A Healthy Paris Opera

By: Frank Cadenhead

The numbers for the Opéra national de Paris’ 2015-2016 season, recently released, gives a positive impression despite the effects of the murderous series of terrorist attacks on the 13th of November of last year. Attendance has remained steady and private donations are up. The attack on the Bataclan Theater, which lasted over three hours and killed 97 of the total 130 that evening, would have a major effect on the performing arts in most cities but Parisians continued to buy tickets. All venues were closed for a bit less than a week but, when they resumed, the public was there. The Bataclan opened again on the anniversary of the attack with a concert by Sting.

The government made an effort to compensate for the loss of sales for the week performances where shut down but it was only for the major venues and strictly related to lost revenue from the closure. It was not intended to cover the effect of the tourism slide. Tourism in Paris fell in the area of 15 to 20 percent and tourist often buy tickets to the opera. This was evident in the drop in income the Opéra collects from tours to the iconic Palais Garnier. Some 730,000 tickets were sold in the previous period compared with 556,000 for the 2015-2016 season.

Support from public sources, the national government and regional and city governments, has been steadily slipping noted Stéphane Lissner, the opera director. In 2010, for example, public support was 105.5 million Euros and is now 95.7 million. It still represents 47% of the budget, but makes increased private support all the more important. There is some hope that the announced 5.5% increase in the government budget for the arts for 2017 might begin to reverse this trend. Despite these problems, however, the ONP was in the red only 200,000 Euros for the 2015-2016 season compared with a 3.7 million Euro surplus the previous period.

Fortunately, Lissner’s effort to increase private sponsorship was successful and contributed income from corporations alone increased by 40%. Major names like Dior, Rolex, Total and BNP are among corporations on the donor list. As a total part of the budget receipts for the reporting period, 30% represents individual and corporate donations, a figure what was in the single digits only a few years ago.

While the opera managed a 92.65% occupancy for the past season, it was a slightly lower that the previous season and would also have been affected by the dip in tourism in France. Ticket income was down from 68.5 million euros to 64.1 million. The Opéra also had four performances cancelled because of strikes by opera unions in sympathy with national unions opposed to a government effort to contain social expenditures. The departure of Benjamin Millepied from the ONP’s ballet in early 2016 did not seem to hurt seat sales or private donations and, in general, two thirds of private donors increased their support level.

Some figures in the 2015-2016 report include a total budget of 200.2 million Euros, a payroll of 114 million (a 2.25% drop), 802,921 spectators for 362 performances (opera, ballet, concerts), tickets sold on the internet, 56.8% and the average audience age is an agreeably fresh 46 with the under 28s comprising 17.1% of that audience.

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