From 2-4 November, almost 50 participants from 28 festivals and theatres from 17 countries came together in the picturesque surroundings of Perelada.
The setting could not have been more evocative, with a castle and vineyard in the middle of olive groves on the Costa Brava. Opera Europa's festival members were able to devote themselves entirely to the theme of the three days in an undisturbed think-tank environment: Festivals!
Are festivals the future of opera? asked our host Oriol Aguilà, Katharina Wagner (Bayreuth), Joan Matabosch (Madrid) and Opera Europa's Director Karen Stone to kick off the event. Yes and no: on the one hand, festivals are a wonderful holiday destination offering culture, nature and relaxation, which can also attract new audiences thanks to this overall package of experience. On the other hand, many festivals are highly specialised and therefore a place primarily for connoisseurs.
The following presentations and discussions also centred on this counterpoint. Festivals continue to set strong accents with specialised repertoire that attracts an international audience, in some cases up to 60%, or with contemporary creations that continually renew opera as an art form. At the same time, many festivals play a moulding role for their region. The economic impact on the tourism and hospitality industries is considerable. Artistic co-operations are also forged with other cultural institutions in the city and the surrounding area. Festivals are playing an increasingly important role in the field of educational outreach and music education, enabling them to maintain contact with their audiences over the long period between festivals and, above all, to be actively involved in their communities.
Some theatres also organise festivals during, at the end or at the beginning of their seasons: Repertoire is concentrated and sets an artistic or dramaturgical accent, new venues can be opened up. The local audience is challenged to engage in a different experience of theatre and at the same time the demands of a non-local audience can be met.
Marc Scorca from Opera America and Alejandra Marti from Opera Latinoamerica, both of whom were able to contribute very different transatlantic experiences, were connected via video: In North America, opera festivals represent the most vital form of production, secured by very loyal audiences, the promotion of up-and-coming talent and particularly exciting programmes. In South America, festivals are usually younger and characterised by an interdisciplinary approach, which attracts a rather atypical opera audience.
There was also room in the programme for discussion sessions in which the members exchanged views on sustainability issues and digital content for festivals.
During the meeting, it became clear that festivals differ from theatres above all in terms of their funding. While on average theatres in Europe receive around 70% of their funding from the public purse, the figure for festivals is barely 30%. This results in special attention for regular audiences and patrons. The festival's core team generally knows them all personally and there are several moments during the festival weeks when donors can get involved in the events. The President of the Perelada Festival, Isabel Suqué, explained her personal, family-based approach in this context.
The event was topped off perfectly with a concert by the baroque band 'Tercia Realidad' in the castle church, a visit to the Dalì Museum in Figueres and some fine wines from the region.