Opera Australia will be fined unless it cuts foreign talent

Opera Australia will be fined unless it cuts foreign talent


norman lebrecht

September 24, 2017

The federal government has put the national opera company on notice that it is expected to engage ‘an appropriate balance’ of Australian talent, or face a fine of up to $200,000.

It has been reported that OA hired three times as many foreigners last season, a total of 29. Details here.

A similar measure ought to be considered at English National Opera.


  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Seems sensible enough to me. There’s a lot of talent in Oz.

  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    “A similar measure ought to be considered at English National Opera”?
    Whose opinion is this? The ENO of course sings in English (not that that necessarily helps the audience to understand, if the diction is poor); but the whole point of music is that it is international and we are all enriched by musicians from other parts of the world. I remember as a teenager going to Scottish Opera and as well as some English and Scottish singers such as Janet Baker, Charles Craig, David Ward, Bill McCue and others, I was impressed by Anita Valkki, Luisa Bosabalian, Helga Dernesch, Laura Sarti, Inia Ti Wiata and many more. My world would have been much poorer without them.

    • Una says:

      I quite agree, Norman, about the ENO side of things with them singing in English all the time, and is part of their charter their existence as you know, and for home-grown British singers. It’s a way in for people and at a price they can afford. The culture of that place has changed in the last fifteen years or so and so many British singers do not getting a look-in. If you look back to when my singing teacher was the principle baritone there at ENO for eighteen years or even look at Reggie Goodall’s Ring, you can soon see what went on then and the difference now. And I was actually in Scottish Opera myself. In my time we didn’t sing in English up there unless it was either written in English or it was originally in Russian or Czech, or a comic opera or operetta like Fledermaus. Seems to be the policy with Opera North too, and then it all boils down to costs in the end and what the companies in this country – Covent Garden aside as it’s rolling in money in comparison to the rest – can afford, and yet Opera North last night was half-empty for Pagliacci and L’enfant et sortileges, and they were brilliantly done.

      • Maria says:

        “Opera North last night was half-empty for Pagliacci and L’enfant et sortileges”

        I find that surprising, and worrying.

        • Don Fatale says:

          Me too, given the great choice of kebab houses across the street. Who wouldn’t want to spend their evening there?

          I wonder if there’s not enough demand for opera in the north or whether it’s the whole image of the place.

  • Sue says:

    How I despise affirmative action; just give us the BEST talent.

  • Vienna calling says:

    What a clueless statement. Have you ever tried to get an audition for a non British singer at the ENO? And it’s not even worth the effort any longer because they can’t afford to sing here anyway, with the cost of living in London and the low fees in worthless pounds.

    • Sue says:

      I know nothing about the ENO: I’m speaking about Opera Australia. And we don’t have ‘populist nationalism’ in this country at all.

      • Edgar says:

        Really, no populist nationalism at all? Pauline Hanson fits that bill, imho.

      • Zelda Macnamara says:

        I know this isn’t a place for political discussion, but there are reliable and respectable sources indicating that Pauline Hanson’s views are now being adopted into the mainstream – the sort of thing that has happened elsewhere.

        • Margaret says:

          Who are these ‘reliable and/or respectable sources’? I don’t find them so unless they are cited. And then I would challenge them. It would be a very sad world where Pauline Hnason’s views became accepted as mainstream.

          • MWnyc says:

            I agree that describing Hanson’s views as “mainstream” is going too far, but it’s entirely true that she’s not the pariah or laughingstock she was around a decade ago.

  • Alex Davies says:

    With a population of only 24 million people, it seems unrealistic to imagine that casting for world-class opera can be achieved without sourcing a very significant proportion of singers from outside Australia. Even countries with much larger populations, such as the USA, Russia, Germany, the UK, and France, are heavily dependent upon foreign talent.

    Often there is just one singer in the world who may be considered the finest interpreter of a particular role (e.g. Karita Mattila as Salome or, until recently, Renée Fleming as the Marschallin), and there may well be as few as half a dozen singers at any one time throughout the world who are considered to be capable of giving a really first-class performance of a role.

    The upcoming Royal Opera House production of Les Vêpres siciliennes, for example, will include a cast of 11 singers representing 10 different nationalities (two British singers and one each from Sweden, the USA, Uruguay, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Korea, Australia, and South Africa). Semiramide will feature not a single British singer, but three Americans, two Italians, a Hungarian, a Korean, and a South African. Tosca will see three sopranos in the title role: a Canadian, a Romanian, and an Austrian.

    Putting on world-class opera is necessarily an international enterprise. It would be strange indeed if all of the world’s finest singers were to be concentrated among a population of only a few tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions, of people. When we are looking at a level of talent that is sometimes quite literally one in a billion, if not one in billions, it would be ridiculous to imagine that that talent must be identified among a population that represents less than one third of one percent of the world’s population (or even among the population of the USA, which currently stands at around 4.4 percent of the global population).

    • Nik says:

      What you say is true, and it’s also important to bear in mind that taking engagements in different parts of the world is generally good for a singer’s development. Australia actually produces a lot of talented singers, but many of them regularly work in Europe and are therefore not always available to perform in Australia. The only way to ensure that Australian opera houses have Australian casts to hand at all times is to keep all Australian singers chained to their home country. Who would benefit from that, exactly?

      • MWnyc says:

        Fair enough, but the flip side of that argument is that Australian singers are forced to go overseas to make a living because the companies at home – financed with their and their families’ and other Australians’ tax dollars – hire foreigners.

        I don’t entirely agree with that argument, but I understand the sentiment.

        • Nik says:

          Well, I think it’s extremely silly.
          Do you think that Dame Joan Sutherland felt any great resentment about being “forced” to go and perform in London, New York, Milan and Paris? Can you picture her poring over the Australian Opera’s annual programme, sticking pins in the names of any foreign singers it employed?

  • Barbara says:

    I wonder whether New Zealanders could be considered Honorary Australians? Would help out a lot.

  • Leon says:

    I thought ENO had a Commonwealth only policy many years ago which soon went out the window?