YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE?
By the Editor
With the bad timing of a nightmare Christmas present, Opera Boston told its personnel on December 22 that it would be closing its doors for good on January 1. The public announcement, made the following day, said the company was facing ‘an insurmountable budget deficit’ and cited lacklustre fundraising in tough economic times as the chief reason for its closure. The announcement was shocking for several reasons, not least because this is the biggest casualty so far among recession-prone American opera companies; in terms of size, it was Boston’s second-ranking company.
Opera Boston was also notably adventurous, credited by some even with pushing the more mainstream Boston Lyric Opera in newly ambitious directions. Only in this month’s pages (see p. 195), David Shengold begins his review of the recent Béatrice et Bénédict, ‘Kudos to Lesley Koenig, Opera Boston’s new general director, for scheduling the nerviest season in North America’. That season of the uncommon was also to have included Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage this month and I Capuleti e i Montecchi in April. A year ago it presented Hindemith’s Cardillac and in 2010 it was widely praised for commissioning and premiering Zhou Long’s Madame White Snake.
But what is perhaps most shocking of all is the way in which the board seems to have nodded through the closure, shutting the company’s doors (in the words of a Boston Globe editorial) ‘as if it were nothing more than a corner shop’. The Globe reported that the deficit was around $750,000, hardly insurmountable in a city of Boston’s size and cultural weight. It also cited factional divisions on the board, and a thwarted attempt by newer members to improve the financial situation: ‘The 17-member board’s clubby, five-member executive committee put the kibosh on the effort,’ said the paper, ‘prompting several of the newer board members to resign.’ It’s probably too late for the company’s artistically strong leadership to fight back with their own Opera Boston Tea Party, but some form of protest is surely called for: this is a tragedy for the city in particular and American opera generally.
Thankfully, 2011 was casualty-free for companies in Britain, though as Scottish Opera staggers towards its 50th birthday this year with a much-reduced season, Opera North has revealed further details of an unsatisfactory contingency plan for this spring and summer. Its long-planned concert presentation of Die Walküre remains in place, but once the winter offerings—not inconsiderable, and including the current new productions of Giulio Cesare and Norma—have played themselves out, the company’s patrons will be left high and dry, with just a hastily assembled Carousel to look forward to. Though it is true that Opera North has enjoyed success in the past with musicals, this is no substitute for the originally planned new productions of Don Giovanni and The Makropoulos Case, both of which have had to be postponed to the next financial year.
Not that Opera North is to blame: this is its response to the 15 per cent cut imposed last March by Arts Council England. I hope it earns lots of much-needed money from the Carousel tour (which includes a month-long stint at London’s Barbican in August and September), but Rodgers and Hammerstein’s mawkish and sentimental piece about a wifebeater is no replacement for a real opera season, even a creatively scaled-down one exploring less expensive repertory. It’s bad news for Opera North’s devoted audience, which this year gets only two—as opposed to the usual three—seasons in Leeds.
Opera, February 2012