‘A period of rebirth’: Lyndon Terracini steps down early from Opera Australia

<span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Within a week of former Australian Consumer and Competition Commission chair Rod Sims taking the helm at Opera Australia, the company’s creative leader has announced his resignation, more than 12 months before his contract expires.

Opera Australia announced on Thursday its artistic director of 13 years, Lyndon Terracini, would stand down from his position early, formally leaving the company next Friday 14 October.

Terracini said it was his decision to bring forward his departure, because his situation had become “uncomfortable”.

“I can’t just be hanging around for another year, which wouldn’t be good for me and not good for the company,” he said, adding that he had conveyed his intention to leave early to the board’s previous chair, Glyn Davis, six to eight weeks ago.

Terracini’s replacement is expected to be announced before the end of the year.

“I don’t think you can have two artistic directors hanging around for [a] year … it would be an impediment to them and then I would feel really uncomfortable,” he said.

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“And I started talking to people [asking] about what I’m going to do next, and that would be a conflict of interest with Opera Australia. I was feeling uncomfortable about that.”

The announcement leaves the company without an artistic leader, with OA chief executive Fiona Allan citing logistical delays in securing Terracini’s successor following a global search that began earlier this year.

The Guardian understands the executive and board have narrowed the shortlist down to three candidates.

Allan, who took up the chief executive role in August last year, said she was grateful for Terracini’s artistic vision and depth of musical knowledge, as the second longest-serving artistic director in the company’s 65-year history.

Sources within Opera Australia and the wider arts community have told Guardian Australia there has been conflict between the artistic director and the chief executive throughout 2022, allegations both Allan and Terracini have dismissed.

A workplace survey conducted earlier in the year found that one in three respondents at the company had experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace.

Allan promised in May all allegations would be investigated, and confirmed on Thursday an independent workplace culture consultancy had been called in to investigate. She said no formal report had been written after the investigation, but a number of cultural awareness initiatives had been implemented, including the establishment of a gender diversity and inclusion group, a “refresh” of bullying and harassment training, and the setting up of a whistleblowing hotline.

Allan said the survey findings had been discussed with the directors of all company departments, including its artistic director, “to try to bring back a healthy responsive culture here in Opera Australia that was really shattered over the course of the pandemic, with people being out of work and one in four employees being made redundant”.

Terracini said the survey results had surprised him but he had not discussed them directly with the board or executive.

When Sims spoke to the Guardian last week, the newly announced chair said he would be overseeing a “shift in the dial” at Opera Australia.

The issue of workplace culture at the company was “a board issue, and one that we must take up,” he said.

Allan said the company still hoped to name its new artistic director by the end of the year.

The list of attributes listed in the material sent to candidates internationally earlier this year, seen by the Guardian, are detailed and extensive.

The artistic leader of the company must “foster team spirit, working closely with the CEO and executive”, “value a diversity of backgrounds, opinions and ways of working”, possess “naturally collaborative” skills and demonstrate “respectfulness, humility, openness, honesty and integrity”.

“Maintaining positive relations with the media,” is also a requirement from the new artistic director.

“We do see this as a period of rebirth or renewal Opera Australia,” Allan said.

“We’re looking for an artistic leader who can steward the company for the next decade … and put the development of Australian talent at the foremost and will have a really collaborative and inclusive leadership.”

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The job description also placed emphasis on commitment to developing and leading Australian talent and maintaining an appropriate balance between Australian and international artists.

Both Sims and Allan said they believed the company needed to refocus attention on fostering and showcasing Australian artistic and creative talent on the operatic stage.

“And that is something the board is going to have an influence on, and move that dial,” Sims said.

According to a spreadsheet sent to the Guardian last week from an external source, in the past decade Opera Australia has reduced its engagement of Australian singers – in favour of overseas artists – by 62%. When it comes to lead role appearances, that drop rises to almost 75%.

“What we’re looking for is someone who’s going to be putting the development of Australian talent and new Australian work first and foremost,” Allan said.

“We are moving into a new period and that is why we’re looking for new artistic director and that is one of the considerations that we’ve taken, wanting to rebalance the proportion of international and Australian talent.”