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The State of the London Opera Guild - 2016

The 2015-2016 opera season for the London Opera Guild has, in many ways, been a good one. Our members have been able to attend outstanding productions of the Canadian Opera Company (with the one exception, in my opinion, of Pyramus and Thisbe, a quasi-operatic tone poem that masqueraded as an opera for all of 50 minutes). Rick Philipps, Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon were our speakers, and we concluded the series with a brilliant operatic recital by Marjorie Maltais (mezzo-soprano), Cristina Pisani (soprano) and Patrick Bowman (baritone), with Melanie Cancade as pianist. We had the opportunity to see UWOpera's Falstaff, with Chad Louwerse in the title role, and, in the tenth season of MetOpera HD broadcasts, we were able to be present (virtually) at the Met's outstanding productions.

However, this past season also brought into clearer focus some unsettling tendencies in the history of the London Opera Guild. Members are buying fewer tickets to productions of the Canadian Opera Company and they are buying fewer seats on the opera bus. Attendance at our meetings has not been good; only nineteen of our approximately 150 members attended the annual general meeting. Those who did heard me read my president's report, the substance of which is in the report which you are reading.

We are faced with a present loss of revenue, and I believe that we will see further declines in the money which the Guild can raise. We are by no means facing imminent bankruptcy or even serious financial problems at the moment, but we are confronted by several longer-range problems which are not unique to this Guild, as well as by some problems which are unique to us. Let me define the state of things as simply and clearly as possible, beginning with a description of our historical responsibilities.

The Guild has several mandates. It was founded to encourage the appreciation of opera among its members, as well as to provide as much support as it could to the Canadian Opera Company. In the last two decades the Guild has also taken on the support of opera students in the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario; we have awarded some 77 scholarships to outstanding students of voice. In the last few years, we have also been giving away tickets to UWOpera productions to high-school students; my rough guess is that we have sponsored about 150 students in this program. We have also twice sponsored the young people's group of the COC in productions of opera written especially for elementary-school students, and both events were highly successful. During the six years in which I have been president, our Guild has given away at least $7,000 annually, split almost equally between the COC and the opera program in the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario.

The questions facing all members of the London Opera Guild are these:

(1) what are the financial prospects for the Guild?
(2) if, given these financial prospects, we believe that the Guild will have the resources to continue, what direction should the Guild take?
(3) if, given these financial prospects, we believe that the Guild will not have the resources to continue as it is, what direction should the Guild take?

I will attempt to answer these questions:

(1) the long-range financial prospects for the Guild are not good. We depend financially (i) on the margin between the subscriptions we buy from the COC and the tickets we sell to members; and (ii) on the margin between the rental cost of the opera bus and the revenue from the sale of seats. Because the sales of tickets to COC performances and of seats on the opera bus for these performances have declined rather sharply, especially over the past season, any recovery from declining revenues would depend on an yet unforeseen increase in ticket sales and sales of seats on the opera bus;

(2) the Guild might be able to continue in its usual fashion for a year or two, barely breaking even and relying on the money we have in the bank, but I do not foresee a positive change in our sources of revenue;

(3) the Guild could change the ways in which it fulfills its mandate, perhaps by changing how it conducts meetings, e.g., by sponsoring a series of recitals by opera students rather than a series of speakers; it could reduce its donations to the COC (already the case for 2016) and to scholarships for UWO opera students (although I would oppose this kind of decrease); or it could become a social club for opera fans (the model for a number of opera guilds in Ontario). These are not the only choices, of course. Should revenues decline even more rapidly, there might be no choice but to close the Guild; this has already happened to the Western New York Guild, the Peterborough Build and, just this past May, the closing of the Oakville Guild, which had been functioning without interruption since it was founded 68 years ago.

Were we to be forced to close for one reason or another, we would have to choose what to do with any remaining money. We could donate it to the COC, although it would be a small contribution indeed, given the $60 million budget of the COC. We could donate it to the University of Western Ontario as an endowment for a scholarship to be given to an outstanding student of voice in the Faculty of Music. Given the impressive record of the Faculty in producting outstanding operatic singers, I, for one, would find such a course of action clearly preferable.

We are at a critical point in the history of the London Opera Guild. If you, as a member of the Guild, have an opinion on this topic and perhaps a suggestion, now is the time to let your Board know what you think. The decisions which the Board will have to make in the near future will affect all of us and will determine the future of the London Opera Guild. Therefore it is important that you print and then fill out the questionnaire(pdf) in this Newsletter   OR   answer the questions electronically. You may also write to me directly at eredekop@rogers.com . I will make sure that all members of the Board share each one of your responses before we make decisions about the future of our Guild..

                        Ernie Redekop, president