Why opera is losing its US audience

Think-tanker Aaron Renn has some suggestions:

1 Older operagoers prefer HD operas at their local movie house.

Opera is a deeply troubled enterprise. Its financial model is broken as it struggles with Baumol’s cost disease, among other problems.  It has artistic challenges such as the lack of new operas entering the repertory, which leads companies to try to artistically innovate through outré productions that by and large don’t work.

But its most basic problem is that its audience is literally dying.

As recently as 2008 the Metropolitan Opera sold 92% of its seats. Today that’s down into the 70s. Even truly excellent productions sometimes play to a house that’s a third or more empty.

 

met half full

2 Audience development sucks.

I also attended the Lyric Opera of Chicago for many years. One Saturday night I ran into a young woman (mid-20s) from work at the performance. The opera in question happened to be Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage, an obscure opera and a complete dud of a production.

This woman had never been to an opera before. I asked her how she picked this opera as her first. She told me she’d called the Lyric to buy tickets and they suggested this one.

I about blew a sprocket.

Here the Lyric had a twenty-something professional interested in trying out the opera for the first time. Instead of sending her to Carmen or another famous crowd pleaser and otherwise making sure she had a “WOW” experience, the Lyric dumped their worst ticket of the season on her, one that I’d guess wasn’t selling well.

Read Aaron’s analysis here.

midsummer marriage

© Mike Evans/Lebrecht

 

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    • Well, it’s not an analysis, just a few thoughts about his own experience. It’s not surprising that opera (and symphony concerts as well) are not gaining audiences. Young people have no connection to this kind of music and aren’t interested in paying $80 for a bad seat to experience it. It’s like that restaurant down the street serving Yak on a bed of grass starting at $150. Most people are just going to pass it by. They have no familiarity with it, it’s not appealing on the face of it, and at $150 a pop, it’s not something you want to experiment with just to find out. They can live quite nicely without it, thank you.

      You can’t expect adults by the time they have the extra income to go to a concert or opera to be interested in something they’re completely unfamiliar with. We have little to no music in schools. In any case, kids who study music are mostly uninterested in this kind of music anyway.

      Each culture has its time and when that time has come and gone, it’s gone. Having regularly gone to concerts for the last 50 plus years my current experience in NYC is like being at an American Civil War Veterans convention at around 1920. Just a few stragglers left and the feeling is of being in God’s waiting room, as they say. On the other hand, you don’t have to entice people to go to the local football or basketball game. This is our culture now and we have to get over it.

      The Met has tried to be hip by grotesquely updating its productions – at least the ones I’ve seen so far this year – Tosca and Lulu – but we are past the point of attracting those in the know, because there are less and less of that cohort to attract. As Sol Hurok once said, if the audience doesn’t want to come, nothing will stop them, certainly not a Lulu performance with an unnamed female on her back wiggling her legs in the air on top of a piano for three hours.

      We just have to face facts. It’s over and all the whining and moaning is not going to change that. If one really wants to maintain some artifacts of that culture we are going to have to shift our energies and money from bloated, mega-productions of second rate repertoire to sharing the best of our historical culture with the young. Only when it becomes a part of their experience as youngsters will they value it as adults. You don’t expect adults to read Faulkner or Joyce if they never read anything more complex than comic strips, do you?

  • [[ It has artistic challenges such as the lack of new operas entering the repertory ]]

    Crap.

    There is no shortage of new works. There is a shortage of audiences willing to go to them. And while idiots like Aaron Renn think that “Carmen” is the only thing he could recommend to new opera-goers, this situation will never change. But opera has never suffered from a deficit of doom-mongers like Renn, hollering nonsense from the sidelines about what they “think”. Imagine if someone had never been a musical before? What would Renn prescribe? “No, don’t fer chrissake try anything new! Go to The King & I”

    It’s a pity that this so-called “opera fan” Renn hates operas like Michael Tippett’s “A Midsummer Marriage” (“a complete dud” – Renn). In his ideal world, the only operas worth staging at all (the ones he calls “WOW!” operas – geddit, “WOW!” operas!) would be Carmen, Traviata, Hoffmann, Aida, and The Pearl Fishers. No Wagner, of course – we have our sponsors to think of. Nothing written after 1890. And nothing from before 1785.

    Renn really needs to go back to his double act with Stimpy. He was much funnier then. And it was about his intellectual level.

    • I believe you are misinterpreting the “dud” remark. It isn’t his evaluation of the opera. It is his evaluation of the production. “a complete dud of a production”.

      and I see nothing wrong with sending a first-timer to a popular opera rather than something more obscure. had my first opera been Lulu I might never have listened to opera again (although admittedly it is still not my favourite).

      your comparison with a Broadway show is disingenuous, however. ALL Broadway shows are by their very nature “popular”. A musical that does not immediately attract an audience by being crowd-pleasing is a musical that does not last long in a theatre.

        • For the very reason Mikey cites in the following sentence. Musicals (by and large) are put on, and have survived, by being popular, and commercially successful; i.e. people enjoy them and want to see them. The ones that weren’t died a death, and quickly, since there’s no public subsidy to support them. The vast majority of musicals one might find being staged anywhere to go and see are ‘popular’ by some definition of that term which suggests that sufficient people want to go and see them.
          The same is not true of less popular operas, which may well be staged to suit either a donor who like it and will pay for it, because a high-profile director wants to put it on, or to suit a funding requirement, just as much as because anyone thinks an audience might enjoy it.

    • You make a point regarding old chestnuts vs. newer operas, but I wonder…

      This young woman apparently asked a box office person (who is after all just a sales clerk) to recommend something for a beginner to opera. From box offices I have known, anyone with an eye to advancement would try to flog off something that was not selling. This is not someone interested in encouraging a beginner into opera — where I think Carmen would be an easier indoctrination than a Midsummer Marriage, quite frankly, and I speak as someone who hopes (in vain, as long as there are commercials) never to hear a note of Carmen ever again. Box offices and their managements and other marketeers are in the business of trying to fill up halls where people decline to tread, to the point that subscribers are often offered comps to some concert that absolutely nobody is buying.

      I suspect this opera virgin may opt for a life of opera celibacy from here on in, because of an inconsiderate first partner. And I seriously doubt, given it is probably a job with high turnover, that many houses would invest in training of their box office staffs, to familiarise them with the “product” they are selling.

      • I agree with you, but there are a number of unknown provisos…

        1) Was Carmen in the repertoire, at the time this young lady wanted to see a show? Were tickets available, at a price which was acceptable to her? Was Carmen a genuine alternative to The Midsummer Marriage, for the same money, and over the same dates? Or is this just some clickbait bunkum Aaron Renn has concocted?

        2) I find it hard to believe that a novice going to buy a ticket would not, of their own volition, chosen the world-famous opera Carmen, rather than an obscure opera by Britten.

        3) Maybe it is true – in the poisonous little world of Aaron Renn – that an evil box-office clerk, motivated by greed and hatred, deliberately sold a ticket to the notorious “dud” Tippett opera, instead of WOW! Carmen. But I doubt it. In fact I call BS on Aaron Renn and his entire crapulous screed.

        4) I wonder if Mr Renn is personally acquainted with the newbie opera-goer he writes about (or invented from scratch to suit his Met-bashing bitchery). Has he actually seen either Carmen or Midsummer Marriage? Or is he talking out of is rear as usual?

        • There are too many “perhaps’s” of course, but suffice to say that Chicago Lyric Opera, the company in question, helpfully provide a list of all past productions on their website. One Google search shows that in the same early part of the 2005 season as the Tippett, they did indeed stage Carmen.

          Now, we don’t know if the ticket-buyer in question was asking in general for something to see, or had a specific week in mind. We can’t know that, either, so there’s little point in dwelling on it – but they *were* performing Carmen in proximity to the Tippett. It’s not conceivable that there was only one date the ticket buyer could have gone, because in that case a question about recommending a show wouldn’t have made any sense.

          Overlapping with the Tippet they were performing Manon Lescaut and Die Zauberflote, and I imagine Mr. Renn would feel that replacing Carmen with either of those tried-and-tested staples in the story would suffice just as well.

  • Yeah, this might not be the most profound analysis ever, but he’s got a point. Opera houses could do much better in audience development, not only in the US. I guess most European companies don’t have any systematic approach to this. Why not marking extra the announcements of productions that seem especially suitable for newbies? Why not an extra section on the website “opera for beginners”?

    What is done instead: if a production doesn’t sell well (there might be a reason), they try by any means to get more people into it – raffles at funfairs included. The best way of getting people once, and only once into the house.

    • [[ I guess most European companies don’t have any systematic approach to this ]]

      European opera houses have been running different kinds of ‘outreach’ projects for opera for more than 30 years. I’ve been involved in such projects myself. These include small outreach teams going into communities to give workshop stagings of main scenes, often with interactive involvement from the audience (who might be Sarastro’s helpers, Pizarro’s henchmen, or the police at Katerina Izmailova’s wedding). This might involve just a bit of acting, or even extend to learning, memorising and performing simplified chorus parts. This is not “only” for kids (although sponsors are keen on things for kids). More enlightened sponsors have promoted a fully-fledged package of outreach activities including workshop events, “meet the singers” activities, introductory talks, and subsidised seat programs to enable people to sit in good seats for the shows. Going a step further, the ROH in London has run a sponsored series of schools matinees, in which all the scene-changes are done “tabs out”, so that the audience sees the crew at work, and what that scenery really looks like dismantled. These matinees were the culimintion of months of on-site work in schools and colleges beforehand – so that the audiences came along with a sense of bonding to the work and the performers. Kids are the most perceptive and unforgiving of audiences – you can’t fool them for a moment. But they are also charmingly spontaneous – “Look! It’s Gary! There, under the arch!”

      Outreach work is NOT related to filling-up empty seats. It takes place weeks or months before the shows open, with no foreknowledge of how ticket sales will go.

      Even for those unable or unwilling to join in workshop programs, almost every opera house these days runs a pre-performance intro to the piece, or a “meet the team” event. For example, this is what Norwegian National Opera are doing for Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – a Shostakovich opera for which numbskull Aaron Renn would “blow his sprocket”, but which European first-time opera-goers take in their stride:

      http://operaen.no/en/Enjoy-more/Introduksjon-til-forestillinger/

      I have never heard of opera tickets being flogged off in raffles at funfairs :(( This approach is clearly doomed to utter failure. If you put a 0 value on your own work, or equate it with a coconut to be won in a shooting gallery, you shouldn’t be in the opera business at all. Maybe that is something that only happens in the USA? In Europe, slow-moving tickets are usually sold in “reader promotion offers” run in conjunction with newspapers – “save up to 50% on face price, only with the Daily Dunderhead” etc.

      • And of course, the ultimate outreach work is Birmingham Opera, in Britain – where the interactive outreach has actually become the opera, and the final show is a collaboration between enthusiastic unpaid members of the community (who act, dance, sing, operate equipment, tear the tickets and run the bar) and some handpicked soloists. It’s a genre of opera performance I doubt would appeal to cackling clowns like Aaron Renn – who is more interesed in the brand of gin served in his interval cocktail, and the suppleness of the red velvet upholstery supporting his rear.

        https://youtu.be/agI0zMUHNAw

        • why do you have to immediately resort to ad hominem attacks?
          do your arguments not stand on their own merit?
          I can see your points and might actually agree with some of them, but your low-blow personal attacks against the writer detract from any credibility you might have.

          • Who have I attacked??????????????????????????

            I’ve made a comprehensive take-down of a piece of gutless, trashy, factless journalism.

      • Well, it happend, maybe two years ago, at a major German opera house (I don’t want to name it in this context, because all the people there usually do an excellent job and normally don’t have problems with filling the seats).

        It was the first production of a contemporary work, which had raised expectations before, but after the first night audience and critics were rather disappointed. No surprise then that for the following performances there were still plenty of tickets available. And yes, a colleague of mine won two of them in a raffle at a funfair (officially branded as a “generous donation of the xyz opera”, so no resale or the like). She and her husband decided to go – they both had never been in an opera before. And most probably that was also the last time for them.

  • The kind of audience that is needed to financially sustain opera (and concerts) are the hardest working people, and for them to take some time away from the rest of their life, turn their cell phones off for 3+ hours is becoming increasingly difficult.
    There are probably a lot more older people who would like to go to the opera, but they don’t want to go alone.

  • Many Opera houses do many things. The National Opera in Munich runs at about 97% capacity and they do take up new stuff. The Opera in Zurich has started many programs to attract young people and has been VERY successful with it. There is literature available but mostly in German….

    Yes, the audience is old. And many young people, asked, why they don’t go, say they don’t want to be among old people. And the demographics do not lie. On the other hand: why not see the demographic change as a chance: do audience development not only for young people, but for everybody.

    I have only started going to the opera about 5 years ago, age 55. Maybe one needs a certain age to appreciate opera. And every production is hard work for me: I read about the work, the composer, the time, the reception over years – to get a feeling. And I try to listen to at least parts of every opera before i go – the more I know the more I can appreciate the work. And I dare say: the better educated I am (or for that matter: everybody) the more I am able to appreciate it …

    • Welcome to the opera club, Ray. I admire your hard work, but it’s unnecessary. The “secret” to opera is to become familiar with the music before attending the production. Then the music and lyrics and acting and plot will function as equal — but integrated — pathways to help us understand the human experience.

  • ==This young woman apparently asked a box office person ==

    She had it coming to her really ! She should have asked friends, neighbours, work colleagues to give her some ideas. Or sniffed around on YT. Just making herself available to buy slow-selling tickets wasn’t smart

    • Yes! For the grave mistake of not knowing enough about the art form in advance (and the even graver sin of not even KNOWING that she needed to know more), she deserved to have an unpleasant, experience that would make her lean toward not returning. Senn doesn’t say if he talked to his colleague from work later to find out what kind of experience she had; she might have liked it.

  • The US certainly seems in a worse state than much of Europe, not only as regards opera but classical music in general. In ondon the Royal Opera is regularly full even with deterrent prices, English National Opera is usually less so but in a much larger house with often dreadful productions. A few weeks ago I was in Frankfurt and saw and almost sold-out performance (one of 6 or 7) of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, eccentric production but musically excellent. The audience was not notable elderly ie was mostly younger than me. As to an introduction to opera, Tippett? In the immortal words of Mr McEnroe, you cannot be serious.

  • When I read dreck of this kind, my heart really goes out to Peter Gelb (with whom I am not aqcquainted personally). Having to cater to patrons like ‘Aaron Renn’ would try the patience of a saint.

  • The woman, more than 20 years my senior, with whom I have shared a subscription to the Met for the past quarter century (it’s her subscription) turned 93 this week. There’s limited longevity potential in the renewal of her subscription. I’ve dropped my half for next year because there are only two things I want to see, and I may see one in HD to decide whether it is a good enough production to want to experience it in the house.

    I’m also dropping my Patron’s Membership after a decade or two. Going to the Met is not a pleasant experience – plain and simple. Having to have my Patron’s card scanned when I go into the lounge because “Mr. Gelb wants statistics” feels ungracious and unappreciative. Carnegie Hall manages these things much better – and they give free nibbles. For a multi-thousand dollar annual contribution, they can afford to be a little gracious.

    The singing last night in ROBERTO DEVEREUX was superb. Outstanding. Spectacular. And there were rows of empty seats around me (in the Dress Circle). I felt like a chump for paying over $125 for my seat.

    I’m finally throwing in the towel. As someone involved with Opera America, as well as President of the Board of a small and very successful opera company, and an advisor for 3 other small companies, if I am finally throwing in the the towel, the Met has much bigger problems than most choose to realize.

    Via conversations in the Patron’s Lounge, I know that I’m far from the only one who is finding the Met Experience ungracious, often boring, and definitely not fun.

    As an interesting aside, many of these high level donors are pretty much telling Mr. Gelb that he can keep his $14. sandwiches. At least 1/4 of the people in the lounge are brown-bagging lunch for Saturday matinée performances.

    The only time I ever hear from the Met is when the want more money. It felt very good to tell the woman who called last week, “No. I’m not renewing.” She replied, “But, we NEED your support.” I replied, “You haven’t EARNED it!”

  • A shame that a Tippett opera is being used as an example of inaccessible, unsaleable repertoire (though I note that Mr Renn only describes that specific production as a “dud”). Arguably one of the finest operatic productions of 2015 anywhere in the UK was last year’s major community production by Graham Vick and the Birmingham Opera Company. An uncompromising promenade performance of a “challenging” modern work (in fact one that was written off by critics when it was premiered), staged in a temporary venue in a derelict warehouse. Yet it was sold out for weeks in advance, with audiences travelling from across the UK to see it. It was performed by professional principals alongside a socially diverse community company, many of them without formal musical training, and many of them involved in opera for the very first time. The opera in question was Tippett’s “The Ice Break”.

    BOC did the same thing with Stockhausen’s “Mittwoch aus Licht” in 2012. They’ve done it with operas by Verdi, Mozart, Monteverdi Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Purcell too. There’s no such thing as “too challenging”; there’s no such thing as “unsaleable”, and there’s no such thing as an audience that “can’t relate to opera”. But there is such a thing as a failure of confidence and vision, not to say nerve. That seems to be a big part of the problem in the USA. (And this does seem to be pretty much exclusively a US phenomenon, sad to say).

    • Perhaps Mr Renn wasn’t completely writing-off The Midsummer Marriage when he made up his ludicrous clickbait story about it – describing it as a “dud” (but failing to mention there was *no* alternative Carmen performance, as spotted by a SD viewer above).

      It could be that Mr Renn knows some of the main roles from The Midsummer Marriage, though?

      I am sure he knows Jack.

  • To point 2, the Chicago Lyric is a stagione company, not a repertory house like New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Tippett’s “Midsummer Marriage” was given over a span of several weeks in late 2005, and it doesn’t appear that there were any other operas being presented at the same time. So if the young lady called the box office to buy tickets in December 2005, they didn’t have any “WOW” Operas to offer her. I doubt if any opera company in a similar situation would tell a newcomer not to attend their current production, and thus not to attend at all.

  • With regard to “Baumoi’s cost disease”: The Wikipedia article linked here says that musicians’ real wages have gone up while their productivity has not. Not true! Musicians’ real wages have dropped precipitously, or at least they sure have around here. My husband and his bandmates get dramatically less in numbers of dollars, not inflation-adjusted dollars, than they did in the 1970s, and that’s popular music in bars and restaurants. Our New Mexico Philharmonic members are struggling along on an average of a mere $7000 per year in order to keep the orchestra alive. It’s not high pay for the typical musician that’s driving the problem!
    Happily, the NM Phil concerts do sell out, and the Santa Fe Opera is extremely well attended.

  • For many years I had a couple of 7:30 PM start time subscriptions to the Met. Gelb changed that so I found myself sitting in Penn Station waiting for a 1:00 AM train, arriving home at 2:15 AM.. Late starts plus long intermissions made going to the Met a painful and very tiring experience. Add to that Gelb’s ‘new’ productions which for the most part are a bust and it was all over for me.

  • With the right production and program of advance “education”, there’s no reason why Tippett’s glorious opera about young lovers in a mystical world can’t be “relevant” to current 20-somethings (perhaps even more than an opera about an army deserter, a bullfighter, a ciggie factory worker, a soppy doormat, and a bunch of thieves would be).

    • Describing TMM as a “dud” tells us more about Mr Renn than it does about Tippett’s mystical opera.

      Poor old Sir Michael, eh? If only he could have written a “WOOOW!” opera. Must try harder.

      • In fairness, he described it as “an obscure opera and a complete dud of a production.” Not the same as a dud opera.

        • Indeed, Mr. Renn–who says he’s an opera-lover–had chosen to attend the “Midsummer Marriage” at Chicago Lyric himself, so he must not think the opera itself is unworthy. Here’s an article about the tribulations in mounting that production (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-11-13/news/0511130173_1_modern-opera-tippett-lyric-opera-center), and here’s a review (http://articles.latimes.com/2005/dec/07/entertainment/et-tippett7).

          • Mr. Renn’s article makes it clear that he was at a performance of “Midsummer Marriage” by the Chicago Lyric Opera when he ran into a colleague from work. Why would you doubt that he “has ever heard a note” of it? Do you have some reason to believe that the entire article, including his claim to be a regular attendee at the Lyric during his years in Chicago, is somehow fictional?

            That production was somewhat troubled, as the director and one of the lead singers withdrew during the preparation: see this article (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-11-13/news/0511130173_1_modern-opera-tippett-lyric-opera-center). And here’s a review that seems to agree that the production was not successful (http://articles.latimes.com/2005/dec/07/entertainment/et-tippett7). Both were written by knowledgeable critics who appear to admire the work itself.

          • Mr. Renn’s article makes it clear that he was at a performance of “Midsummer Marriage” by the Chicago Lyric Opera when he ran into a colleague from work. Why would you doubt that he “has ever heard a note” of it? Do you have some reason to believe that the entire article, including his claim to be a regular attendee at the Lyric during his years in Chicago, is somehow fictional?

            The performances was somewhat troubled, as the director and one of the lead singers withdrew during the preparation. Reviews and previews at the time suggest that the production was not very successful, even those written by critics who admire Tippett and his “Midsummer Marriage.”

          • As you pointed out above yourself… there never was a production of Carmen to which this neophyte opera-goer could have been pointed.

            Renn’s departure from fact begins at that point. To suggest that some Disneyesque Wicked Witch sales person intentionally withheld the possibility of a ticket to Carmen (for financial gain!) from this lady is not just disingenuous – it’s an outrageous and manipulative lie. The only items missing from this fatuous dreck are the pumpkin carriage pulled by a team of fieldmice.

            Yes, I call BS. We’re dealing with a vicious, back-stabbing and splenetic little man, whose intellectual shallows divide operas into either WOW! or duds. Pathetic, fallacious, and deeply insulting. Viewed alongside his laughable remarks about sandwiches (his main criterion as an opera critic), it’s hard to take a word of this tripe seriously. It makes me very glad I live in Europe.

          • Sorry Eddie, but there was a production of Carmen a month or two earlier. Anyone calling up at the start of the season seeking a new experience could have gone to it. And two ‘standard’ operas overlapping the Tippett which could equally have been recommended (it doesn’t really matter whether they were Carmen or otherwise, Renn’s suggestion that in his opinion these more traditional operas might be more suitable, stands).

  • I first started attending opera at Covent Garden as a teenager in the 1960s. I loved it. I was hooked. I queued many times in the rain along Floral Street to buy tickets. I heard many great singers and the amphitheatre became a second home. Over the ensuing 40 or so years, I continued to go. I never minded the change in production styles and always enjoyed hearing new works. I accepted the inevitable price increases and the variable standards. It was exciting and invigorating. Then things changed around 15 years ago. It was the audience. The amphitheatre became fashionable and people started attending who did not know how to keep quiet. I mean talking during performances, noisily unwrapping sweets, coughing and sneezing without attempting to stifle the noise and reacting aggressively when politely asked to show consideration for others. It seemed to get worse and worse and so finally, after paying £80 to sit next to a partly drunk guy who booed- yes booed – the ‘baddy’ Don Jose after a performance of Carmen, I decided enough was enough. I concluded that audience behaviour had declined to the point where it spoiled my enjoyment and my excitement had turned to dread. I stopped going. I’m not an elitist, I just wanted to enjoy my operas in a quiet atmosphere. So now I listen at home, watch DVDs and remember the ‘good old days.’ I know that opera needs new audiences and I’m sure it wont be long before they are allowed to take their drinks, ice creams and wrapped sweets into the auditorium, as they are nowadays in many theatres. Is opera a dying art? I hope not but the future doesn’t look good to me.

  • The middle class would fill the seats. The middle class is dying. Those who still manage to be in it, are working 12 hours a day or more to not go under and their disposable time is small, as is their disposable income that is dedicated to pay mortgage and kid’s expensive education.

  • An interesting thread, and worthy of an entire study. I just was to address the youth question in their comment.

    Last week we brought our daughter and her friend, both 13, to Leipzig and Berlin. Both girls are pop culture addicts, with zero prior interest in classical music.

    But both were utterly transported by what they experienced, and both admitted that they had really enjoyed it and felt classical music was, after all, “really cool”. The excitement seemed to stem from A. experiencing it together, and B. the LIVE experience of sound in such scale, and produced with such skill. I should add that the highlight in Leipzig was a world premiere, so nothing they could possibly be familiar with. They loved every second of it but, crucially, because they were THERE, witnessing, feeling, sharing, focussing, seeing.

    In Berlin, we managed to sneak into the dress rehearsal of Magic Flute at the Kommische Oper. So entranced was our 13 year-old by the combination of the music with the incredibly imaginative screen animation by 1927 (http://www.19-27.co.uk/the-magic-flute/) that she begged us to take her to the premiere.

    So, my thinking is this. Human DNA is always going to be drawn to beauty, and to imaginative ways of telling the human story, and re-telling it with renewed imagination. But these kids will also be the first to tell us that we do not reach their age group with our stories because we don’t fully understand how to. I sit for hours and listen to how their pop idols connect with them as an audience, and I try to learn from them as much as possible, because distributing the art form is the key here, not its inherent aesthetic relevance.

    Might I suggest then, among other possibilities, that we start with direct access, by opening our opera houses and concert hall rehearsals to school groups, for free, on a regular basis? So often I sit in an empty hall for a dress rehearsal, and feel that an opportunity is being missed. All that beauty and drama disappearing into the rafters, unwitnessed. Why? Maybe we could use a minute or two to tell them what the pieces are about, what to listen out for, who the human being was behind the work, where he lived, what his challenges were. And then we might show them around afterwards. Deus Ex Machina. Then they will start to identify, and seeds will be sewn. It is all about reach, and getting them into the hall en masse as a peer group – crucial that they feel a shared experience – is about as direct as we can be.

  • I stopped going becausethe productions are terrible. WHO wants to see FIDELIO staged in a concentration camp? Or Rigoletto in Las Vegas? Give me a break. We need great voices, and beautiful productions!
    I don;t need 21st Century adaptations of Traviata, or Lucia, thank you!

    • [[WHO wants to see FIDELIO staged in a concentration camp? ]]

      No! Of course, it should be staged in a beauty parlour, shouldn’t it???????

      Or maybe at the Miss World Contest. With sandwiches for $2 bucks each. And free parking.

    • From the Libretto of Fidelio:

      ACT 1.The Prison Yard of the State Prison. In the background are the main gates – which has a wicket-gate which allows individuals to pass through in single file, The Porter’s Lodge is near the gates. To the left we see prison barracks – the doors have iron gratings, and the numbered doors each have heavy bolts and locks. The jailer’s quarters are centre-stage. There are heavy iron railings around, to the right. A garden gate shows the direction towards the castle garden, and the castle itself.

      So…. not in a prison camp then, Sanda??

  • I guess none of you are familiar with Loft Opera. Look them up. The audience is mixed, but mostly young. The recent production of Tosca was SEXY, passionate intimate, and SOLD OUT. Not perfect, but the best I’ve seen in ages. And at the Met I’ve seen the new-ish one with Mattila and the old one with Vanness, Pavarotti, and Milnes. BORING! I felt like I was watching a rehearsal, no life or energy.
    I had the pleasure of volunteering for Loft Opera and talking to the audience members. Many of them had never been to an opera before, so I asked them to check back with me at the intermissions so I could hear their comments. They were ALL overwhelmingly positive. Opera is not dead, and there is a future audience for opera, but opera as we know it now (for the most part) may well be dying, along with the current audience.
    Yes of course, arts education in our elementary schools could probably fix this in one generation, but I’m holding out much hope for that. In the meantime opera needs to be sold as entertainment as well as art. (Art can be and should be entertaining, don’t you think? I mean they’re not mutually exclusive.)

    • One of the things which engages these new, younger audience members is that opera experiences like the ones at Loft are not passive experiences. Someone actually talked to them, interacted with them, welcomed their reactions, listened, and made it a personal experience. Those people you spoke with are most likely to be ones who will come again. Well done. Opera is definitely alive and well, with a number of successful new pieces coming on line, and with interesting and revelatory productions of old standards. This small(er) venue part of the opera world is lively and thriving.

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