Culture Suffers From European Austerity: Famed Vienna Opera Ordered To Cut Costs

on Jul 30, 2012 01:14 PM EDT

Almost no sphere of European life has been spared the economic malaise that has spread across the continent in recent years.

The prestigious Vienna State Opera House -- also known as the Wiener Staatsoper -- has been warned by the Austrian government to come up with savings of €10 million ($12.4 million) in order to help the state cut spending to reduce debt and balance the budget.

The 143-year-old Opera house, where Gustav Mahler and Herbert von Karajan, among others, have performed their musical magic over the decades, currently receives about €56.4 million from the Austrian government annually. The facility stages up to 60 productions each year, with about 200 performances in total.

But it is unclear how exactly the venue will streamline its operations.

Austrian media reports that the opera will likely have to raise ticket prices.

"How we are meant to achieve [spending cuts] was not explained since the Vienna State Opera is a very efficiently run opera house," the house's musical director, Franz Welster-Moest, told Austrian television.

He also declared that the Vienna house is one of the busiest and most successful of such cultural institutions in the world.

"Compared internationally, we have the highest box office takings," he said.

"The Bavarian State Opera is 10 million [euros] behind us, the Berlin State Opera, 20 million behind us. We have a capacity utilization of almost 99 percent. There are no possibilities to increase our revenues."

Indeed, BBC reported that for the fiscal year ended in June 2012, the opera house generated profit of €31.3 million.

Welser-Moest further warned that culture must not be sacrificed in the name of fiscal austerity.

"The Salzburg Festival, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna State Opera -- these are institutions in which we lead the world. What else do we know how to do?" he asked.

"Becoming the best is hard. But staying on top is considerably more difficult, requiring incredible amounts of innovation and investment," he said.

According to government figures, Austria's public debt level climbed to 73.5 percent of GDP in the first quarter of 2012, meaning that the government's debt jumped by 1.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011.

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