The director of the Washington Opera said yesterday he would miss the artistic competition of the Metropolitan Opera at the Kennedy Center next year but not its fund-raising rivalry.
"I'm sorry the Met is not coming back to Washington," Martin Feinstein said. "I think that competition is healthy for both parties. Audiences compare Washington Opera productions to Met productions, and I don't think the Washington Opera has suffered by the comparison."
Feinstein was attending a conference of opera companies in St. Louis when the Met announced Thursday in New York that it will not return to the Kennedy Center next year and will cancel its entire national tour after the 1985-86 season.
"This is a step we have taken after much consideration, and with great reluctance, but it has become unavoidable," Bruce Crawford, president of the Metropolitan Opera, told reporters in New York. "The tour has been economically unsound for several years, and has resulted in losses to the Metropolitan Opera of well over $1 million a year."
Since the tour began as a cultural outreach program a century ago, Crawford said, local opera companies have begun to "develop and expand" in many of the tour cities. "It is our hope that the local companies will continue to flourish." Washington Opera spokesmen said they plan to do exactly that.
In recent years, the Washington Opera has had a number of productions comparable to the Met in quality but has had serious financial problems, probably because the Met tour absorbed much of the money available for opera in this city. If the Met phases out its Washington fund-raising, which had been linked to the annual visits, this could open new sources of funds for the Washington Opera at a critical point in its economic development.
After several years of rapid growth, the Washington Opera has announced a severely reduced season for 1985-86: only five productions compared to seven in recent years and 47 performances compared to 72.. The company's problem is not ticket sales, which continue to boom but don't fully support any opera company anywhere.The shortage comes in the private and corporate contributions and government subsidies that make up 63 percent of its annual budget.
The Washington Opera regularly sells more than 90 percent of its available seats and this year's sales are now 27 percent ahead of last year. The two Terrace Theater productions "Daughter of the Regiment" and "Christopher Columbus" are expected to sell out on subscription and there may be a serious ticket shortage when the season opens with "Don Giovanni" Oct. 26.
"Each December, when our season is at its height, the Met sends out a mail campaign for funds," Feinstein said. "I've been advised unofficially that this campaign raises around $125,000. That would not be a substantial part of our budget, but I hope that we will be able to get the Met's list and solicit those patrons."
Patricia Fleischer, the company's director of development and marketing, said that the cancellation of the Met's visit should "brighten the subscription picture" for the Washington opera. "People in Washington are hungry for opera," she said, "and our subscription brochure will be going out at about the time the Met would normally be coming to Washington. That hunger may help us to sell more subscriptions. And that will help us ultimately with fund raising . . . Happy subscribers make happy contributors."
The Met, Feinstein said, "has played a great role here, not only in its tours but in its radio and television performances. It has stimulated interest in opera enormously, and all American opera companies owe it a great debt of gratitude."