The Lyon Opera “is making contortions” to resist the crisis
At the head of the institution, Richard Brunel must face “a succession of crises, the Covid, inflation, the war in Ukraine”, but also a drop in attendance and budget cuts.
I’Lyon Opera which this year celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of its daring renovation by Jean Nouvel and the forty years of the creation of his orchestra, “contortsto resist the crisis affecting the world of opera. “Next season is okay. I’m not going to be forced, like some colleagues, to cancel, to give up… I make contortions“says Richard Brunel, the director of the Opera.
When he arrived at the head of the institution, in November 2019, this 51-year-old man did not “did not at all expect to experience a succession of crises, the covid inflation, war in ukraine “, with “its enormous consequences on the links with Russia on the artistic leveland on energy prices.
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While attendance has not returned to the overall level before the health crisis, the Opera has also suffered two budget cuts of 500,000 euros, one decided in 2021 by the new municipal environmentalist team, the other by the LR regional council Laurent Wauquiez in 2022.
If other opera houses have announced cancellations of shows or temporary closures in recent months, Richard Brunel “wishes not to lower the number of curtain raisers” And “wants to offer the same public service to spectators“, keeping a”European dimension» with invitations from artists, chefs and directors from all over the world.
The choice is then tomake less new productions», to reflect on the formats, to «to recycle“works deprived of the public due to confinement, to develop co-productions and to resume productions”downgraded“, like Mendelssohn’s Elias, bought from a theater in the Austrian capital Vienna for next season.
Regarding the new format, Richard Brunel quotes Zylan won’t sing anymoreA “monodramaabout the fate of a young gay singer who became a pop star in an authoritarian country. Composed by the Singaporean Diana Soh for a tenor and three musicians (electric guitar, cello, percussion), this creation was conceived for “circulate in places where the opera does not go“.
The boss of the Opera defends at the same time “emotional power“great opuses:”the choir of Tannhäuser pilgrims, it was 200 people on stage every night, I can tell you that it glued you to your seat!», he says in reference to the opera of Richard Wagner.
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To those who describe opera as a conservative art prized by an urban, wealthy and elderly audience, he responds with figures: 40% of new audiences, at least 25% of spectators under 29 years old. And it emphasizes programs for spectators “geographically restricted, socially distanced“, tariffs “very inexpensive“, tours outside Lyon, actions in high schools or in retirement homes.
“Subsidy cuts are harmful, but I want to talk to our funders. (…) We can find land“, he says, recalling that the opera is “the first cultural employer in the region», with 361 positions and more than 110 FTE for intermittent workers.
In search of new patrons, the management is tightening its structural costs, from the transport fleet to the number of photocopies, including the recycling of costumes and sets, but also the close monitoring of heating expenses.
Work has been carried out since 2010 to limit energy losses in the huge building with a volume of 77,100 m3 for a surface area of 14,800 m2. But that will not prevent the energy bill from going from 300,000 euros to 1.1 million.
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The neoclassical opera built in 1831 was renovated by Jean Nouvel and inaugurated in 1993, after years of political, financial and aesthetic controversy. At the time, “some had nicknamed it the toaster», smiles Richard Brunel, in reference to the glass and metal dome designed at the twilight of the major works initiated by the socialist president. François Mitterrandwhen money for culture was still flowing.
The dome can be seen from afar,on evenings of activity, it lights up and it’s like a kind of heart beating in the city“, he underlines. Quoting John Vilarhe says he is convinced that art is “a food as essential to life as bread and wine“.