Set up in 1964 under the name Réunion des Théâtres Lyriques Municipaux de France (RTLMF), the association has changed its appellation several times : having become Réunion des Théâtre Lyriques de France (RTLF) in 1991, it became the Réunion des Opéras de France (ROF) in 2003. Its development remains closely linked to that of the world of opera, within its historic, institutional and political context.
Photo : Pierre Grosbois, 2011, Atys, Opéra Comique
An Intermunicipal Understanding
A unique federative structure, the RTLMF comes into being in a context of deep crisis: the opera houses are stifled by a lack of means, local municipalities have proven to be incapable of meeting their full financial obligations and the State has shown itself to be little concerned by the difficulties confronting operatic art in the provinces.
Set up on the basis of an intermunicipal understanding bringing together the elected representatives of thirteen founding cities – Avignon, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Metz, Montpellier, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Strasbourg, Rouen, Toulouse and Tours –, the association thus comes into being through a strong militant act, aiming to “defend within the local framework operatic art in all its shapes and forms”.
The founding of the RTLMF is accomplished in close collaboration with the State. Mouthpiece for local set-ups towards this last, and a tool towards the establishment of artistic decentralization, the association rapidly becomes a major player of national policies in favour of opera.
An essential interlocutor
The RTLMF little by little reveals itself to be the essential interlocutor between the State and the operatic theatres of the provinces: true right-hand of the cultural affair authorities, the RTLMF lays down the criteria for subsidies, participates in the debates which determine the amount of aid allocated, receives and redistributes this last between the different opera houses that are affiliated to the association. During the 1970s, the main activity of the RTLMF is essentially to negociate and manage the state subsidies intended for its members.
The start of the 1980s marks a fundamental step in the relationship between the RTLMF and the State: this last chooses not to go through the association to distribute the subsidies, the admissibility of the applications no longer being dependent upon the operatic theatres’ membership of the RTLMF association. Concurrently, the Ministry withdraws responsibility from the RTLMF for determining the criteria of subsidization, these criteria being established thenceforth by a decree of 1983.
An evolution of its role
The State having thus established its will to be thenceforth sole arbiter in financial matters, the RTLMF is led to redefine the scope of its actions. In the course of the 1980s, the association continually enlarges the field of its activities in order to focus on a new role of reflection, of presenting statistical studies, of dialogue and of cooperation on all aspects of operatic theatre, be they artistic or administrative.
This evolution leads to a change of the statutes in 1991 as well as to a new appellation: the association becomes the RTLF – mark of its new focus on the institutions themselves; the criteria for membership become markedly more flexible, and missions become clearly defined. At the same time, the structure becomes professionalized in 1998 with the recruitment of a chief representative to manage the association.
The chairmanship of Laurent Hénart, as from 2001, marks a turning point in the development of the association with, notably, the publishing in April 2002 of an official report on operatic art in France, followed by a review of the statutes in 2003 (which gives rise to the ROF) and in 2004 the signature of a three-year convention with the Ministry of Culture and of Communication; as of 2007 there is a participation in/the creation of the European Day of Opera, as well as renewed human and financial means …
The ROF is a network which today regroups 33 opera houses, operatic institutions or operatic festivals, each distinct but all united around one same project, that of a public service devoted to operatic art.