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"ACE did a pretty good job by adopting equal misery for all"

27 June 2010, Leeds, UK

Richard Mantle
Richard Mantle

Last week, Arts Council England (ACE) announced an in-year budget cut of 0.5% for its 880 regularly funded frontline arts organisations.

In real terms, this means recipients of the largest annual grants have suffered the biggest losses. Several major opera companies are at the top of ACE's list, with the Royal Opera House in pole position.

Outside of London (and in sixth place overall) the worst affected organisation is Opera North, which receives roughly 70% of its £15 million annual operating budget in grants from central and local government bodies. £49,577 has been cut from ACE’s 2010-11 grant to Opera North.

Speaking to Opera Now about the short-term impact of this move, Opera North’s General Director, Richard Mantle, said “I think ACE has done a pretty good job of ameliorating the situation by drawing on its reserves and adopting equal misery for all. If ACE had passed on their full 4% cut to us it would have had a big impact because we are heavily reliant on public funds.”

As far as the company’s forthcoming season is concerned, Mantle says that the cuts are unlikely to cause a reduction in planned activities: “We will have to manage as best we can because to make any cuts to at this stage would probably cost more than we would save.” 

Looking further into the future, however, Mantle admits that the picture is less clear – particularly given Chancellor George Osborne’s indication that all non-protected departments could be required to reduce their budgets by as much as 25% over the next four years:

“We won’t be able to announce our plans for 2011-12 until we know our funding position, but we already need to plan forward into seasons that are uncertain. This kind of balancing act is built into the DNA of opera companies like ours.”

On top of the cut by ACE, Opera North is also coping with a loss of £50,000 from its annual Leeds City Council grant, yet Mantle remains upbeat:

“We have no historic deficits and a very good record of controlling our expenditure, but costs do keep rising. On the other hand, although sponsorship from the private sector has taken a tumble over the past three years, private philanthropy does not seem to have suffered –  in fact it’s currently increasing, with individuals who like what we're doing coming forward to support. The resources of some private foundations are also beginning to grow again, despite what has happened on the stock markets.”

Pointing to the launch last year of Opera North’s Future Fund – a separate charitable trust that supports new initiatives by the company – Mantle is also encouraged by the Tories’ stated desire to reward organisations that take steps to build up an endowment: “We are one of the organisations to have adopted a lead in this respect.”

Meanwhile, with further cuts likely in October’s Comprehensive Spending Review, there is no room for complacency. Mantle says that “a big case now needs to be made by the arts sector to its funding body”, but, he warns “it is not a case that should be made frantically, because that won't win us any friends or support.”


From opera star to popstar?

26 June 2010

Renée Fleming - 'Dark Hope'
Renée Fleming - 'Dark Hope'(Photo: Andrew Eccles)

Renée Fleming as Violetta in 'La traviata'
Renée Fleming as Violetta in 'La traviata'(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

Renée Fleming’s new album of rock and pop covers, Dark Hope, has entered the Billboard Top 200 chart at No. 151.

This radical departure from the 51-year-old diva’s typical repertoire of opera and lieder was led by her record company, who she says “for 10 years had the idea of pairing a great opera singer with the best songwriters of a generation.”

Although hesitant at first because the project required her to “give away control” to the album’s producer, David Kahne, his enthusiasm gradually won her over: “I just thought, ‘Boy, he’s convincing me to do this, so that means he could probably convince other people to like it!’”

Featuring eleven “great, unusual B-side-type songs” (including Leonard Cohen’s 1984 classic, ‘Hallelujah’), the highly produced studio sound of Dark Hope combines enveloping, multi-layered textures with uncharacteristically low vocals by Fleming.

Commenting on this appraoch, which inspired the album’s title, Fleming says that she was told in the first session: “The less you sing, the more the technology can do something wonderful with your voice.” Use of her low range therefore became key, “because once I get up above the staff I really can’t reproduce any other sound other than a full-bodied, classically trained sound.”

According to Opera Now contributor, Mark Glanville, this admission “implies a compromise of Fleming’s artistic integrity because the natural colour of one’s singing voice should be a reflection of one’s core persona.” Similarly, says Glanville, her confessed reliance on technology to ‘do something wonderful with your voice’, “makes one wonder why anyone should have bothered at all other than for the gimmick of attaching an opera diva’s name to a collection of rock music.”

In contrast, Glanville points to Beniamino Gigli’s interpretation of “the simplistic ‘Papaveri e papere’, which he sang with his own inimitably beautiful voice and thus lent it a quality it would not otherwise have had. If Fleming doesn’t even give us that, why bother?”


National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors 2010

25 June 2010, Washington, US

Philip Glass
Philip Glass

The recipients of this year’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Opera Honors were announced today in Washington by NEA Chairman, Rocco Landesman.

The four recipients – soprano Martina Arroya, general director David DiChiera, composer Philip Glass and music director Eve Queler – will be honoured on 22 October in a concert and ceremony at Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The event, produced by Washington National Opera, will feature video tributes for each honouree created by OPERA America.

“The recipients of this year’s NEA Opera Honors are four outstanding individuals, who together represent the finest traditions of opera,” said Chairman Landesman. “Without their artistic accomplishments, the world of American opera would be far less extraordinary.”

Each honouree will receive $25,000 in recognition of their significant lifetime contributions to American opera.

The NEA Opera Honors take place annually and are now in their third year. Recipients are nominated by the public and chosen by an NEA-convened panel of opera experts. Past honourees include John Adams, Frank Corsaro, Marilyn Horne, James Levine, Lofti Mansouri, and Leontyne Price.



Arts Council England's in-year cuts less harsh than expected

25 June 2010, London, UK

Dame Liz Forgan, ACE Chair
Dame Liz Forgan, ACE Chair

Arts Council England (ACE) has announced an in-year budget cut of 0.5% for its 880 regularly funded frontline arts organisations.

This move followed last month’s news that £19 million would be slashed from ACE’s 2010-11 budget as part of the Chancellor’s £6.2 billion spending reduction plan across Government.

£4 million had already been removed from ACE’s allocation by the previous Government.

In total, these measures leave ACE £23 million worse off, but for now frontline organisations have been protected and are only losing £1.8 million between them - an average of £2,000 each.

This has been achieved by taking £9m out of ACE’s own reserves, postponing a major public engagement project and cutting 4% from the budget of organisations who do not directly produce art: Creativity Culture and Education and Arts & Business. ACE will also reduce its own administrative expenditure by £400,000.

The biggest loss for frontline arts organisations in absolute terms will be experienced the Royal Opera House (£142,185), which receives ACE’s single largest annual grant of more than £28 million.

Other significant losses in the opera sector include English National Opera (£92,180), Opera North (£49,577) and Welsh National Opera (£33,976).

Commenting on the cuts, Arts Council England’s chair, Dame Liz Forgan, said that “we have done our best to minimise the effect on our funded organisations and the art they produce so brilliantly." She added: “I am confident that the decisions we have taken are the right ones - for art, for artists and for the audiences we serve.”

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne revealed on Monday that worse cuts may be in store for the sector when the Comprehensive Spending Review takes place in October. He indicated that all non-protected departments – including the Department for Culture Media and Sport – could be required to reduce their budgets by as much as 25% over the next four years.


News round-up - 23 June 2010

23 June 2010

Cork Opera House, Ireland
Cork Opera House, Ireland

Streetwise Opera's 'My Sacred Heart'
Streetwise Opera's 'My Sacred Heart'

Financial pressures force cost-cutting measure

Ireland’s 1,000-seat Cork Opera House is to close from 4 July to 29 September as part of a cost-cutting survival plan. This announcement comes one year after the completion of a €2 million revamp, paid for by public and private funds. The organisation recently announced losses of €83,000 for the financial year 2009-10, but a review of accounts by Deloitte and Touche has put this figure much higher, at €300,000. Overall, the board has been told that costs must be reduced by €500,000, and have warned staff that pay cuts and redundancies may be necessary.

The UK's National Lottery Awards 2010

Streetwise Opera, the leading UK charity that works with opera and homeless people, has been selected for the televised final of this year's National Lottery Awards. The company’s current project, My Secret Heart, was voted the Best Arts Project in a public poll, having already reached audiences of more than 150,000 on its international tour. A final round of public voting will take place from 26 July to 13 August, followed by a BBC 1 TV broadcast featuring the winners of each category. 

Atlanta Opera’s Eric Mitchko to lead recently formed company

North Carolina Opera (NCO) has announced the appointment of Eric Mitchko as its first General Director, effective from 6 July 2010. Mitchko, 41, is currently the Director of Artistic Administration at Atlanta Opera and previously worked as a vice-president of Columbia Artists Management. The newly-formed NCO, created by a merger of Raleigh's Capital Opera and the Opera Company of North Carolina, will launch its debut season on 15 October with two performances of Tosca.

Audience vote decides how Zaide should end

Wolf Trap Opera in Virginia, US, recently asked audiences to decide the ending for Mozart’s unfinished opera, Zaide. A vote in the interval offered three different options – happy, ecstatic or bleak. The production by company director, Kim Pensinger Witman, also featured scenes of beatings and water-boarding, prompting what Witman has described on the Wolf Trap Opera Blog as “more honest and provocative conversations with our patrons than I’ve had in years.”


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