The current season of seven operas was done on a $1.6 million dollar budget, although the sets and costumes for three of the Ring operas were paid for in the three prior years, as the operas were unveiled a year at a time until the full cycle was produced. According to the article, in 1997, when the Festival started, it imported musicians from Russia, Bulgaria, and Belarus not only as lead players, but as teachers and holders of master classes. What is extraordinary is not only that "A handful of graduates of the program were among the 75 musicians in the orchestra pit on opening night" less than a decade later, but that among them are musicians like Elismael Lourengo dos Santos,
a 20-year-old clarinetist who spent the first 12 years of his life in a remote jungle community, helping his father fish and farm, and had never seen a live performance by a band until he moved here as a teenager.
"To have this opportunity to play not just Wagner, but the 'Ring' cycle is a real honor and a dream, one that is still a bit hard to believe," dos Santos said after a rehearsal. "If it weren't for the government's program, there is no way I could have gotten this far, because my family is not rich and could never have afforded private instruction for me."
In addition, ticket prices were made deliberately affordable, even on such a small budget, to develop new audiences, even travelling to more remote towns to bring opera to people who've never been exposed to the art form.
How cool is that? (Or, perhaps I should say "How tight is that?," because my 11-year-old friend tells me, "tight" is the new "cool.")