‘I feel like we are in a war’: Opera Australia blockbuster cancelled

Opera Australia has been dealt a devastating double blow after it was forced to cancel upcoming seasons of Phantom of the Opera in Sydney and Melbourne.

Advance ticket sales had reached $20 million for the highly-anticipated blockbuster, due to make its Australian premiere on September 3 in Sydney and then open in Melbourne on November 14. Management is scrambling to reschedule for some time in 2022.

Josh Piterman was due to take the lead role in the Australian premiere of Phantom in September.Credit:Sam Mooy

After the devastation of last year’s COVID lockdown and last week’s news that the remainder of the Sydney winter season was being cancelled, the company was pinning its hopes on Phantom, due to begin rehearsals on Monday, dragging it out of its financial difficulties. Australia star Josh Piterman was to take on the lead role after his run as the Phantom in London’s West End was cut short by the pandemic last year.

“It’s a shocking situation,” artistic director Lyndon Terracini said. “In all sorts of ways, it is worse than it was last year.”

During Sydney’s last lockdown, OA controversially sacked 56 members of its full-time workforce, including 16 orchestral players, sparking protests and legal action.

But Terracini pledged there would be no further staff cuts.

“We made some horrible decisions last year which we can’t and won’t make again,” he said. “You get to a critical mass and if you tip over the edge then you’ve lost everything – you’ll never get it back. We’re at the bare minimum we need to function as a major opera company.

“We’re continuing to support over 400 people. I feel like we are in a war.”

Last year OA scratched 23 productions and 954 performances due to the pandemic, recording an operating loss of more than $7 million.

Phantom composer and theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber appeared to foreshadow news of the Australian cancellations earlier this week.

Breaking the news that the first two nights of his production of Cinderella at London’s Gillian Lynne theatre would be cancelled after a cast member tested positive, Lloyd Webber said he knew of another “major, major show” that was also about to be scratched.

“Theatre is now on its knees,” he continued. “There is no way forward.”

Terracini issued a dramatic plea for help from state and federal governments to ensure the survival of Opera Australia.

“We need help,” he said. “Since I’ve been at Opera Australia I have never gone to the government and said we need your help. We have always taken on the responsibility to get ourselves out of trouble. But now we have no control over it. Seventy-five per cent of our income has gone and we can’t do anything about it.

“There is no way forward”: Andrew Lloyd Webber.Credit:Invision

“I don’t think there is a clear understanding of the devastation that has taken place. It’s desperate.”

One glimmer of hope is that plans for a production of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle at Brisbane’s Queensland Performing Arts Centre are still in place.

It is due to open at the end of October and Terracini said plans were being developed to set up two NRL-style “bubbles” in Sydney and Brisbane so preparations could continue.

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