US opera season might be saved by anonymous donor

Fort Lauderdale, which was about to lose its residency by Florida Grand Opera, can breathe again. Larry Johnson reports that a shy donor has offered to match every dollar raised by the FGO in order to keep the Fort on the opera map. They now need to find $200,000.

 

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  • Miami ranks 175th in the world for opera performances per year – far behind most European cities with a tiny fraction of the population and wealth. Miami is in a group of major American cities like LA, Washington, and Philadelphia that have about 40 performances a year while major opera houses average around 200 to 300. LA, Washington and Philadelphia thus rank with small, provincial European cities. The FGO has a correspondingly low budget.

    In 2006, FGO moved its principal performing venue from the Dade County Auditorium to the new Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The company has since faced regular financial problems because of increased expenditure at the new venue, without a parallel increase in audience revenue. (Given the name of the new hall, Germans might say the company was “verarscht”….)

    The FGO has sold off its assets in recent years to meet these expenses. One of the main reasons that the NYCO failed is that it also couldn’t pay the costs of its venue. One of the major problems caused by America’s private funding system is that it has proven incapable of building adequate cultural infrastructure. If at all possible, orchestras and opera companies should own their venues.

    • In the U.S., it seems that private funding can often be found for buildings, but not as much for people. Just one recent example: the Minnesota Orchestra and its funding for its new and expanded lobby, yet the year-plus lockout for the musicians.

      • Very true. Naming rights bring in big donors who want to create mausoleums for themselves, but the funds are often for “cultural centers” where each resident institution has to pay high rent. This system works even worse outside of the few cities that are financial centers, since they don’t have many big donors, if any.

        In Europe, cultural buildings are usually named after famous artists who once represented the city, or after the name of the city itself, but in the USA they are usually named after rich nobodies. This is one of the tackiest aspects of American culture.

  • Mr. Osborne, apart from the Metropolitan Opera, there is not a single US opera company that “averages around 200 to 300” performances per year. Even other major US houses like Lyric Opera of Chicago do perhaps half that number. We cannot measure the health of worth of US opera companies by comparing them to counterparts in other countries, or only comparing them to the Met.

    • Of course we can. Opera companies with paltry seasons aren’t healthy. The USA ranks 39th in the world for opera performances per capita, behind every European country and just ahead of Costa Rica in position 40. In opera, we are close to being a Banana Republic.

      The idea that a company only needs a few posh performances per year in rental facilities with pick up musicians to serve a wealthy elite is unacceptable. We need to build a better infrastructure and reach larger audiences for classical music. This requires a long term project of developing effective public funding systems, education, and accessibility.

  • While it is great news that Florida Grand Opera found somebody to match donations, I’m really curious to see what happens in future years. Will the ability and necessity to raise $400,000 work for only one season, or will they be in the same situation in future seasons? Florida Grand Opera has been late in the game in attempting to cultivate donors and audience members from various demographics. They need to work on public relations with affiliated artistic partners, performers and musicians, and realize that these people are assets and can act as ambassadors with the local community, rather than treating them like peons. More successful arts organizations value their members and put them forward rather than keeping them stuffed in a basement.

  • Mr. Osborne for all his statistical information misses the point again and again,
    writing the same thought over and over
    in hundreds of different ways , much like an old 78 needle stuck in a groove.
    Kristen makes a valid closing point
    but I am afraid Mr. Osborne will
    contradict the thought with more of the same old same old in one form or
    another such as Miami ranking 175
    without understanding the flaw in his
    research that makes it a pointless
    assessment.

    • Curious why Miami ranking 175th is a pointless assessment? While you’re at it, please let us know why the city with its 5.5 million metro population doesn’t even have a professional symphony orchestra. (To avoid confusion, the New World Symphony is an orchestra with rotating personnel for training young musicians, not a professional orchestra.)

      • If you ever get your head out of the statistics sand pile you might find the answer as
        to why a city of some 5 ml. does not have a symphony orchestra much less
        an opera house. Give it a try ….

  • Actually, the commentators here are on to something. Instead of looking at unpleasant facts, we should just declare them irrelevant. Instead of the great expense of opera, we could much more economically provide every American with a little pile of sand so that they can quickly burying their heads when any unpleasant issues appear.

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