NZ Opera's exports to Europe hit the right note
Kiwi theatre sets and costumes have become a new creative business, reports Rob Stock.
New Zealand Opera has found a way to boost funding by selling production sets including costumes and stage directions to some of the great European theatres.
Its creative export business is the artistic equivalent of "taking coals to Newcastle", says general director Stuart Maunder.
Each year, NZ Opera puts on three operas; this year the lineup is The Magic Flute, La Traviata and Sweeney Todd - which will be NZ Opera's first musical.
But last year's successful La Cenerentola production - the Italian equivalent of Cinderella - has been sold to the Leipzig Opera in Germany.
It was a big win for the creative team at NZ Opera, and Maunder hopes other productions will be sold in the same way, including this year's The Magic Flute.
Maunder said successful opera companies had to used every trick they could to cover costs.
NZ Opera said the price it got for selling productions was commercially sensitive, but its financial statements indicate the importance of generating extra income.
In 2014, revenue and expenses were finely balanced, at around $7.4 million, with just under $2m from ticketing and programmes, $1m from sponsors, and $4 from grant-making bodies, and the remainder from "other income".
Maunder quotes Rudolf Bing, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1950s, 60s and 70s who said every artistic decision has an economic consequence. Another of Bing's most famous quotes is that: "Opera is an accountant's nightmare."
Maunder said: "We will do everything in our power to generate income. We are in the business of putting on main stage opera to perform to the biggest possible audience in New Zealand."
Opera companies all over the world face the same artistic versus economic dilemma. They want to do locally-created opera, but need to share some of the costs of some of their productions with other companies.
They seek a balance between staging home-grown productions, co-productions and buying productions in. This challenge to opera companies the world over creates a market for good productions, sets and costumes.
Maunder said The Magic Flute, which opens in May In Wellington and June in Auckland, was being created in New Zealand, and as a top 25 opera may find a multiple customers in Europe and elsewhere.
"We can take coals to Newcastle which is really what we are doing," Maunder said.
When creating a new opera, NZ Opera has a unique challenge. Operas here run in Auckland's barn-like Civic Theatre, the smaller and more traditional St James Theatre in Wellington and the Issac Theatre Royal in Christchurch.
The result, said Maunder, was that NZ Opera-developed productions and sets had to be flexible enough to work on all three theatres. That meant New Zealand's opera productions could fit into most theatres and opera houses around the globe.
La Cenerentola will continue from Leipzig to San Diego and Stockholm, Maunder said. La Cenerentola was a co-production with Opera Queensland. NZ Opera made the sets at its Onehunga Technical Centre in Auckland. The costumes were made in Queensland.
The use of sets and costumes overseas makes sense. The alternative would be moth-balling them here for up to 10 years.