Following an internal review of its management structure, State Opera of South Australia has appointed two executive positions to take charge. Whereas previously one person ran the company with joint responsibilities in its management and artistic direction, these functions have now been split. SOSA’s board has announced that on 1 March, Yarmila Alfonzetti will be executive director and Stuart Maunder artistic director.
Alfonzetti comes in having previously served as CEO of Sydney Youth Orchestras, and before that she was the Sydney Opera House’s head of classical music. Maunder, meanwhile, has a long history in producing opera in three countries: in the UK as staff director at Royal Opera, Covent Garden in 1992-1997, in Australia as executive producer at Opera Australia in 2004-2008, and across the Tasman as general director of New Zealand Opera from 2014 until now.
SOSA’s new management model makes abundant sense, especially when combined with this expertise. It puts the company on a more secure, professional footing. Until he abruptly resigned in May 2017, Timothy Sexton served as both chief executive and artistic director. He even regularly conducted in the pit and contributed his own arrangements to many chamber-style productions, including the Philip Glass Trilogy (2002-6 and 2014). While this worked well enough for his six years at the helm – and undoubtedly cut costs – a ‘one man band’ solution is not the long-term way to secure an opera company’s future.
State Opera SA has done remarkably well with a small staff. Two productions of Wagner’s Ring (1998 and 2004) and some important Australian premieres – such as Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre (2010) and Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick (respectively in 2003 and 2011) attest to that. However, last year’s National Opera Review laid down a number of challenges for the company that call for immediate attention. These include building a more professional image and restoring audience loyalty following some questionable decisions over venue. This year, it consolidates its whole season into the Adelaide Festival Theatre, considered by many to be its rightful home.
The National Opera Review also concluded that unless SOSA can work harder at marketing and generating income, it might need to enter into a “shared service model” with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. However, that would obviously seriously erode the identities of both organisations.
Between them, Alfonzetti and Maunder, both hailing from NSW, look to possess the depth of experience to avoid any such scenario and bring new strength to Australia’s smallest major opera company.
SOSA begins its 2018 season with a new production of The Pearl Fishers by Michael Gow in May – details here.