Savoy Halts Cheap Opera Plans After Three WeeksDate: 7 May 2004
In a big blow to the notion of affordable opera, Savoy Opera – the independent company officially launched just three weeks ago at the West End’s Savoy Theatre (See News, 15 Apr 2004) – has announced that it will be unable to continue as planned beyond its two inaugural productions, which finish their repertory schedule next month.
In a statement issued today, Savoy Opera producers Stephen Waley-Cohen and Raymond Gubbay said: “The opening season of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro has been very well received and will continue to run as planned until 19 June. However, ticket sales are not sufficient to enable us to continue on the current timetable beyond then.”
The year-round programme was due to continue with Bizet's Carmen and Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore (scheduled in rep from 3 July to 11 September 2004), Verdi's La Traviata and Offenbach's La Belle Helene (25 September to 4 December 2004) and Mozart's The Magic Flute (15 December 2004 to 5 February 2005).
However, Waley-Cohen and Gubbay said plans for these are currently being reviewed, and it looks likely that they will not now go ahead. Today, the Savoy box office stopped taking bookings for any future productions.
First announced last year (See News, 29 Oct 2003), the stated aim of the Savoy Opera was to make the art form more accessible to conventional West End audiences, presenting popular pieces in repertory with tickets priced from £10 to £49.50, often less than half the norm for opera. All operas are sung in English, without amplification, and costs are kept down by casting up-and-comers rather than established opera stars.
Though greeted with much media fanfare, Savoy Opera has received a rougher ride from the arts community. Meanwhile, London’s two other permanent opera houses - the Royal Opera House and the London Coliseum, home to English National Opera – have hit back with their own discount schemes. The ROH’s £10 Mondays are sponsored by Travelex, the foreign exchange company that’s made the National Theatre’s annual £10 season in the Olivier possible.
Creatively, Savoy Opera comes under the artistic direction of Steven Pimlott (also joint artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre), David Parry and Sarah Playfair, who’ve previously worked together at the Leeds-based Opera North. Impresario Gubbay has had significant past successes with D’Oyly Carte’s Gilbert and Sullivan seasons at the Savoy, in-the-round opera presentations at the Royal Albert Hall, and musical revivals like Follies and last summer's On Your Toes. He also presents 600-plus classical concerts across the country each year.
Built in 1882, the Savoy Theatre was the original home for numerous premieres of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. It was the first public building to be lit throughout by electricity. The theatre was virtually destroyed by fire in 1990 but, after extensive refurbishments, it reopened in 1993. With a capacity of some 1,100 seats, the Savoy is about half the size of Covent Garden's Royal Opera House.
- by Terri Paddock