Criticisms on Fridays: The Opera Managers Declare Themselves

Does Opera Industry Need Managers to Demand Public Support?

By Polina Lyapustina
(Photo by Natasha Spencer)

Every Friday, Polina Lyapustina delivers a short essay on some of the most sensitive topics in the industry with the intent of establishing a dialogue about the opera world and its future.

On March 24, Opera Managers Association International issued an open letter, demanding “solutions” to the Global Culture Drain.

During a month marking one year of global quarantine, the association published a very balanced and smoothly written note, where, in 750 words, one barely finds anything to argue, though there are no certain points or solution either. And this probably made me read it between the lines.

In its statement, OMAI asserts that in countries with public support of the opera, artists are doing better, and the industry will certainly recover faster. This (without exhaustive explanation) sets the foundation for the solutions OMAI probably implies and expects. Meanwhile, not a single word is said on the optimization of the industry costs, improvement and update of the labor rights, and rethinking the art-form for the future.

The model in which state economics support (equally) different social and art institutions is Socialism. Though I believe, neither the worldwide tax increases (would you prefer 50 or 60 percent?) nor the abolition of private rights are in the plan. But surely, OMAI didn’t mean to change the political systems in the countries around the globe. Giving Germany as an example, the authors of the letter seem to forget, that not only arts but all entrepreneurs and workers received the same type of support. At the same time, German opera freelancers are now fighting with opera managers, who denied them fair payments for the real work. 

So many problems were finally surfaced in the last year. They are now no probable but well-known issues to solve. But instead of coming up with solutions, OMAI demands support. As if no one did it before. 

Left without their usual work, managers don’t ever try to find new ways, though they certainly understand, it’s their duty:

Can the industry survive this? Opera has existed for over 450 years and has survived many global crises. But what the future will look like when the curtains reopen is uncertain.

Opera Managers Association International (OMAI) was founded to address these questions.

From the complete absence of even the slightest mention of innovative solutions in the letter, we can conclude that, unfortunately, no matter where money and support would come from, it’s clear that OMAI wants to return to the old state of the opera industry. The one with big stagings and bloated budgets made of gold and glitter but not able to sustain itself. The industry in which artists need government support in difficult situations.

Well, in lieu of the fact that they still won’t say it, I will.

  • Let’s start with us, revising our understanding of well-being, exchanging higher fees to guarantees safety in crisis time. 
  • Let’s revise theatre budgets and production costs.
  • Present new remote and valuable types of interactions for audiences in order to keep the opera alive when the theatres are closed.
  • Think about the management structure of the theatres, its costs. And let’s fight the corruption.
  • Find new ways to involve not only younger audiences but help younger singers to find their safe place.
  • Collect and develop a new legal basis to protect workers’ rights internationally.

Sounds like a lot of work for the managers, doesn’t it? Let’s admit, we certainly need qualified managing staff for this. But will this work be well-paid in the new reality? Is there, in a better developed and sustainable opera industry, let’s say it honestly, a place for managers who make major proclamations and call for support but have no substantial ideas for getting it?

In conjunction with the open letter of Opera Managers Association International, I’m asking directly, shouldn’t the demand for public support which undoubtedly brings temporary relief, be combined with efforts to make the opera industry smarter, more independent, and maybe even more grounded? That way, in the face of a new crisis, it would be more sustainable and less fragile, making empty letters like this one unnecessary.