Staging an opera is a difficult and expensive endeavor even in the best of times, and so it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that the Dallas Opera has been forced to cut salaries and furlough staff in response to the economic devastation of the COVID-19 epidemic. According to a release, the forced cancellation of 14 opera performances as well as the Songs for Dallas Community Concert resulted in a loss of $1.6 million in ticket sales.
The opera also had to cancel its vocal competition, 41 education programs, 21 community engagement programs, and 24 donor events. Opera General Director and CEO Ian Derrer and Musical Director Emmanuel Villaume are both taking a voluntary 25 percent salary reduction, and other staff face 10 to 25 percent salary cuts.
In other words, it’s a mess.
The Dallas Opera’s story is by no means unique for performing arts organizations in North Texas—and across the country. Organizations that rely on large gatherings and events are expected to be hit hardest by the economic fallout of the pandemic and will take the longest to come back. And with the government response thus far proving inadequate at shoring up small businesses—let alone arts organizations—against the economic onslaught, we can expect that this pandemic is going to completely reshuffle or remake the arts scene in North Texas.
I have a lot of hope and confidence that the city’s arts organizations are nimble, creative, inventive, and enduring enough to survive anything that is thrown at them, even if that means recreating themselves in a way that can withstand whatever the future may hold. But what these organizations and artists need right now isn’t hope, it’s public financial support. And I have little hope that we’re going to see any meaningful support any time soon.
The opera’s struggles put the depth of the impact of this crisis in focus. The opera is no stranger to financial difficulties, and we must imagine that the organization will survive this downturn in some form or fashion. But opera is a cumbersome and complicated art form. Productions are planned years in advance. Operas must be chosen, rights to works secured, costumes and sets rented or commissioned, musicians hired, and singers booked. Most opera singers have calendars that fill up years in advance of their next availability. Singers booked for a Dallas Opera performance in 2020 may not take the stage until 2022 or beyond.
In other words, these latest cuts help put in perspective the sad reality that the legacy of this nightmare is going to be with us for a long while.