O N T O U R 2 0 1 0
MO ZA RT
DON GI OV AN NI Jo nat ha n Ke nt ’s ne w pr od uc ti on fr om the 2010 Festival
LA CENERENTOLA A re viva l of Sir Pe te r Ha ll ’s 20 05 Fe st iv al pr odu ct io n
THE CORONATION OF POP PE A A revival of Robert Carsen’s 2008 Festival pr odu ct io n
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I K E H O B A N
P H O T O G R A P H Y M TOUGHER THAN EVER
By the Editor
Though discussions have apparently been underway since March, the news of a possible merger between Washington National Opera and the city’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts took most insiders by surprise when it was broken by the Wall Street Journal at the end of July. The background to the story is the hammering that Plácido Domingo’s company (well, one of them) has taken in the last few years, as reflected in its shrinking season, budget, endowment and box-office revenue, not to mention staf f lay-off s; Domingo blames the economy, some others blame Domingo’s arm’s -length approach to management, and the fact that he is usually earning air miles somewhere else. But mounting debt (currently $11 million on a budget of $26.2 million) is not the only challenge faced by the company: its lease with the Kennedy Center is set to expire soon.
Under the proposed arrangement, and in much the same way that the National Symphony Orchestra (which was taken under the Kennedy Center’s wing as long ago as 1986) functions at the Center, Wa shington National Opera would merge its administration with that of the arts complex, moving from being a mere tenant to a department within it. With the Center assuming the Opera’s assets and liabilities, artistic and financial decisions would be subject to the Center’s approval: that would put Michael Kaiser, the Kennedy Center’s CEO, in charge—not Domingo. Neither Kaiser nor Domingo has commented, and the Opera’s president, Kenneth R. Feinberg, dismissed the suggestion as ‘pure speculation’. But few stricken arts organizations have yet looked seriously at pooling resources, and Kennedy Center could prove something of a safe haven. Almost uniquely on the American arts scene, it receives significant federal funding (in 2010, more than $40 million). A wellplaced source has predicted to me that we might also eventually see a closer administrative —but not artistic—relationship between Domingo’s LA Opera and the Music Center in Los Angeles (that company’s home base, which does not, however, get federal funds).
Whatever the outcomes, times are clearly tougher than ever for opera companies. Only two months ago I wrote on this page about the situation in Italy, and in this month’s Newsdesk (see p. 1089) we report on looming cuts at Scottish Opera and the Liceu in Barcelona. For companies funded from London, September is expected to be crunch time as they hear about the inevitable budget cuts for the coming years.
Both the major London houses, Covent Garden and English National Opera, are thought to be awaiting the news nervously, though for rather different reasons. Traditionally, ENO has been Covent Garden’s impoverished cousin, but in recent seasons—and whatever you think of its love-affair with non-opera directors—it has clearly made strenuous efforts to move away from a poor-man’s-Covent-Garden diet of standard revivals. In the current economic climate, such a position might have sealed its fate with Arts Council England, which always makes noises about supporting innovation. But by setting up international partnerships and originating so many new productions, ENO has created a new buzz for itself (measured not least by the fact that it has become the place to spot visiting Intendants). The Royal Opera, by contrast, seems to be playing it safer than ever—and the rumours are that 2011-12 will include only one home-grown new production—but it does the work of a leading international house at a (generally) very high level. Let’s hope that the funding decisions don’t come down to quality versus innovation: we need both.
Opera, September 2010