Crisis puts opera season under threat

AT THIS rate, the fat lady won’t be singing: Scottish Opera has put planning for its coming season on hold after it was told not to enter into any binding contracts.

The decision not only affects the autumn/spring programme, but productions for coming years. The crisis-hit company now has to wait for the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) and the Scottish Executive to agree on its financial future.

In the latest sign of continuing problems, Scottish Opera’s accounts for last year have not been signed off by an auditor, meaning it cannot call its annual general meeting to present the accounts and agree next year’s plans.

"The auditor can’t sign them off unless they can prove they are a going concern," a source said yesterday. "The level of indebtedness is too great. They are entirely dependent for their existence on the support of the Executive and the arts council."

The outline of the 2005 programme is normally announced in May. But this has been put on hold as the SAC and the Executive discuss what are said to be two proposals from the opera to repay a 4 million advance from the arts council against its 7.5 million annual grant. It is understood the opera submitted the plans three or four weeks ago. Scenarios include the loss of 80 or more of its full-time employees, including the entire 34-strong chorus.

Frank McAveety, the culture minister, is now expected to launch the much-delayed cultural review as early as Wednesday, and the future of the opera is one issue that can hardly be ignored.

Next year’s season was to have included a production of The Knot Garden, to mark the 100th birthday of the late composer, Sir Michael Tippett.

A source said: "Nothing is moving fast in a bid to ease the opera’s situation. It’s in limbo. It can’t function beyond La Bohme [due to open 28 April]."

With a season typically planned up to three years in advance, being told there can be "no contracts of a binding nature" until the crisis is settled seriously jeopardises Scottish Opera’s long-term future.

It is believed the Executive is looking for repayment of the 4 million SAC advance over two years, leaving the opera with de facto funding of about 5.5 million a year. But even if it agrees on measures to meet this target, negotiations with unions representing all the staff would add to the uncertainty.

The fear is that with the wages bill accounting for 6 million of annual expenditure, 80 redundancies will not be enough.

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