Across Europe, people are anxiously watching the attendance of opera houses, which have suffered, like the rest of the stage world, from the closures following the corona pandemic. However, where the repertoire and Ensemble system is well established, theatres have resisted better than elsewhere. Elsewhere, in France for example, opera houses are in very serious economical difficulties, to the point of having to give up part of the season because of the increase in energy prices, which is not compensated for by public aid, nor by the sufficient return of the public to the theatres. So people are weighing up installing an « Ensemble system » in France, simply forgetting that the number of opera performances by a theatre in France rarely exceeds thirty or so a year, which is notoriously insufficient to allow a viable Ensemble.
Furthermore, the question of funding is also at issue, as Italy is familiar with the system of Foundations, a 'private' funding provided most of the time by public or semi-public funders, with the exception of very big institutions. The system of Foundations or privatisation only works for prestigious institutions which allow private sponsors to associate their name with La Scala in Milan or La Fenice in Venice, much less in Palermo or Bari…
Opera is expensive everywhere, and therefore it will be up to public institutions (State, regions, cities) to finance their opera houses for a long time to come, and they will have to pay for the increase in energy prices, the ecological footprint of these houses, and the sustainability of productions, which are new concepts born of the irruption of ecology into all the activities of industrialised countries. Gothenburg in Sweden is an example, but experiments with 'ecological' shows in other structures have turned into disasters or caricatures.
Will opera, which is expensive and attracts few audiences in most European countries, withstand this shift ? Under what conditions ? It is time to think about this, where audiences have been shrinking inexorably for years (France, Italy) and where theatres, orchestras and choirs are being threatened with closure (United Kingdom).
Times are hard