“The first rule in opera is the first rule in life: see to everything yourself.” — Nellie Melba
The Musicians of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra want to see it for ourselves but unfortunately, Minnesota Opera President and General Director Ryan Taylor won’t let us see for ourselves. He insists on confidentiality agreements to see basic financial information.
We’ve been working without a contract since July — that’s a first in over 30 years — and it’s time that we see everything related to the finances of the Minnesota Opera.
Minnesota Opera management recently asked donors to “make a gift to create an open, inclusive, and accessible opera company.”
We agree. We believe the Musicians of the Minnesota Opera deserve a seat at the table to create a shared vision for the future; to create an open, inclusive, and accessible opera.
That vision should include transparency about the artistic and financial future of the Minnesota Opera including a strong, fully unionized orchestra.
The Musicians believe the following are reasonable requests of Opera management:
- Sharing the use of taxpayer funding received related to the COVID-19 pandemic
- More complete financial information — we still have unanswered questions
- Sharing of revenue projections and costs and plans for productions
Unfortunately, Taylor recently wrote that the Musicians aren’t entitled to know the specific use of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) taxpayer-funded assistance the Minnesota Opera received.
When we ask for basic financial information, management insists we sign a secrecy pledge. The information we request is something that should be available to the public via the Minnesota Opera’s annual report or for donors to understand how their donations are being used. This transparency is fundamental to a fair negotiation, and to ensure the donors and opera fans can trust management.
Instead, the management inexplicably has cut much of the Orchestra’s work and refuses to provide any job security while insisting it is not because of financial challenges.
In a recent letter, management said these cuts “are not the result of financial issues,” but rather because “…the Opera is not interested in an agreement that requires it to use the orchestra in the same manner as it did prior to the COVID pandemic.”
Interesting, because the Taylor plan includes cuts to audience and major productions, for instance:
- Cut 2 of 5 Ordway productions, replace with 2 productions at the Luminary Arts Center with no plans to restore in the future
- Charge more for tickets in a smaller venue, rather than produce opera for a larger audience at a lower ticket price
The reality is that according to the numbers, Minnesota Opera management is actually using donor and taxpayer money to make opera less open, more exclusive and less accessible.
The math is simple:
- Total seats for 2 productions at the Ordway (8 performances total) = 15,200
- Total seats for 2 productions at the Luminary (16 performances total) = 3,584
Our community values the arts; we’re a world-class leader. The covenant between the community and our arts institutions is based on a deep appreciation for artists. After all, without the artists, the museums, theaters, and orchestras wouldn’t exist.
It’s time for the community to see what the Minnesota Opera Orchestra deserves to see: a plan for the future of the world-class Minnesota Opera.
Rebecca Arons is a cellist for the Minnesota Opera Orchestra who wrote this piece in collaboration with other members of the Minnesota Opera Orchestra Negotiating Committee.