Opera Houses and the Financial Crisis in Spain

The auditorium of the Teatro Real in Madrid whose public subsidy only constitutes 30% of its income.
(photo: Fss.fer)

As they are in most European countries, the public subsidies provided by central, regional and local governments have been essential in preserving the precarious life and balance of opera in Spain.

Various models of management have been pursued by opera theatres throughout Spain, and the financial crisis of 2008 has impacted each of them to varying degrees.

Companies have resolved to explore new practices to surmount economic difficulty and evolve the public’s perception of opera as an elitist and costly spectacle. Some actions taken by lyric managers have been to organize free outdoor shows and share online performances. Many have also adapted financially by co-producing with other theatres and offering new ranges of subscriptions.

A primary concern for classical music venues today is to revitalize and expand their audiences, and the opera houses of Spain are no exception. Opera and zarzuela educational programs in collaboration with schools and universities are growing and increasingly being promoted by many larger companies, and subscriptions are becoming more flexible as their “younger audiences” become older.

Meanwhile, producers are looking for other sources of income to compensate for their reduction in public subsidies, though this has proven to be difficult within the current framework of economic circumstances. Opera XXI, the association representing opera and zarzuela in Spain, has repeatedly indicated that the 21% VAT for cultural activities and the absence of a genuine patronage law has prevented the performing arts sector from receiving private funding. In this context however, Teatro Real’s financial model may surprise. Having turned to private donors several years before the financial crisis, Teatro Real still continues to develop new ways of obtaining sponsorship with only 30% of their resources now coming from public contributions. (See our previous piece on European opera house financing – Ed)

In essence, Spanish opera houses have had to cope with great cutbacks while maintaining a high-quality operatic life and involving their audiences who continue to enjoy opera and zarzuela throughout Spain.

—María Elena Santaella Morales

The author is a PhD candidate in musicology at IReMus (Institut de recherche en Musicologie) of the Université Paris-Sorbonne.


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