Maestro fumes as opera cuts 9-month season to 3 weeks

Maestro fumes as opera cuts 9-month season to 3 weeks


norman lebrecht

June 18, 2015

It looks like they are giving up in Vancouver.

After 55 years, the year-round opera company is being cut back to a three-wekk festival.

All the usual excuses: aging audience, declining funds.

‘The leadership came to the conclusion that anything using the old model simply wasn’t working and was not getting the numbers we needed,’ said general director James Wright. ‘There is not an opera company in North America that is not concerned about sales. We are being as forward thinking as possible.’

Wright is retiring next year. Some think he should have got out sooner, before sinking the ship.

Vancouver Symphony music director Bramwell Tovey is spitting tacks. He tweets: It is not cynical to criticize nor a failure to accept change. But, it is myopic to think loss of regular season inevitable.

And: Distressing to see news spun as visionary. It’s terrible news. Vancouver to be only major Cdn city without an opera season.

bramwell tovey2

Hang in there, Bram. There has to be another way.



  • Susan Weiss says:

    I agree with Maestro Tovey!

    I see without prior consultation of subscribers, donors, single ticket buyers, re the Vancouver Opera announced three week #operaFestiival model, a disaster in the making.

    The VOA Board of Directors permitted VOA management to rack up a $900K+ loss on the 2013/14 season; one might ask if the same will happen in 2015/16 season current model.

    Innovative change is important but there is nothing visionary about the so far announced VOA #OperaFestival2017!

    Maybe the Canadian Opera Company should at our it’s season to Vancouver, seems to be about $9M available to do so….

    • Susan Weiss says:

      Last paragraph in my comment should read:
      Maybe the Canadian Opera Company should tour its season to Vancouver, seems to be about $9M to do so.

  • Milka says:

    The truth of the matter is that for most Canadians Vancouver has become a colony
    of China ,seemingly a people who have little interest in Canadian or western culture ,
    except when there is a buck to be made ..real estate for example . A fast growing population
    that will undoubtedly soon control Vancouver . Western opera is not one of their interests.
    There is no other way …

    • AZ Cowboy says:

      I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Chinese as being anti-western art. I was in Beijing for a couple of weeks several years ago. At the magnificent national theatre I heard the London Symphony, saw a complete Sleeping Beauty from Moscow, and several other productions that would do London, New York, or Berlin proud. And all were packed to the rafters! The problem in Vancouver is one that afflicts us all: people today aren’t educated about the arts, they have no time or interest in them. Blame the media – radio, TV, movies. Blame schools and universities, but nothing is going to stop the slide.

      • MacroV says:

        It’s interesting that while Asians are dominating American youth orchestras and conservatories, and increasingly finding their way into major American orchestras, the Asian audience for symphony and opera is not huge. Prefer doing to watching, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nothing new there; I had this discussion with a Vancouver Symphony executive about 15 years ago.

  • Alex says:

    There IS another way. The future of opera is in lean-and-mean chamber opera companies that operate on tiny budgets and have the artistic freedom to produce interesting and innovative programming.

  • Andrew D says:


    I would be more interested to hear what Darlington has to say about all of this – that being said, Bramwell Tovey is a highly respected figure in Canada and has had an enormous influence on our arts and culture…you certainly cannot argue with his tweets and opinions regarding this terrible situation. And that it’s happening in his own city, it certainly has a massive ripple effect. Let’s all hope they work hard towards a turnaround.

  • David says:

    Bramwell is being an ass. Fort Worth Opera has succeeded with a festival format, so why not Vancouver? It will be the same amount of performances but in a compacted time frame. Th company has been working its ass off to try and appeal to both subscribers and attract new audiences I a very tough market. And I’m sorry, but what good is Bramwel’s Twitter war doing except serving his own ego and butthurt at not being talked to about it (even though he has no real relationship with VOA anyway). He’s acting like a child.

  • V.Lind says:

    Aging audiences are declining funds are not excuses, they are reasons. And the reasons are the same as they are everywhere. Opera is brutally expensive to mount and, as with so many other of the high arts, its best outreach and fundraising efforts are neither bringing in new, younger audiences or more money from over-approached sources.

    Perhaps a festival approach will draw in some of the much-needed new blood, and the format may interest new donors. But until regular exposure — in the classroom — permeates the consciousness of younger generations, so that SOME of them grow up wanting more of this, it’s a losing battle.

    Opera Lyra in Ottawa is testing the waters with some new chamber stuff this season. It will be interesting to see if it works in term sof reaching new audiences.

  • Edmund says:

    It is not reaching me. I cancelled my subscription to Ottawa Opera Lyra this year.

  • Nick says:

    I assume that by compacting a season down to 3 weeks, the Opera assumes it will cut costs considerably. But what about revenues? Will the existing audience all be willing and able to attend several performances in a short space of time? If not, and present outreach and general marketing activities are not working, where will the new audiences come from? I can see that some tourists may find a Festival attractive. But I wonder how much more attractive is it likely to be to residents of Vancouver and its surrounding communities!

  • Jim DeLaHunt says:

    Thanks for the interesting comments! Vancouver Opera is holding town halls for subscribers, and I went to one yesterday (30. July 2015). General Director Jim Wright had a lot of interesting and persuasive information about the Opera’s business environment and strategy. I summarised it in a blog post: More on Vancouver Opera’s business situation. [Repost, with corrected link and copy-editing]