Opera Australia Faces $4.9M Loss Amid Rising Costs and Shift to Musicals

Opera Australia (OA), the nation’s largest arts organization, has reported a significant operating loss of $4.9 million for 2023. The financial setback has been attributed to escalating costs and the ambitious production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which had faced multiple delays due to the pandemic.

The twice-cancelled production of Wagner’s monumental 16-hour, four-part work in Brisbane played a major role in the financial outcome. Despite the loss, the production has been declared an “artistic triumph,” highlighting the commitment to seeing it through despite the challenges.

Rising production costs, some of which have surged by 70% post-pandemic, have been a major contributing factor. Increased expenses span from the price of materials like steel to the costs associated with shipping sets for international co-productions. Additionally, changes in audience behavior post-pandemic, with reduced overall numbers and a reluctance to commit early to ticket purchases, have also impacted OA’s financial results.

This loss contrasts sharply with a $1.75 million surplus from the previous year, a result significantly bolstered by a nearly $10 million bailout package from the NSW government.

In response to these challenges, OA’s leadership has indicated a strategic shift towards focusing more on Australian talent. This approach aims to reduce costs by limiting the need to bring in entire creative teams from abroad and instead fostering more work for local artists. This pivot is seen as a way to manage costs more effectively and support homegrown talent.

In 2023, OA produced two musicals: Miss Saigon in Sydney and Melbourne and The Phantom of the Opera in Melbourne. These productions collectively drew over 240,000 attendees, nearly half of OA’s total audience for the year, underscoring the financial importance of musical theatre to the company. In contrast, the entire Ring Cycle in Brisbane attracted 19,000 attendees.

The commitment to musicals will continue, with plans to produce two per year. This strategy not only supports financial stability but also introduces a broader audience to the performing arts, potentially fostering a greater appreciation for opera over time.

Looking ahead, OA faces additional challenges with the closure of Melbourne’s State Theatre until 2027. However, the company is exploring alternative venues, including regional touring and the use of Margaret Court Arena for an upcoming production of Tosca.

Despite these hurdles, OA remains optimistic about the potential for audience growth by taking opera to new and diverse spaces. This period of adaptation is seen as an opportunity to reach new audiences and expand the appreciation of opera across different regions.

In related news, the OA executive has recently been appointed to chair the board of Sydney’s Hayes Theatre, an independent venue specializing in musicals and cabaret. While there is no formal relationship between the two organizations, the shared focus on innovative theatrical productions highlights a broader commitment to fostering creativity and expanding the reach of the performing arts.

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