Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mordake Finances

Since other composers and artists are often curious about the finances of my operas, let's please have a moment of silence here for all the dollars burned to a cinder in my many vanity productions. 


I watched Mr. Deeds goes to Town the other night, a Frank Capra feel-good illusory bit of fluff that seems to imply that good conquers evil and other loads of misinformed gobbledygook, in which there was a moment where Deeds as the newly minted chairman of the opera board is informed that oh my my of course the opera never makes money (see Tit. 1:11) at which point he states the unwelcome obvious: maybe the opera isn't performing things that people want to see. The rest of the stuffed shirts on the board are of course shocked but we as the audience know this to be the simple truth. Opera, and especially modern opera, is a niche of a niche of niche of niche and, if disappeared tomorrow, would sink below the surface of the culture with the barest ripple.

But we modern oddball opera types beg and borrow and sometimes steal and try to convince those with their hand on the spigot of some real money that what we do is important, good for you, like eating your broccoli, and that it makes perfect sense to subsidize us wastrels, bohemians and good-for-nothings to produce fashionable nonsense that will assuage their robber-baron guilt-ness.

And here's the bottom line: Mordake was in about the middle of the expense range of my past productions, not too hot nor too cold, just in the middle, and I was able to wheedle about $35K in grant-based funding (requiring about twenty-five actual filings) to help cover those costs. In addition, there was about $1K in box office earnings and, as usual, about $10K of my own money.  I have noticed that, hard as I try to contain things, and whether or not the production is at the high side or the low side of the expense compass, this last figure is always about the same, a small bit of hair shirt that penances me for my folly. 

I have been led to believe that there are some people who don't lose money on their productions.  I believe there are people whose artistic and theatrical works are actually sought out and remunerated generously, like the recently minted PhD in Astrophysics and erstwhile guitar hero Brian May.  But I seem to have failed quite miserably in this particular aspect of my musical career and mayhap I do need to accept the unwanted and unwelcome obvious.


Michael Czeiszperger said...

Perhaps there's something to be learned from Frank Zappa, who managed to compose exactly what he wanted, financing orchestra pieces and other money-losers with the commercial successes?

Erling Wold said...

And he was lucky enough to have other people finance his orchestra pieces and other 'high' art endeavors too, which is the definition of non-vanity press. I'm also being a bit extreme, and not everything I do is vanity press. Other people have produced the operas and the masses and so on. The mass alone cost $65K or something like that, paid for by the religion taxes of the good people of Switzerland.

Lynne Rutter said...

well i think it's worth doing even if you have to finance it yourself, whore yourself out, work a day job, or whatever gets it done. civilization itself depends art being produced. civilized societies support their artists.

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