Some Good News for the Paris Opéra.

By: Frank Cadenhead

There is good news from the Paris Opéra which might somewhat offset the dismal recent news on this site of sexual harassment and alleged poor management of the Opéra’s world-renowned ballet company. That bad news might go someway to explain the early departure of Benjamin Millepied as ballet director in February of 2016 after only 15 months on the job. Stephane Lissner, the opera’s CEO, brought him in from Los Angeles, where he was working with the 8 dancers of the L. A. Dance Project. Suddenly he was working with 20 times that number and charged with renovating a company that is 350 years old. One suspects that he was a creative type suddenly burdened with substantial organizational detail and likely never quite adjusted to his new role. (His L. A. Dance Project is coincidentally opening tonight, April 20 – the first night of a four night visit at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.)

Here is some good news: the balance sheet for the Opéra National de Paris is positive. Last month the Board of Directors approved the financial accounting for 2017 and the numbers were good. After 2016, marked by strikes and Parisian terrorist attacks, calendar year 2017 found significant improvements in attendance and finances. In an interview in Les Echos (the French equivalent to The Wall Street Journal), Lissner described an operating profit of 3,48 million euros with 91.4% of all seats sold at the Opéra Garnier and Opéra Bastille for a total attendance of 840,378 (23% of which are foreign visitors). He has put serious caps on the production budgets and the operating budget is under control, with a payroll increase of less than 2%. Private patronage, with 15.69 million euros collected, “is an increase of 13.2% over 2016, and 70% compared to 2014,” said the accounting statement and the revenue from visitors touring the Palais Garnier increased by 21%.

Lissner’s efforts to avoid strikes in 2017 were a success to be noted. There are six unions representing those working at the Opéra and ballet and the employees are well-represented. However, in 2016, there were six strikes, often last-minute and causing performances to be cancelled. These strikes did not involve in-house labor issues but were in sympathy with nation-wide social movements. Lissner, in a letter to all employees, detailed the problems that these strikes had for the Opéra: full houses mean replacement tickets are hard to find, expensive singers have to be paid anyway and he described other costs which could not be recouped. These blows to the budget, he explained, could damage the Opéra’s larger artistic mission. Since that letter to employees, there has been no further strikes at the Opéra. Ongoing Macron government reforms are causing strikes at present but so far they have been limited to the institutions affected by the labor issues.

Also, there might be soon six-packs of beer for sale at the Paris Opéra gift shop. In the last few weeks, three hundred feet of hops were planted on the roof of the Opéra Bastille in the 12th Arrondissement. It is part of an initial effort that is anticipated will eventually produce annually several thousand liters of artisanal beer. There will also be a vegetable garden of some 5,300 square meters. This city-encouraged effort is part of the continuing ’greening’ of Paris.

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