It’s not an uncommon practice for orchestras to subcontract out the services of their ensemble to the local opera companies. Orchestras from smaller budget ROPA ensembles, like Richmond (VA) through larger ICSOM groups, like St. Louis, do it on a regular basis. However, what works in one locale does not necessarily transfer equally to another.
Most organizations attempt to make the relationship as symbiotic as possible, but that’s not always how things come about. Recent events in Louisville and Houston demonstrate the latter of these tendencies as one member of the relationship decides that this sort of relationship will inevitably become less than symbiotic.
In Louisville, the Kentucky Opera decided not to use the services of the Louisville Orchestra and opted for hiring student players from the University of Louisville School of Music. In Houston, the board of the Houston Grand Opera officially rejected the Houston Symphony’s pitch to become their regular opera orchestra and instead signed a multi year contract with their existing core of union represented musicians (who have recently become an official ROPA member orchestra).
In both orchestra organizations, the decision by their local opera companies comes at a precarious time. Both orchestras have suffered some of the worst financial difficulties from among all of the orchestras who have posted large deficits since the early part of the decade, the musicians in both ensembles have accepted severe concessions in compensation and benefits.
Even more interesting are the apparent motives behind each of the respective opera organization’s decisions.
In Louisville, it appears that the Opera organization’s decision is based on economic constraints; they can’t afford to pay the Louisville Orchestra what its players deserve for the number of rehearsals their productions would require.
In Houston, their issues have nothing to due with budgetary constraints so much as their apparent belief that using the Houston Symphony’s musicians would restrict their ongoing artistic growth.
It’s intriguing to note that both opera organizations seem to find motivation based on the extreme ends of financial and artistic success. However, in both cases it’s the orchestras which end up losing the most from a potential association.
In the end, it’s certain that any organization will make their decisions based on what they feel will work best for their ensemble. Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping track of these decisions to see if maintaining a close artistic relationship with significant financial requirements tends to strain or prohibit a relationship as either organization approaches rapid expansion or critical economic stress.
As for orchestras in Louisville and Houston, they’re now forced to find other revenue streams to replace the funds they hoped would materialize from a partnership wit their respective opera organizations.