Despite opposition, his ideas have mostly worked. Opera Australia have tripled audience and turnover in the past 10 years, with 600000 tickets sold in 2019 compared to 200000 when he started in the role.
“Given that opera companies are closing around the world and we’re doing the opposite, we must be doing something right,” he said.
The company is doing more performances than ever before. 923 are scheduled for next year – and Mr Terracini is quick to point out that Opera Australia is “the only opera company in the world where more than half our budget is funded by ticket sales.”
When asked about LED panels replacing traditional stage sets, he pointed to a program in Brisbane at the end of 2020 where two shows will run at the same time. On nights where Richard Wagner’s epic four-opera Ring Cycle is not performed, Aida will be. That would be “impossible” without the panels, he said.
“There may be some people who are critical of LED panels, but that’s what the world is becoming. Most people say that the panels enhance their experience at the opera.”
“Most people will have an opinion about what you do, particularly when you’re instigating change.”
Composer and former arts administrator Kim Williams said that in the circumstances, thinking outside the box was almost necessary.
“The dilemma with all major Australian arts companies, to put it very directly, is that they are chronically underfunded and in a state of relentless financial pressure,” he said.
“The pressures are more so than in any comparable companies in Europe or Canada (the USA ecology is completely different) and result in programming imperatives which require a broad brush for many publics.”
Mr Williams said that management and artistic directors face a difficult task charting a reliable course to operational viability and sustainability.
“The only thing I would ever charge all artistic bodies with is a long-postponed reckoning with governments. A reckoning which stands up and defends the arts and advocates restoration in funding. The stakes are high and the financial settings truly perilously poised. Something has to give, eventually.
Commonwealth arts funding has declined over a 10-year period from 2008 by 18 per cent.
“Complaining about programming outcomes which are an outcome of sustained funding decline and severe cost pressures is simply a dead end which misses the whole point,” he said.
Mr Terracini said that critics have to realise that we’re in the 21st century, not the 19th or 20th.
“We’ve been diversifying far more than any other opera company in the world,” he said, while teasing a “huge project” coming up in Victoria which would “change the nature of Opera-going in Melbourne.”
He wouldn’t divulge many details but ruled out venues such as the MCG or Rod Laver Arena.
“It will be a very different event and one that will excite not only the opera-loving public but anyone who goes to a show. We need to play to as many people as we possibly can – and the event in Melbourne will be playing to an extremely large audience.”
When asked if it was good for such an important institution to have one person in charge for so long, he quickly points out that Joe Volpe was running the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 25 years.
“I’m not suggesting I’ll stay for that long, but that was an incredibly successful period for the Met.”
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.