Opera Australia has announced another round of cancellations – bringing the number of performances that the company has cancelled or postponed in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 to more than 570.

The latest cancellations include the entire Sydney winter season, including the premiere of Davide Livermore’s digital production of Roberto Devereux – the second part in the Donizetti’s Tudor Queens trilogy that Livermore is staging for OA. Among other losses are the Australian premieres of the Tony Award-winning musical Light in the Piazza starring Renée Fleming and Alex Jennings, and a new production of Fiddler on the Roof, sung in Yiddish, which was to have been co-produced with John Frost and directed by Joel Grey.

The company has also postponed the premiere seasons of Rembrandt’s Wife, a new Australian opera by Andrew Ford and Sue Smith.

Nicole Car as Tatyana in OA’s production of Eugene Onegin. Photograph © Lisa Tomasetti

“These cancellations are devastating to an unparalleled degree for performers and audiences alike. It’s incredibly disappointing to be making these announcements, but the health and well-being of the extended OA community remains our highest priority, by complying with the restrictions mandated in suppressing the virus across Australia,” said OA’s CEO Rory Jeffes.

“The impact on the whole sector is simply heartbreaking for everyone for whom the arts are a vital part of their lives. We are working hard behind the scenes to ensure we keep the national opera company intact for both our staff and patrons for when we emerge on the other side of this crisis. Inspiring audiences is in the DNA of Opera Australia and we are determined to be ready for when we are able to do so again.”

In March, OA stood down most of its staff on an employee support package. With more and more live performances having to be shelved, the company recently launched a free online streaming platform called OA | TV: Opera Australia on Demand.

For the time being, OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini is remaining optimistic that the company will be able to stage Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Brisbane in November/December telling Limelight: “Obviously we have got a number of different scenarios depending on what might happen, but Queensland is in a pretty good state, they are opening up things a little quicker, certainly than Victoria. We don’t start the shows until November so I am feeling good about that.”

Among the other cancelled Sydney winter productions is Eugene Onegin, scheduled for July, in which feted Australian soprano Nicole Car was to have returned to the role of Tatyana, playing opposite her husband baritone Etienne Dupuis – the first time the couple would have performed together in a fully staged opera in Australia.

The announcement of the cancellation comes just as Freelance Artist Relief Australia – the fund that Car established to help support Australian classical singers who have lost work because of the coronavirus pandemic – begins distributing grants.

Applications to the fund will open on Wednesday May 13. “This will be the first round of grants,” says Car, speaking to Limelight from her home in Paris.

“I would have loved to have had all the money raised so we could give all of it out, but we don’t want to wait too much longer because we know that there are people seriously in need right now, and so we are calling it Phase 1 of the grants. If and when we can get more money coming in – which obviously we will – then in a couple of months time people will be able to apply again. But right now, in phase one of the grants, we will be able to give up to $5000 to 50 people.”

“My aim is to help everyone [who needs support] but at the moment the aim is to help the people who need it [the most] right now.”

Applications, which can be made online, will be forwarded to the Board of Freelance Artist Relief Australia. Artists will receive a response within 10 days of applying. One hundred percent of the money donated will be given out in grants.

Launching the fund in April, Car said she hoped to raise $1 million. She hasn’t managed that yet, though she has secured over 150 donations from the public. Asked if raising money has been harder than she had anticipated, she says: “The [public] response has been better than I expected but I have to admit the bigger donors have been harder to come by than I expected.”

She acknowledges that there is probably some “donor fatigue” given the desperate need for support from so many sections of society, including the arts, as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

“We’d really like to partner with some other foundations to get some big donations coming in because the public response has been really overwhelming,” says Car.

“We have been posting a video [of a singer] every day which is nice. It’s our way of bringing the public and the donors closer to the people they’re helping. It’s a way for the artists to have a voice as well. I think a lot of us feel like we’ve been so cut off from the world in general, and also through not being able to perform so I think it’s been a really cathartic exercise [for the singers] – I hope so because I’ve certainly been at them to make the videos!” she says with a laugh.

Car has devoted a lot of time and energy to Freelance Artist Relief Australia. “I know how heart-breaking it is for me when another company calls and says a contract has been cancelled. Etienne and I have a nest egg because we were lucky enough to be working right up until the day [the opera companies were forced to close their doors]. But people who didn’t have that will be in trouble now. So I’ll keep fighting the good fight.”

More information about Freelance Artist Relief Australia