Carlo Fuortes, the new director of Rome Opera, has a difficult path ahead of him. During the first few months of his leadership he must guide the company out of its present disastrous economic situation. In a press conference this week, he announced that the situation was even worse than previously announced: in 2013 Rome Opera lost 10 million euros (more than $13m). The operating costs were €61m, whereas the income was €51m, of which only 16% came from ticket sales and private sponsors. These are hard times in Italy. Opera and ballet are expensive art forms. No wonder the budget is out of control…
But here are some more figures: in the last three years, the theatre has lost almost €26m, yet during the same period the salaries of the theatre's managers have doubled. Also, €3m of the costs of the theatre's personnel was involved in some creative book-keeping where the sum was classified in the same way as an investment for a new production, where, legally, the cost can be spread (in this case, hidden) over a period of 7 years. Even for a new production, this is something of a folly in a country where it is rare that an opera, and sometimes a ballet, reappear for more than a couple of seasons.
The amount of money that the Rome Town Council gives to the company is extraordinary: €17.5m; La Scala receives €6m from the Milan Town Council. This is only local funding, not the more important State funding. And here's another bizarre fact: there are 92 instrumentalists on the books, but this isn't deemed enough, and so, even though some of the orchestra are left at home, extras are brought in and paid, of course, extra.
Knock-on effects from this bad state of affairs are inevitable and so, for example, ballerina Svetlana Zakharova has pulled out of today's Swan Lake (although Rome Opera's site still announces her presence) because she's ill, but a little bird in the theatre tells me that it is because she still hasn't been paid for her performances in Giselle, almost a year ago. Meanwhile, the unions are promising to disrupt the theatre's programming, and maybe this afternoon's performance of Lago will go on without the orchestra, as was the case for the première of Luisa Spinatelli's new production of the ballet in December.
The unions are up in arms, because the only way to pull the theatre out of this mess is to apply for more public funds via the Bray Law, which will provide substantial sums to balance the books as long as the theatre cuts salaries by 40%, and workers and administrative staff by 50%.
How long will the paying public book to see a ballet with Zakharova, and find a cast change and no orchestra; or book for Ernani, the opening of the current season, or the upcoming Manon Lescaut, both conducted by Riccardo Muti, with threats that the evening will be cancelled? Losing audiences at a time when they are already dwindling cannot help the precariousness of the theatre. It's a delicate, and maybe impossible, balance, but an equilibrium must be found soon, if it is to be found at all, before it is too late for the public, the artists, the unions, and the theatre's managers. In the past, money has been thrown at many such Italian institutions willy nilly, but now the economic climate has changed, and so must the opera and ballet companies if they want an honest future.
It was reported that the theatre's musical director, Riccardo Muti, was following the situation “in astonishment”.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.