Just in: Canada closes an opera company

This will have knock-on effects on the NAC Orchestra.

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Ottawa, October 14, 2015. The Board of Directors of Opera Lyra issued the following statement today.

It is with deep regret that we have decided to cease operations, effective today. There will be an immediate shutdown of the current performance season, the 31st in the company’s history. The Board will now review options on how it may adjust its future operations.

The challenge facing the company is that revenues are not sufficient to cover costs. All opera companies in Canada generate revenues from four sources: ticket sales, government grants, philanthropic donations and commercial sponsorships. In Opera Lyra’s situation, revenues from each of these streams have been consistently below expectations, resulting in cash shortages and an unsustainable deficit.

When the current Board of Directors and leading staff took on responsibility for Opera Lyra in 2011, following the previous financial crisis, it was clear that accumulated debt inherited from the past would be a difficult burden. But the company succeeded in reducing its operating costs, and it began the long process of rebuilding audiences, expanding fundraising and paying down some debt.

We are proud of Opera Lyra’s strong contributions over many years to musical culture, education and training across the National Capital Region. We have achieved tremendous artistic results. Our small company has produced so many fully staged operas, employing great Canadian and international artists, the wonderful singers of the Opera Lyra Chorus, and the crews and musicians of the National Arts Centre. Our Families and Schools Tour now delivers performances to as many as 32 schools each autumn.

Our core problem is that revenues have not grown to cover the costs of presenting high quality opera on the stage of the National Arts Centre. There are challenges in all revenue areas, including: major shortfalls in commercial sponsorships, modest shortfalls in private philanthropy, reductions in funding from the federal and provincial governments and, recently, weaker ticket sales.

The decline in paying audiences for Opera Lyra (a trend that is reportedly affecting other performing arts in Ottawa-Gatineau) is a key difficulty. Opera is an expensive musical genre. It combines orchestral music, vocal performance, and dramatic staging with sets, lighting and costumes. Other opera companies in North America have also had recent financial problems and several closures, notably in San Diego, New York and Hamilton, Ontario.

Members of the Opera Lyra Board want to express sincere appreciation to the staff, performers, donors and thousands of patrons who support high quality opera. We want to thank so many people who have helped as volunteers in all aspects of our activities, notably members of the hard-working Opera Lyra Guild .

The Board will look into options for the future of opera in Ottawa/Gatineau. The current program delivers two fully staged operas each year at the NAC, but our experience shows that this approach is too costly for an independent, professional company and ticket sales are unpredictable. Lower cost models, or wider partnerships, may be viable alternatives.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

John Peter (Jeep) Jeffries

General Director

 

 

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  • Not sure it will affect NACO. Of course the Orchestra plays for it, but aside from the revenue that hire brings, it should not affect the NACO’s business at all — except perhaps that if he’s shrewd, Alexander Shelley might programme some more operatic selections to haul in the deprived Opera Lyra crowd. I doubt the NAC is in a position at the moment to revive its own summer opera festivals, more’s the pity.

    Their press release lays out the scale of the problems pretty clearly. It is to be hoped that OLO will continue to operate in some fashion or other, scaled back and/or more co-production, if it can get some of its ducks in a row. Problem in Ottawa is that there is really no alternative venue of good size to the NAC. It holds around 2600, which they can’t fill so presumably don’t need. Some of the acoustically wonderful churches present various forms of music throughout the year, and one particularly good one holds about 1000 people, but it does not seem to me to have a good space for even a small orchestral ensemble, and of course has nothing resembling wings — it is, after all, an altar. These venues are great for recitals, for the great Chamberfest every summer, and for many visiting artists, but opera is the one medium that, aside from aurally, does not really fit into them.

    This will be a great loss in Ottawa. The nearest company is Montreal, and it’s a good one, but given Eastern Canadian winters and the length of an opera it becomes for most people an epic and potentially very expensive trip, something to do once or twice a year at most.

    A major loss to a community that has supported music since its founding.

  • This is hardly surprising to opera insiders and especially administrators in Canada. Opera Lyra had a near death experience about 5 years ago due to the inability of the administration and disinterest of the board. Clearly Ivan Fecan, the head of the NAC is no Michael Kaiser, who saw opera as an integral part of the cultural fabric of a capital city and took over WNO and brought in better management and Francesca Zambello who actually knows how to produce opera.

    Not that at the NAC will miss opera Lyra, who’ve been not paying their bills on time for years.

    Perhaps the final nail in the coffin was hiring the should be put out to pasture Timothy Vernon. Young artistic talents like Joel Ivany or Topher Morzeski (I know I’ve misspelled it) would have at least injected some excitement.

    The bottom line is that to survive opera companies in secondary markets have to be nimble a la Opera Philadelphia. Same old Same old clearly doesn’t work.

  • What the press release doesn’t say is that the board has just sideswiped a number of the Canadian artists they claim pride in presenting!

    Performances of new Canadian works were to be presented by the fledgling Toronto company Essential Opera this weekend, in partnership with Opera Lyra, at one of the city’s smaller performance venues. The company was informed soon after landing in Ottawa (having flown in right after performances in Halifax) that their hosts were no more. Say what you like about the selfless sacrifice of the board members of struggling arts organizations, but putting your musical guests in a situation where they must vacate the hotel they had just checked into in order to take stock of the damage from an airport lounge, is irresponsible, to say the least. Opera Lyra may have been forced to close shop, but hobbling another company so callously is inexcusable.

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