Opera Australia, the showy populism of La Traviata’s floating stage and fireworks winning over critics and punters alike.

The company exceeded its $6 million break-even point for La Traviata by $200,000, drawing a total crowd of 40,000 across 18 performances.

With 50 per cent of La Traviata audiences new to opera, Collette has expressed his thanks to “the people of Sydney and beyond for sharing in this magical experiment”.

The Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour series will continue in 2013 with a production of Bizet’s Carmen by Gale Edwards, the director responsible for the success of last year’s La Bohème.

This article appears in the new-look June issue of Limelight, on sale May 16.