June Opera Meeting

SDUK OPERA MEETING, June 14th 2016

This was a very fruitful and stimulating evening, with approximately thirty opera directors meeting over a glass of wine to discuss what SDUK could be doing for them.

Chairs: Sam Brown (SDUK Opera Committee), Piers Haggard (CEO)

Notes:  Liz Holmes (SDUK Administrator)


  • Fee Schedules can be a problem; companies sometimes only pay once the production is open, Italy being particularly bad: the Italian Arts Council funds retrospectively, so companies often have to take out loans to pay fees upfront.
  • Payment for Preparation is as poorly recognised in Opera as it is in Theatre.
  • Risk of Cancellation is always present in opera, as directors and productions are booked so far in advance.
  • Knowing the Earning Capacities of Conductors, Soloists, etc would be enlightening – most Directors suspect Conductors are paid significantly more than they are.
  • The ‘Culture of the n/a’ is somewhat unique to opera – where singers or conductors are unable to attend all rehearsal days as they are pre-booked, elsewhere. This causes problems for directors.
  • Budget constrictions in small scale companies can mean fees for designers, etc, have to come out of the Directors’ budget. People accept low pay/no pay because they want to do the work. And they also feel morally compromised in setting their own fee, knowing that it will affect others in the company.
  • Radio is leagues ahead of opera in terms of how it nurtures talent. We could draw some inspiration from it.
  • There is a career schism in opera, between the rapidly expanding Fringe scene and the well funded companies that perform ‘the canon’ and are represented by Opera Europa.
  • SDUK will represent UK opera directors at Opera Europa but really needs more in membership for its arguments to have any weight.


  • SDUK should create a document that clarifies the roles of The Director as distinct from Producer, Casting Director, Production Manager etc,. Directors shouldn’t have to do the work of 4 people, but are often expected to.
  • Directors must be forthcoming with information, e,g on fees. Knowledge is strength. SDUK may do a survey to establish average fees and preparation times in opera. (It is currently preparing an SDUK Rate Card for theatre.)


Credits for director and staff director

Protection of the work

  • One SDUK member discovered his work was being revived only by reading the online season brochure. This is sadly common, many companies do not invite the original Director back to revive a production.
  • This betrays a great deal of what they really think about Directors’ status.
  • In a repertory situation, it’s not appropriate to get the same Director back when there may be 30 productions across the year, but it’s respectful to invite them to the opening night, for example! However Directors are often expected to pay for their own tickets to (sometimes awful) revivals of their work.
  • The repertory system rewards the Director whose work is very robust, which is not necessarily the same as being good!
  • The deal isn’t great for the Revival Director either, as they’re not always properly credited.
  • They also often have to revive a show on minimal rehearsal (just 2 weeks) with only 1 chorus session, and with a double cast (all working in the evenings).
  • Some companies call Revival Directors Associate Directors, but that is confusing, and doesn’t imply any ownership of the process.


  • SDUK to promote actively the following standard terminology:

Original Production Directed by __________

Revival Directed by  ___________


  • There is potentially money in digital streaming. Most platforms (including ACE) are desperate for content.
  • As individuals, one’s work appearing on those platforms is desirable, but we need to ensure royalties are paid and credits
  • Residuals are tricky to calculate, as they’re not like TV residuals, but if companies are putting up the funds to film the work, they should also put up a fee to use your work!
  • Music/Written ,Word/Design & Art/Direction is the pecking order on Copyright. Directing is less tangible or describable than any of those, so lower down the list.
  • Choreographers historically have copyright – their work was notated, therefore preserved. Designers too. Notation Is not now necessary, as the work can be recorded on a DVD!
  • There’s a sense from the large opera houses that this streaming negotiation is now over – Directors do not get fees from streaming.
  • Royalties are hard to track, even getting copies of the DVD is impossible for some. This is very disrespectful to the original Director.
  • The Director of the film of a production gets a royalty through a collecting society, but not the Director of the production. This should be at least a 50:50 split. Piers will be raising this with Directors UK.


  • SDUK should canvas views amongst opera directors in order to prepare a consistent, clear and considered pledge for the improved status of the opera Director, based on the intellectual property inherent in the work; this then to be strongly promoted in the industry.

*Opera Committee to pursue this.

SDUK TRAINING COURSE (with National Opera Studio)

  • SDUK has secured some funding, and a ½ term slot at the National Opera Studio for a pilot training week for Directors who haven’t worked in opera. More funding is being sought to ensure that the course can go ahead.
  • One reason behind creating this course is to illustrate the need for opera director training within higher education (where there is currently none). SDUK does not want to pretend that you could train to become an opera director in a week!
  • There are some informal training schemes within universities and colleges. Not quite the same thing, but worth looking at.


  • Observing other directors running a rehearsal room,
  • How to find your ‘team (designers, etc)
  • Mentoring that isn’t about getting a job as Assistant! In order to have mentors and mentees through SDUK, we need to have more opera directors in membership.


  • SDUK to contact Martin Lloyd Evans and Stuart Calder at Guildhall, who were apparently quite interested in starting an opera directing course.


The more of us, the stronger the message – so join SDUK!


 Present at the Meeting

Andrew Davidson, Annabel Arden, Bill Bankes-Jones, Christopher Lane, Christopher Moon-Little, Edwina Strobl, Daisy Evans, Irina Brown, Li E Chen, Maria-Lisa Geyer, Matthew Holmquist, Monika Saunders, Nina Brazier, Oliver Platt, Orpha Phelan, Paul Higgins, Poppy Burton-Morgan, Sarah Helsby-Hughes, Seta White, Sophie Gilpin, Stasi Schaeffer, Thaddeus Strassberger, Thomas Halland, Toria Banks, Valentina Carrasco, William Edelsten, Zerlina Vulliamy.


Emma Black, Mark Burns, Felix Cross, Greg Eldridge, William Kerley, Amy Lane, Elijah Moshinsky, Alex Olle, David Phipps-Davis John Savournin, Robin Tebbut.