Head of National Opera: I do not want to think about laying off more people

National Opera (Rahvusooper) Director Aivar Mäe.
National Opera (Rahvusooper) Director Aivar Mäe. Source: Meeli Küttim ja Martin Dremljuga

The National Opera Estonia (Rahvusooper) is asking for a subsidy worth €1 million from the state to make ends meet. Currently, the National Opera is planning to lay off 37 employees, and head of the opera house Aivar Mäe says he doesn't want to think about laying off more people.

Speaking on ERR's Vikerraadio morning program Vikerhommik on Monday, Aivar Mäe said: "I don't want to think about it. I want to be positive. The summer is coming and I hope that tourism will start. I am mostly counting on internal tourism. We have to get our economy going ourselves, we can't count on others. If we are consuming and making an effort, we will have tourism as a consequence."

At the moment, the Estonian Opera is planning to lay off 37 employees. "Thank god we are not laying off people on jobs related to the main activity. Primarily, it is to do with catering because the shows finished on March 13 and will not be happening until September 1 and due to that, we need to lay off people in the catering sector."

The National Opera met with the cultural committee of the Riigikogu last week and asked for €960,000 from the state. Mäe said the committee listened to them and he hopes they managed to send the message to the committee. The main message was associated with remaining in the competition.

"When ten years ago we were way ahead of Latvia and Lithuania, then now we are far behind. The workload for the ticket office has grown so heavy because we hadn't had an addition to the budget for 10 years with the exceptions of salary rises," Mäe said.

He added everything else - materials, honoraries - have to come from the revenue of the ticket office but unfortunately, the ticket prices cannot rise because the market is not in favor of increasing them.

"We are facing a problem. On the one hand, we would like to compete with all and everything but we don't have the means for that. When Latvia has the liability of 15 percent, then for Estonia it is almost 40 percent and the risk is too big."

Stage equipment is the biggest worry

Mäe doesn't know whether they will receive the asked for subsidy. But one thing is sure in his opinion - when you don't ask, you definitely don't get. "So I am waiting and hoping," he said.

"Our stage equipment is 30 years old and these run on the first IT solutions and the companies that built the systems in France and Australia don't exist anymore. This means the whole system needs to be updated and for that, but we don't have the money."

The stage equipment failed in the opera house at the beginning of the season, and if there is no support money, then w will have to continue with plan B and do everything by hand. This takes a long time and Mäe said to do it means they need to extend the break in the middle of the performance. "It's very complicated," he said.

Mäe does not believe when the borders reopen, tourism will start to grow. "This recovery will still take a few years. People have fears and we hear here and there that there will be other waves coming."

At the same time, Mäe is not interested by the idea of doing things online due to circumstances, because he does not consider it to be real theater.

"Word theater suffers to do it, but if you're in a theater and you have a very close relationship with an artist who's on stage and you have to deliver music, those quality requirements are quite different. You can do it a little bit, but it's boring."

The National Opera Estonia will start their new season on September 1 with "Anna Karenina".

Theaters were closed in March in the first round of restrictions implemented by the government to stop the spread of coronavirus. They reopened earlier this month but audience numbers have been limited.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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