“The two most costly endeavors that mankind undertakes are war and the production of opera.”
Justin Moss, Director of Broward Operations for the Florida Grand Opera, quoting George Bernard Shaw, kicked off an edifying evening on June 20 for a group of 150 early to mid career business people from the Harvard Business School Club of South Florida.
Another literary mind once pointed out that most people don't think very deeply about the dynamics that produce creative results. We read a novel or watch a film that captures our imagination for a couple of hours and don’t naturally think about the author laboring over specific words or a particular sentence, or the two years and the tangled web it took to produce that two hour movie, or the big money necessary to make it all work.
The enthusiastic Moss illuminated some of the unseen dynamics that go into producing an opera by taking The Harvard alums behind the scenes into the company’s Doral facility costume, wig, and makeup shops, offering insight into the rehearsal process, and enlightening them on the business of opera.
These professional folks were most interested and fascinated to learn that the financial challenges in producing opera are many, including paying rent on the house when there is no rehearsal or performances occurring on consecutive nights due to the stresses on the voices which must meet the massive demands of the music without amplification. (Opera singers don’t use stage microphones which are commonly used in musical theatre and consequently cannot sing eight weekly performances, standard fare for a musical theatre singer.) Orchestras are very expensive, the lion’s share of rehearsals being underscored with only a piano. The orchestra typically comes in only one week before opening night, beginning with a “sitz probe” where the cast simply sits with no stage action and runs through the entire score with the orchestra. A three hour block of time, called an “orchestra service,” is bought by the opera company where the clock must be precisely managed as the orchestra stops playing at the three hour rehearsal mark. If the company has not finished the complete score within the time block, the singers get a little cranky because they can’t finish rehearsing the end of the show. Money is also saved by working in a rehearsal space at the Doral facility, using color coated tape on the rehearsal floor as an exact footprint of the opera house representing all the different scenic elements from walls to taverns, to piles of rocks. The company may not take the actual stage until two weeks before opening.
One doesn’t usually equate Powerpoint presentations with Grand Opera, but the bottom line is that without a watchful eye on the bottom line, there is no opera, something the Harvard alums could appreciate.
Moss pointed out that half of the 122 professional opera companies served by Opera America were founded after 1970, that over 6.7 million people attended a live performance of member companies in the 2011 season, in 2008 the median age of opera attendees was 48, and the collective expenses for member companies in 2009-2010 was $586 million while the collective revenues for this group was $617 million. Moss explained that the bulk of the operating cash flow comes from individual and foundation contributions which supply 60% of revenue, box office receipts bringing 29%, and only 5% of income coming from government support. He quickly added that in contrast, European governments have until recently been footing 70% of the bill which has afforded European opera companies the freedom to produce more adventuresome works than the more traditional pieces produced here in the states. This means we won’t be attending a production of Charpentier’s “Louise” any time soon; an opera which would knock your socks off and any other article of clothing you might be wearing at the time.
The FGO evening concluded with a private program of select arias rendered by local soprano Rebekah Diaz, tenor Lievens Castillo, and pianist Sergio Puig performing faves from Puccini, Verdi and Bellini.
Florida Grand Opera, now celebrating its 71st year, features projected translations in English and Spanish for all main stage performances. Annually, 70,000 people experience FGO productions, and FGO’s education and outreach programs serve over 20,000 members of the community.
Moss mused afterward, saying “With any luck, there will be a number of people in this crowd (of business professionals) for whom opera has always been something that, ‘I’ll do that one day.” Arts organizations always need angels. Perhaps Shaw might have quipped with a wink and a nod, “The two most likely places where an angel would appear are heaven and the stage of opera.”