Scottish Opera Reveals Just How Much It's Spending (and Losing) on Its New Production of La BohËme
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
The Scotsman [Edinburgh] - 5 May 2004
By Tim Cornwell
Scottish Opera's new production of La BohËme, which comes to Edinburgh in June, cost £400,000 to produce, the company has revealed ó in what it insists is value for money.
However, the figure covers only the initial costs of creating, building and rehearsing the brand-new production, Scottish Opera said. Every night it produces the show costs close to £20,000 or more.
The company ó and, by extension, the Scottish taxpayer ó is expected to lose £35,000 taking the opera to Inverness for just two nights. That's the difference between the £56,000 it costs to transport and stage the show and the expected £22,000 income from ticket sales.
But even in Edinburgh and Glasgow, ticket sales do not cover the costs of a night's show.
For the first time in 40 years, Scottish Opera released a detailed cost breakdown of a full-scale production, exclusively to The Scotsman.
For years, critics have suggested the company engages in profligate spending and say they struggle to get detailed figures on finances.
The opera's move may reflect the unprecedented strain on the company. The Scottish Arts Council recently passed to the Scottish Executive its recommendations on plans for the company's future. They are reported to include the possibility of 80 redundancies to enable the company to pay back an advance of £4 million it has taken from the arts council against its annual grant.
The striking new production of La BohËme moves the action of Puccini's popular opera from 19th-century Paris to 21st-century New York. Designed and directed by Stewart Laing, it opened in Glasgow this week to some strong reviews.
Critics of the company complain bitterly that it has proved unable to live within its £7.5 million annual grant from the Scottish Arts Council, a level of funding way above the funding that other art forms in Scotland receive, and that it only supplies productions to a small elite.
Its defenders say that while opera is undoubtedly expensive, it is a uniquely glorious international art form, and Scottish Opera has proved its ability to deliver world-class productions. "The creation of any opera and its related costings are a complex issue," the company said in a statement.
"One opera is never the same as another, and indeed a single title can have very different costs associated with it, depending on the number of singers, costume changes, period in which the opera is set and the complexity of the physical sets and lighting."
La BohËme , the company notes, requires a chorus of 60 including 16 children, 12 principals together with an on-stage band of ten, all of which require costumes. The orchestra required has 71 members.
Scottish Opera says the cost of a new production is higher, but it is an asset that will be in its repertoire for years, with costumes, sets and props held in store.
"It is vital that new productions are created on a regular basis to ensure that the audience has an exciting programme of work to chose from and that the programme does not stagnate," the company said.
The opera is based at Glasgow's Theatre Royal. The costs per performance are £17,000 in Glasgow for nine performances; £23,000 in Edinburgh for nine performances and in Inverness £28,000 for two.
Expected ticket revenues per performance are £19,000 in Glasgow, £21,000 in Edinburgh, and £11,000 in Inverness.
The figures for La BohËme compare with those for Scottish Opera's forthcoming production of The Minotaur ó its first opera specially created for children. It has an initial cost to build, create and rehearse of about £250,000, but will cost at least £24,000 a performance to stage in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness, and Aberdeen.
Opera companies do not readily reveal their accounts; neither Welsh National Opera nor Opera North, for example, could offer comparative figures yesterday.
Colin Marr, the director of the Eden Court Theatre, in Inverness, said: "If you actually looked at how many performances they do in Edinburgh and Glasgow, compared to Inverness, over a run they are losing as much in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
"If you believe in opera as an art form, then it costs money. If we believe in a national opera company, then it has to be seen nationally. Of course you could have a national opera company that only performs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It wouldn't be national.
"If the opera are funded for £7 million a year, to not appear in Inverness for £20,000 is just wrong. I'm delighted that La BohËme is coming."
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