Opera Australia has posted the wost operating losses in its history despite selling some of its multi-million dollar Sydney real estate.

The country’s largest performing arts organisation posted an operating loss of $22.6 million in its 2021 annual report released on Monday.

But $37 million from the recent sale of its warehouse in Alexandria, combined with $21 million from state and federal governments, along with income from its capital fund, have helped it back to a surplus of $39 million. 

The problems facing the organisation are indeed operatic in scale.

OA had to cancel about half its planned 2021 productions with box office takings enduring a huge hit for a second year running.

The massive production of Aida in Sydney, for example, made it onstage for only one night.

“Cancelling the whole winter season was a tremendous blow to the company, not only financially but also emotionally and artistically,” artistic director Lyndon Terracini said in the report.

Box office figures improved somewhat in 2021 to just over $17 million, up from $10.6 million in 2020, but are still significantly down on pre-COVID times.

In 2019, OA sold more than half a million tickets, with this figure falling to 80,000 in 2020, before recovering somewhat to almost 128,000 in 2021. 

Opera Australia still faces enormous challenges, according to chief executive Fiona Allan, who took on the job in November believing its recovery would be well underway.

“But COVID still had plenty of sting in its tail and wasn’t through with us yet. Instead of launching a new season we were again navigating another lockdown and an uncertain return to the stage,” she said in a statement.

In September 2020, the company sacked more than 50 of its staff at the height of a COVID outbreak.

The Alexandria warehouse, used to store props and sets, sold for about $46 million, and has been leased back from its new owners.

OA still owns its Elizabeth St headquarters in Sydney.

And despite COVID, thousands ventured out for a night at the opera in 2021, with 36,200 people going to see La Traviata in Sydney, and another 17,350 at Carmen in Melbourne.