Opera Rapprochement?

By: Frank Cadenhead

The opera companies of Marseille and Greater Avignon have opened talks to explore a rapprochement. Another word used was mutualisation. The two companies are considering being partners and sharing productions and other resources. The annual budget for Marseille is currently 21.6 million euros and, for Grand Avignon, 13.2 million. How closely they might unify has not been revealed in any detail.

Since the source of financing of cultural institutions is a combination of the French government, the regional governments and the city, the institutions are constantly justifying their efforts and, unless they have the word “National” in their name, are subject to annual budget reviews by the dispensing authorities. “National” operas normally enjoy multi-year budgeting.

The Opera National du Rhin, for example, is an example of a company that serves more than one city. Although most of the performance dates are in Strasbourg, they present the same season in Mulhouse and, to a lesser extent, in Colmar. Mulhouse is the home of the company’s ballet and Colmar hosts a training center for young singers and the productions share the orchestras of Strasbourg and Mulhouse. This association has, among other things, given the Opera National du Rhin a higher profile among French opera companies.

It is not a secret that Marseille, by some measurements the second largest city in France, would like to have a company of international reputation. Lyon, the other competitor for “second largest city,” already has an important, internationally recognized company. The Opera National de Lyon’s annual budget, around 37 million, makes them the second largest company in France after the Opera National de Paris. One cannot help noticing that combining the budgets of Marseille and Avignon would put them in the same relative financial category as Lyon.

Production sharing is often seen among French regional opera companies and the same sets and singing talent are often seen in several cities during a season. While the French national and local governments provide support to some 26 major opera companies around France, it is likely that such an extraordinarily expensive art form might be more and more difficult to justify in what is now several years of flat budgets and increased expenses. Could more rapprochement be in the future?

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