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Opera North General Director gives reaction to ROH Manchester plans

18 December 2009

Richard Mantle (General Director, Opera North):
Richard Mantle (General Director, Opera North): "This is a post-recession, post-Olympics project."

When the plans for Royal Opera House Manchester (ROHM) were first announced in October 2008, Opera North’s General Director, Richard Mantle, told The Times that Manchester was “currently underserved with opera and ballet. When you look at the size of the theatregoing population”, he explained, “I think we could have more. It is something we [at Opera North] have been looking at providing ourselves.”

Now that ROHM has taken a step closer to reality, (click here for the full story), Opera Now asked Richard Mantle what impact he thinks the plans are likely to have for audiences in the north-west of England, and what role Opera North will play.

Richard Mantle: “Although not resident in Manchester, Opera North has in a sense been the opera company for Manchester and the north-west. We serve Manchester as a touring company – not just during our performances at The Lowry for three weeks per year, but also through education work, concerts with the orchestra and a range of other activities. Our frustration is that within our remit we have not been able to grow the audience as much as we would have liked and which, I believe, would be possible: the potential in Manchester is perhaps even greater than for the Leeds conurbation.”

“So I’ve always believed that the idea of developing opera in a much stronger way in Manchester is something that should happen. One of the problems in the past was also the lack of good venues. Opera North now performs in The Lowry, which we love, though it does pose a few challenges of its own, such as accessibility via public transport links.”

“I welcomed the idea of ROHM when it came along. Whether it is the right solution will need to be explored in the long run. However, it has opened up the whole dialogue, and has captivated the Manchester City Council. There is now a strong consensus growing within the Council to move this project forward. Any new development on this scale of course needs leadership, and with Manchester that’s more likely to come from the City Council than from the Royal Opera House.”

Opera Now: The Royal Opera’s recent announcement about their new ‘understanding’ with The Lowry also hinted at possible co-producing partnerships between ROHM and other arts companies in the region. Opera North was specifically mentioned in this context, with ROHM positioned to "produce premieres by Opera North as part of a full programme by that company." Has a clear understanding similar to that now in place with The Lowry also been established between The Royal Opera and Opera North?

Richard Mantle: “It’s a bit early for that. Of course, The Lowry’s concern was that they would be sidelined. We all felt that The Lowry had to be part of the solution for lyric work, so the discussions that have taken place during the past few months – to bring them on board as part of this solution and establish their identity as the regional centre for dance – are very important.”

“I’m not worried at this stage that Opera North is not being cited in the same way. It has been clear from the beginning that The Royal Opera won’t be able to ‘go it alone’ with a project of this scale.”

“Also, within the Arts Council’s thinking on ‘spheres of responsibility’, Opera North is firmly responsible for delivering activity in the north-west of England, in the same way that Welsh National Opera is responsible for Wales. We are certainly not talking about a takeover and I don’t think anyone would want that. Opera North’s work will still remain distinct from that of The Royal Opera, and Tony Hall has made it clear from the outset that Opera North will play a central role in these plans if and when they come to fruition.”

“To a great extent ROHM is all about branding, since it’s clear that The Royal Opera is not going to move its base from London. In fact, the number of Royal Opera performances in Manchester will only be around 20 to 25 per year. The idea is therefore to establish a centre that provides plenty of scope for bringing in partners and other collaborators.”

Opera Now: With Opera North already presenting its productions at Sadler's Wells, do you think, more broadly, that ROHM will help to open up a stronger dialogue between arts organisations in London and the north-west of England?

Richard Mantle: “These reports always seem to be London-centric, as if we’re sitting in the regions for crumbs for the table, but it’s not like that. Opera North is the largest publicly funded arts organisation in the north of England, so if this project goes ahead I would like to see it opening up more of a two-way street, for example by creating more opportunities for London audiences to see performances by Opera North, while The Royal Opera could perhaps look even further afield with a view to developing a national remit.”

News round-up - 17 December 2009

17 December 2009

Falling income from ticket sales and fundraising forces cuts

Atlanta Opera will present only three operas in the 2010-11 season instead of four. This move is designed to reduce the company’s operating budget from $6.75 million to $5.3 million and follows a consistent fall in income from ticket sales and fundraising over the past two seasons, down 19% and 13% respectively. Atlanta Opera relocated to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in 2007 and enjoyed a substantial increase in revenue prior to the global recession, but recorded a deficit in 2009 and has projected a deficit next year as well.

Martin Duncan will direct the first-ever British production of Armida

Garsington Opera has announced their 2010 summer programme, which includes the first-ever British production of Rossini’s Armida. Written in 1817 when the composer was only 25, Armida is based on an epic poem about the First Crusade by Italian poet Torquato Tasso. Martin Duncan will direct this rarely performed opera for Garsington, following his successful production of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes at Covent Garden earlier this year.

Tim Albery will direct Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera in Toronto

British opera director, Tim Albery, has agreed to direct the North American premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna at next year’s Luminato arts festival in Toronto. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter’s debut opera about “a day in the life of an opera singer” is currently on a worldwide tour, having been jointly commissioned by Manchester International Festival (where it received its world premiere in July 2009), Sadler’s Wells, Melbourne International Arts Festival and Luminato: Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity.

LA Opera receives $14 million emergency loan

17 December 2009

Leased: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Leased: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Details have emerged of an emergency bridging loan for $14 million to cover debts accumulated by LA Opera over the past three years.

Under an agreement approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the money will be raised through sale of a special bond, secured by leasing the opera’s county-owned venue, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Interest on the bonds is expected to be around 5%, leaving LA Opera to pay an estimated $2.1 million in interest between now and the deadline for repayment of the principal lump-sum in 2013.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Rountree, is confident that the loan will be repaid and confirmed that $30 million has already been pledged by 23 wealthy donors. Payment of these pledges has been scheduled over the next two-and-a-half years due to losses suffered by donors themselves during the global recession.

The debts owed by LA Opera include advance payments against the company’s $32 million production of Wagner’s Ring cycle directed by Achim Freyer, planning for which began more than a decade ago. The first three parts of the tetralogy have been performed over the past year and Götterdämmerung will be staged in April 2010, followed by three full cycles between 29 May and 26 June.

However, Rountree has said that the loan will only be used to cover the company’s debts, and will not be spent on day-to-day operations or the Ring cycle production.

LA Opera’s general director, Plácido Domingo, is due to sing the role of Siegmund in Die Walküre next year. Giving his reaction to the news of the emergency loan in a statement from Italy, he said he is "absolutely thrilled that the county of Los Angeles has recognized the important and prestigious role that a world-class opera company plays in our community."

LA Opera is the second American company headed by Domingo that has recently announced details of serious financial difficulties: earlier this month, Washington National Opera was forced to eliminate eight staff positions and reduce the number of its productions next season from six to five as a result of overspending.

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News round-up - 11 December 2009

11 December 2009

Alberta Cefis, Chair of Opera Atelier
Alberta Cefis, Chair of Opera Atelier

The Royal Opera House on iTunes U
The Royal Opera House on iTunes U

This year’s recipient is announced by Opera.ca

Ms Alberta Cefis, Chair of the Board of Directors for Toronto-based baroque opera company, Opera Atelier, has received this year’s Opera.ca National Opera Directors Recognition Award. An initiative of the national association for opera companies and professionals in Canada, Opera.ca, the awards were launched last year to highlight examples of good governance, celebrate models of volunteer excellence and raise the bar for board director commitment.

300 items of free multi-media opera and ballet content now available online

The Royal Opera House has become the first performing arts organisation in Europe to launch its own iTunes U site. Nearly 300 items of free multi-media content from the Royal Opera House are now available via a dedicated area within the iTunes Store. The materials being offered include film, audio and written resources on productions, plus master-classes, interviews with artists, and sessions focused on specific repertory.

Conductor back at work following a two-month break

James Levine has returned to The Metropolitan Opera in New York following a back operation to treat a herniated disc. The 67-year-old artist was last seen on the podium in September. He is currently conducting Bart Sher’s new production of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, which opened on 3 December.

America’s National Multicultural Institute honours Song of Houston

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) has become the first opera company ever to receive the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from America’s National Multicultural Institute. The award recognises the commitment to developing a more inclusive society expressed through HGO’s ongoing community and education project, Song of Houston.

Royal Opera House Manchester takes a step closer to reality

9 December 2009, London, UK

The Lowry, which opened at Manchester's Salford Quays in 2000
The Lowry, which opened at Manchester's Salford Quays in 2000

Plans to create a second base for the Royal Opera House in the northern English city of Manchester have moved a step closer to reality following endorsements from a number of key agencies, including Manchester’s flagship arts complex, The Lowry.

A mutual understanding has been reached that will safeguard The Lowry’s role as the regional centre for lyric theatre, while The Palace Theatre – the proposed home of Royal Opera House Manchester (ROHM) – will primarily become a producing theatre.

Earlier this year, Arts Council England published a report about ROHM, which suggested that the project would result in an additional £5m being needed for other Manchester-based organisations “damaged by the change in the regional arts ecology”. The Lowry, which projected an annual loss of £1.5m in its own revenue, had responded with open opposition to ROHM.

But in a surprising and abrupt change of heart, the Chairman of The Lowry Trustees, Roy Aldridge, said yesterday: “We welcome this agreement, which builds on the existing world class arts provision in the region. The agreement recognises the importance of establishing a clear artistic identity for both the Royal Opera House Manchester and The Lowry."

In July, the self same chairman had described plans for ROHM as “bad for the city, bad for the arts and bad for the taxpayer”.

One implication of the new understanding is that The Lowry will cease to present opera performances once ROHM has become a reality. Instead, ROHM will present performances by The Royal Opera, create productions in partnership with other Manchester-based organisations such as The Hallé, BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata, and produce premieres by Opera North.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has backed the scheme, saying that it "has the potential to be something really special", but nobody yet seems sure where the necessary funding will come from. (An estimated £80-£100m is required for refurbishment of The Palace Theatre, and a further £12-£15m per year for running costs.)

A spokesperson for the Royal Opera House has told Opera Now that “at the moment we are really only working on the broad concepts rather than detailed planning. If the funding is found for this project it will probably not be built until at least half way through the next decade.”

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