Opera crisis: new works struggle to make it to the stage

Published 27 January 2015

New opera productions are struggling to make it to the stage, despite attendance rates rising, according to a University of New England academic.

Just 12% of operas performed worldwide in the last five years have been new works according to global opera website, Operabase.

The University of New England’s Dr Jennifer Game-Lopata says that despite opera being more available than ever before – with performances on the beach, in paddocks, on screen and online – most are of past works.

“New operas were constantly being produced throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but that’s not the case any more,” Dr Game-Lopata said.

“People are worried that if the same repertoires are performed without any new works the whole genre will disappear.”

Dr Game-Lopata believes most people would struggle to name a living composer.

“People read the latest best selling book and know the author, but nobody takes any notice of new composers. Commercial music dominates and there isn’t a lot of interest in new opera music.”

Dr Game-Lopata believes financial risks are part of the reason why contemporary operas are not supported.

“Operas are expensive. Rehearsals take a long time and the box office doesn’t usually cover the cost of star singers, the chorus, orchestra, conductor, stage designer and costume fitters. The rehearsal bill is large and new works are generally only performed a handful of times.”

For example, Opera Australia’s current season reveals 27 previous works and only one new production of a children’s musical theatre piece.

Dr Game-Lopata knows first-hand the challenges of bringing new opera works to the stage.

“I’ve written one opera called The Aqueduct which was performed in Brisbane two years ago. I’m hooked, which is why I’m interested in looking into this.”