The Board of Sydney’s “Young Artist’s opera company” has taken the decision to close the organisation by the end of the year.
Christine Douglas, the founding artistic director of Pacific Opera (PO), posted news on Facebook today that the Company is to be shut down by its Board. Douglas, a former Opera Australia principal singer, established PO in 2003 as a company limited by guarantee, with a Board of business and professional people. Describing itself as “the Young Artists’ opera company”, PO has provided performance opportunities and training for emerging artists.
In response to comments on her Facebook page, asking why the Company was closing, Douglas wrote: “Boards need to fundraise. If they don’t or can’t, this is what happens. No amount of artistic success, or careers launched means a thing to the longevity of a company to if there is insufficient financial support… apparently.”
Trish Carroll, Chair of the Board, delivered the news to staff and supporters of the Company as part of a speech at a PO dinner last night, which was attended by Board members Amelia Farrugia, Mark Ferris, Ian Hutchison, Stephen Parbery and George Palmer, long-time Chair of Pacific Opera and now Patron of the Company. Operations Manager Pamela Andrews was also there along with Artistic Director Simon Kenway, who accompanied the seven PO young artists performing at the event.
In her speech Carroll said: “The company began in 2003 and our Young Artist Program has helped more than 120 singers become better performers and more likely to gain employment as working singers. 70 of them are now members of Opera Australia, state opera companies and overseas opera companies. Some have won prestigious awards, scholarships and places in internationally renowned Young Artist Programs.
“A highlight of our purpose is to produce a fully-staged opera production every year because until the last few years this provided a rare opportunity for young artists to experience the whole creative and performance process. Last year was our most ambitious undertaking when we staged [Leoš Janáček’s] The Cunning Little Vixen with 80 performers and the Sydney Youth Orchestra. Staging Vixen was always going to be as much a financial challenge as a creative and logistical challenge. We pulled it off and received fantastic reviews. What we’d hoped was that it would attract some significant donors. Sadly, that hasn’t happened although it did attract a record number of young singers auditioning for a position in our Young Artist program and the quality of those singers, as you will hear tonight, is extremely high.
“But as George Palmer said at the time the decision was made to stage Vixen: ‘I’d rather we went out with a bang than a whimper.’ And with a bang we go. I’m sad to say that 2016 is Pacific Opera Company’s final year. And in some ways it seems the right time. My Board members all feel the Company has achieved its purpose – it has created a model for other small performance companies to follow by encouraging young singers and opera creatives to strike out on their own, seek funding from private donors and supporters, and make their own performance opportunities,” said Carroll.
However, in a further post on Facebook, Douglas said: “Questions need to be asked about where the successes and failures lie. Has it been an artistic success, yes I believe so; has it launched careers, well yes, dozens; has it’s [sic] existence emboldened a generation of young opera makers to start up their own independent companies in a city once totally dominated by OA, well yes; has the Board actively networked and fundraised, well it appears not.”
In response to her posts, a number of musicians and performers expressed their shock and disappointment. ARIA Award-winning pianist/composer Sally Whitwell wrote: “Very sorry to hear this. It’s so tough for singers to find these kinds of opportunities.”
Singer Lindsey Marshall posted: “As one of the founding students of Pacific Opera I am gutted to hear this news. The company has provides [sic] such a valuable stepping stone for people who weren’t quite ready but still needed to hone their skills and art. RIP PacOp, may you rise from the ashes like a Phoenix liberated from the woes of corporate structure and boards.”
“Very sad news, after so many years of vision, hard work and dedication by yourself and many, many others past and present. Pacific Opera has fulfilled a wonderful function and contributed so much to the operatic community. It’s awful to see something of value that has taken years to build extinguished in a heartbeat,” said David Cervi, President of Penrith Symphony Orchestra.
Soprano Emma Matthews simply wrote: “What???”
In a press release issued by Pacific Opera confirming that after 13 years the Company is to close, Carroll said: “The Young Artists Program is provided on an almost free basis as young singers simply do not have the means to pay for the type of coaching, mentoring and engagement with industry gurus that the Program provides and without recurring funding we just cannot continue. Despite the generosity of many individuals, our Gala Dinner fundraising event this year feel short of its target and all attempts to secure funding from a variety of sources, public and private, keep drawing blanks……I’m sure the industry will miss the pipeline of talent Pacific Opera has helped nurture as no other company is fulfilling that role but without substantial donors we just cannot continue.”