Star-Times [Wellington, NZ] - 22 April 2004
By Anna Chalmers

The country's biggest opera company is facing a financial crisis with a debt of NZ$420,000 [currently about US$261,000], but pleas for extra government funding have been rejected.
NBR New Zealand Opera (NZO) took heavy losses from last year's Russian drama Boris Godunov, critically acclaimed but a box office bomb. It has also had funding reduced from its principal sponsor, Tower. Lacklustre sales at its New Zealand International Arts Festival show, The Elixir of Love, last month are also a concern.
The four-year-old company, the merger of Auckland's and Wellington's operatic societies, is confident it can trade out of debt.
But so far its request for a one-off grant from the government to help "stabilise" finances has gone unanswered and Auckland City Council (ACC) recently rejected a NZ$45,000 funding increase.
ACC, which gives the NZO NZ$75,000 a year, in a report said there was too much "uncertainty around the other funding sources" for it to provide extra funding.
It's not the first time the company has faced a major debt, trading its way out of more than a NZ$350,000 loss in 2001.
NZO director Alex Reedijk believes losses come with the territory. "We have good days and bad days. As long as ultimately it evens out, that's what's important," he said.
Reedijk highlights "incredibly low" government funding as a key to the problem. Only 16% of NZO's revenue comes from government, while the Royal New Zealand Ballet is 40% government-funded. Across the Tasman [in Australia] its sister companies are 50ñ60% government funded, said Reedijk.
ACC's funding rejection is a particularly bitter setback, with estimates opera spending brings in more than NZ$2 million a year.
Reedijk is bullish about the future and believes opera in New Zealand is going through a "renaissance", backed by ticket sales, which rose 33% last year, he said.
But ACC labelled NZO's sales predictions as "very optimistic". In its funding request the NZO predicted a 74% increase in ticketing income over the next year.
The need for such big numbers confirms opera critics' fears: "The sad thing would be if it leads to the company being more cautious that ever," said New Zealand Opera News's Lindis Taylor.
The NZO has said it will feature more popular productions and plans a more "artistically challenging" opera every three years.
This year's schedule should leave little room for box office bombs, with the populist Rigoletto, light-hearted CosÏ fan tutte and Carmen ó the world's No. 1 opera.
But Canterbury Opera chief executive Elizabeth Owens believes the NZO is treading dangerously. "If you treat the audience with contempt then they are never going to get more imaginative."
The much smaller company [based in Christchurch], with a turnover of just over NZ$1 million [per year], rejected joining the Auckland and Wellington merger despite still digging their way out of their own financial crisis.
Canterbury Opera has gone on to receive significant critical acclaim and last year produced a modest surplus of NZ$8000. "Three years in a row, we've covered our costs; it's certainly a world record in New Zealand."

(C) 2004 Sunday Star-Times. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

 

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