SANTA FE – The Santa Fe Opera is collaborating with other venues and opening up its stage to other performers as a means to build up its bottom line.
The money that comes in from non-operatic performances such as this season’s concerts by Ringo Starr and Bobby McFerrin and the sharing of productions with operas in New York, San Francisco and other global spots makes up 20% of the Santa Fe Opera’s $25 million operating budget.
The opera gets 40% of its income from ticket sales – pretty high in the theater world, where more often than not ticket sales are closer to 30%. Another 40% comes from donations.
General Director Robert Meya told the Santa Fe New Mexican that even with record ticket revenue and donations this year, the growth potential in these traditional arenas is limited.
The “other” category shows greater promise to supplement the opera’s operating budget, Meya said.
“It’s a business. We have to find ways to evolve our business model,” he said. “We do need to find ways to supplement our revenue stream in order to continue to produce the great art and opera on an international level.”
Outside concerts, weddings and memorial services on the opera grounds, special dinners and corporate events such as Rolls-Royce introducing its SUV saw a 45% revenue increase this year over the prior year, though Meya declined to discuss dollar figures.
Throughout the 20th century, Santa Fe was a modest regional opera company. In the 21st century, it has evolved into a major player. It has the sixth-largest budget in the U.S. behind the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera and Houston Grand Opera.
Dallas Opera just wrapped up a production of “The Golden Cockerel” with sets, costumes and props all made by Santa Fe Opera. The Texas company paid $150,000 for its share of the co-production.
Santa Fe Opera started co-productions with other opera companies with its 2012 “Arabella,” which was shared with Minnesota Opera in 2013 and the Canadian Opera Company in 2017.
Former General Director Charles MacKay started the co-productions, finding willing partners to share production costs for “Romeo and Juliet,” “Capriccio,” “(R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” “The 13th Child” and other operas.
Co-productions became easier with Santa Fe Opera’s 2014-16 expansion of the backstage area, which doubled the sizes of the costume shop and dressing room area and created separate dedicated space for painting and set construction.
“We can work on two productions at once now,” Meya said.
So far, Santa Fe Opera productions have traveled as co-productions, but it’s possible the opera could create productions specifically for other opera companies without staging them in Santa Fe.
The opera probably would limit outside production to costumes and props, as manpower is available for several months a year in those areas. The set crew is pretty busy year-round on Santa Fe Opera productions, but the opera could design a set and sell the plans along with props and costumes, Meya said.
Often enough, even in co-productions, the other company builds its own sets from the Santa Fe plans because it can be cheaper than transporting the sets.
Dallas Opera, however, shipped the Santa Fe sets to Texas, which won plaudits from critics and audience.
“There were unanimous raves,” said David Lomeli, Dallas Opera’s director of artistic administration. “They went crazy. They loved it.”