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The cost of the Ring

The Washington National Opera cancelled its Ring cycle this season. The Los Angeles Opera didn't. It cost them $32 million dollars, and the company has just applied for, and received, an emergency $14 million bailout from Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Times reports. Over at Plácido Domingo's other house, the Washington National Opera, executives -- those who are left -- are no doubt thinking, "There but for the grace of God go we."

The L.A. Opera's complete "Ring," directed by the maverick German director Achim Freyer (who outlined some of his views in this story, and here, and here), can be seen from May to June of 2010.

By Anne Midgette  |  December 9, 2009; 9:12 AM ET
Categories:  national , news , opera  
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God has nothing to do with the administration of opera houses around the world. Leadership and money does.

Given the recently announced cutback in the number of productions by the Washington National Opera by at least 29 per cent – a severe and economically and culturally dislocating meltdown matching the dislocation to cultural workers of the early 1980s – the Washington National Opera – under Jane Lipton Cafritz, Chairman and Kenneth R. Feinberg, President -- should be temporarily nationalized until a viable structure of administration and funding can be secured from the private and public sectors.

The WNO will be especially lucky to have the leadership, financial and political connections, and unpaid service of Mr. Feinberg at this crucial time.

(I just received, by post from Austria, my program to the 2010 Salzburg Festival featuring a five-week summer season of seven operas –Orfeo ed Euridice, Don Giovanni, Norma, Romeo et Juliette, Elektra, Lulu, and the world-premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s ‘tenth’ opera, Dionysos. I’m sure that U.S. hedge-fund managers and private equity managers such as James Johnson, along with bailed-out U.S. bankers and Mr.and Mrs. Chelsea Clinton and other offspring of limousine-liberals, will probably be there for part of the festival, since they – apparently - don’t need the so-called Washington National Opera.)


Posted by: snaketime1 | December 9, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Maybe you can be the crusading journalist who looks into just how much time and attention a famous tenor/baritone/conductor can give the two opera companies he supposedly runs while he's busily performing in Dresden, Berlin, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Tokyo, London, Zurich, Berlin, Milan, Los Angeles, London, and Madrid. That's his October, 2009 to July, 2010 itinerary, according to his web site.

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | December 9, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I just read the LA Times article, and was interested to see if AM would reference it here.

I found this comment from an LA County supervisor to be amusing: ""I'm not happy that we're in this situation, but what's our choice?" said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky." The choice is simple. Do what the WNO did - cancel the performances and the festival. You'd think that, being under the same 'management' that a similar decision would have been made by LA opera. Unfortunately, the taxpayers of Los Angeles will be on the hook for this thing. And I say "thing" on purpose, for, if you've seen or read anything about the LA production, "thing" is the most appropriate word.

Posted by: GRILLADES | December 9, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Famous tenor/baritone/conductor/restaurant – entrepreneur Placido Domingo is – of course - not really the leader of the Washington National Opera. It was clear to me that the statement he allegedly issued after the meltdown was written by an expensive public-relations firm such as Hill & Knowlton. Whether it was read to him that day, or the next day is really beside the point.

Professional and trained administrative staff aside, the Washington National Opera is presently under the leadership of Jane Lipton Cafritz and Kenneth R. Feinberg.

Mr. Feinberg, of course, is far too important nationally at our time of national and global crisis to be asked to run a medium-size, pretentious, and now declining opera company.

Jane Lipton Cafritz, however, is another matter. She has the business experience and the brains, and – perhaps working with the Federal City Council – she could obtain the now absolutely necessary Federal funding from the supposedly liberal Obama Administration and the still predominately Democratic Congress.

I imagine that Peter Gelb and Michael Kaiser -- both of whom I imagine to be Democrats - would be happy to help Ms. Cafritz and Mr. Feinberg obtain temporary Federal funding to restore a seven opera season and the company’s now muddled and almost lost mandate to stage one American opera each season.

I am hoping that Ms. Cafritz will accept the temporary – or perhaps semi-permanent – role of General Director of a nationalized Washington National Opera company.

There are other highly skilled arts administrators, businesspersons, and cultural diplomats locally who could also assume the post of General Director of a nationalized Washington National Opera company and perform administratively far better than Placido Domingo has performed. Founder and Board Chair of the Atlas Performing Arts Center Jane Lang comes to mind as one who could step into the absent footprints of Placido Domingo and secure from Congress the necessary temporary Federal funding to restore the Washington National Opera to seven operas each season, as well as one American classical opera each season.

I imagine that Caroline Kennedy, although obviously qualified, would not be interested in leading the nationalized Washington National Opera – but who knows; stranger things have happened -- such as Washington elites allowing Placido Domingo to become the travelling figure-head of both the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington National Opera at the same time.

(Will the eight dismissed Washington National Opera staff members receive severance pay?)


Posted by: snaketime1 | December 9, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Grillades - there are enormous costs involved even if the LAO cancels the Ring at this point. They've already paid for and staged 3/4 of the Ring, meaning it's probable that the director, designer, etc. fees are paid and the construction costs are sunk. There would be kill fees to the singers.

They'd have to return the ticket money they've already collected, meaning they would lose even more money.

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | December 9, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Of course the LA Opera would have lost money if it shut down the production. But, the WNO saw the storm clouds coming, and actually salvaged something artistically. LA Opera gambled with $34 million - an enormous sum - and it forged ahead (no Siegfried pun intended) despite a local economy that is far worse than what we are seeing here. Los Angeles is in tough fiscal shape, and now is bailing out an endeavor that is financially questionable. The city itself is still trying to can get someone to pay for the Michael Jackson extravaganza. Ironically, the wealthy music industry in LA (the "Culture Capital of the World" if you listen to KUSC-FM)isn't exactly coming to the rescue.

Posted by: GRILLADES | December 9, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

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