There is a great article in The Telegraph ( link ) by Rupert Christiansen. He says “Putting on shows that people want to see does not call for La Bohème every night, but a degree of skilful and sensible marketing”. He argues that with better salesmanship who needs philanthropy.
He comments that “ENB’s new campaign may play well inside the M25, but it’s much too sophisticated and Vogueish for its core regional audience;” These are tough words for Northerners to hear as there are many sophisticated music lovers “Up North” but I agree with Mr Christiansen that there aren’t enough regulars to fill all the seats and there is usually spare seating capacity for classical music, opera and ballet outside London. My take on this is that we don’t experience enough of this sort of performance as children. I was never taken to see an Opera or Ballet with the school, why aren’t the empty seats sold off at discounted prices to educational establishments a month before the event if there is too much spare capacity? This could attract a whole new future audience. If there are concerns that children would disturb the paying clients perhaps they could go to the dress rehearsal performance for free. I also agree with the journalist that advertising posters are “too downbeat and low-octane”.
The number of people that say to me I didn’t think I liked Opera but I liked your songs and wanted to know more about where they are from is growing. For beginners to these performing arts, very long complex works seem to be just too big a jump to make from musical theatre productions and cinema shows. I love watching the Masters students giving snippets from all of the famous and great Operas and, just a personal opinion, I think that a week-long “Introduction to Opera” show made up of these taster scenes could work.
It’s a shame we can’t guarantee better weather to have more outdoor shows such as the one I saw being marketed in Verona, at the Summer Opera Festival. I do hear and read that more parks are getting involved in staging outdoor concerts venues such as: Tatton Park in Knutsford Cheshire, Delamere Forest near Chester and the Clonter Opera Theatre near Macclesfield are three local venues near to where I grew up but I’ll be honest as a child I didn’t know these events took place.
The picture at the top of the post is from the performance of Aida in the Arena at Verona ( link ) and the one below was taken when we visited the Arena whilst the set was being built 🙂
54 thoughts on “Putting on the show”
I completely agree that a full opera is daunting to those with little experience of that kind of music, let alone singing. I love your idea of free tickets to schools for dress rehearsals. Something like this has been going on where I live, at the St. Louis Opera Theater, for some time, and has been very successful. St. Louis is prime midwestern US country music territory, yet very few seats are empty, at least at the start of performances. I noticed a bit of an exodus after the first half of Doctor Atomic, but Mozart,Verdi and the like are always well received, I think largely due to the excellent outreach programs.
Thanks for telling me that Mikels. Doctor Atomic – what a shame people left I love contemporary compositions I wonder why people didn’t want to continue with the second act too depressing a topic perhaps, thanks for bringing this Opera to my attention. One of my favourite quotes about Opera in a movie was in ‘Pretty Woman’:
Vivian (Julia Roberts) says to Edward (Richard Gere):
“so you said this is in Italian so how am I going tell what they’re singing?”
“You’ll know, believe me you’ll understand, the music is very powerful – people’s reactions to Opera the first time they see it is very dramatic, they either love it or they hate it, if they love it they will always love it, if they don’t then they learn to appreciate it but it will never become part of their soul”
Warmest wishes 🙂
Doctor Atomic is pretty intense! I gave them good marks for coming at all.
Where I live, Pacific Opera Victoria has a program for schools to come to the dress rehearsal. They sell deeply discounted tickets to the schools (I think it was $8 per ticket when my kids were little) and if the parents could not afford that, the school found the money. The music teacher prepared the kids with a synopsis of the plot, and so on.
A few parents went along as chaperones (there was a lot of competition to be one of those parents, and some of them were introduced to opera for the first time too). Hundreds of kids went, the place was full for the dress rehearsal.
And, the performers consistently said it was the most fun night for them, as the kids were not tied up with stiff conventions and if something moved them, the performers knew it.
Through that program my kids got interested enough in opera that they ended up on stage in children’s choruses and still go to the opera occasionally as young adults, though usually only when they can get an affordable seat. Lots of people in their 20’s attend opera in Victoria, which may be a direct result of the school programs.
It makes me very happy to read this, thanks for sharing this and your lovely photographs on your blog. I love the idea of introducing children to classical music and opera when their minds are open to explore new and exciting things 🙂
Learning is needed not only to make art, but to receive and appreciate it—especially highly complex arts such as opera.
I love the structure and disciple of the Haiku writing style, getting the message across in three lines is difficult. Thank you for visiting and I hope that you can find time to call back again.
I never got to go to an opera while I was in grade school, and honestly haven’t been to a western one still (I got to experience Takarazuka, but that may be something entirely different), but I feel like, should the opportunity be offered, parents would be very receptive to allowing children to attend an event like that! I know a lot of people in education, I’ll have to ask around and see if there are any programs like that in the Detroit area. I’m not eligible, obviously, but that’s something that I would want to make sure is available to area kids, although I never would have thought of it before reading your post!
You’ve taught me something new too, I’d never heard of Takarazuka so I looked it up: The Takarazuka Revue is a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe based in Takarazuka, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. Were you in Japan at the time? I have a friend, Adam, who went out to Japan to teach in a rural village as soon as he completed his degree, I think he decided to stay on another year so he must have had a good time 🙂
Thanks for your comment
Yes, I was; I studied in Osaka prefecture for two semesters. My degree is in Anthropology, and one of the classes I took there was a study of gender roles in Japan. Naturally, the all-female revue was a topic of interest. It was possibly my favorite field trip of the semester!
I considered teaching in Japan for a time, but the programs are generally very competitive. Your friend is lucky to have gotten a rural placement! Most people are put in Tokyo or Osaka, I’ve heard. At any rate, I’m glad I could teach you something new 🙂
Hi Izzy, I will keep my eye on your blog and stay up-to-date with what you get up to 🙂 I appreciate your contribution as it is great to learn from the experiences of others.
I’m glad to hear it! I’ll be likewise following along with you 🙂
Years ago I saw a production of Don Giovanni in London’s Holland Park , and that certainly fired my interest in opera.
My first visit to experience a professional Opera was a gift for my 18th birthday to see ‘The Queen of Spades’ at the Lowry Theatre in Salford near Manchester it was fabulous and a perfect birthday present for me 🙂
Best wishes and call back and visit again soon
Good posting, and thank you for your visit to my site. I did not see opera until I was over 40, and realized how I had been deprived of a great joy. It is not that the song of opera’s heart was missing, but that because I had not experienced it in person, there was a hole in my time boat, and my life journey has been lessened. The community of artists, and audience enriches, and expands. If I had never seen a blue sky in person then discovered it, it is like opera! Perhaps the way we don’t engender jealousy about the arts, or envy, or just plain understanding, and we do encourage social acceptance of the other endeavors, is partial to why you felt compelled to speak on this, or because your a performer who can see the empty seats when they should be full.
To me it is not programs that drive an audience, but adult examples of joy and inclusion that engender a desire to not be left out. Perhaps the unwillingness of the current audience to express and share for fear of not fitting the zeitgeist of the moment contributes. Perhaps I have over responded.Perhaps I should just thank you for causing a response.
Hi John, what a wonderful and heartfelt comment. It is most definitely the sort of response that is needed if we are to promote future inclusion of a new and enthusiastic audience. I do agree with your view that we need to get people talking about their experiences at classical concerts and operatic performances and hope that this prompts others give it a try 🙂 As a performer I want to pass on my passion for the pieces to the people watching and hope that they take that away with them when they leave encouraged to return 🙂
Best wishes and I do hope that you will call back when you can
Check out the book Highbrow Lowbrow by Levine. I think you’ll find it fascinating.
Hi Trisha, thanks for the suggestion. I have had a read through the brief synopsis on Amazon and I will have to make some time to read a copy. I hope that the access to classical music and opera does widen and attract more people to it’s beauty. I have seen a couple of live performances that have been screened at the cinema in Glasgow where I study giving people access to performances that I would not have been able to experience otherwise.
What a beautiful setting for an opera!
Hi Pamela, it was a truly magnificent setting and I would love one day to perform there 🙂
Best wishes and I hope you can call back again soon
Nice post. The university where I teach hosts a ballet company that performs for free for schoolchildren every year, and local schools take busloads of children to the performance. No introduction to opera, however. 🙁
Which University do you teach at ? That must be great for the performers as well as the school children who attend I wish that this could become more widespread to encourage wider participation in the Arts.
Thanks for dropping by again I appreciate your comments and support.
I’m in the U.S. and teach at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. We lived for many years in the state of Indiana, and Indiana University in South Bend also sponsored concerts and performances for school children. Maybe this type of thing is more prevalent in the U.S. I don’t know.
Thanks for getting back to me, I hope that the practice of involving children in music and the arts from an early age does not diminish any further.
It is interesting about allowing view of rehearsal for free. I actually enjoyed watching rehearsal once. There were only few people (no more than five or so) watching but it was a great experience for me. The performance was also good to. In addition, you got to see how they were trying to correct certain things.
I really think that it would benefit both the prospective new audiences and the performers if access were allowed. I understand the pressure that the Director and performers would feel if there unfinished work was on show before the final tweaks had been completed but the intended audience would probably be new to Opera and would enjoy the experience for what it was. I just think we need to explore as many ways as possible to engage with and encourage people to experience opera and what it has to offer 🙂
Best wishes and thanks for your continued support
Congratulations! Very inspiring set and I’m wishing you all the best in your performances!
Thanks for your supportive comment Lisa and I can see that you are as passionate about your love of horses as I am for singing 🙂
Best wishes and I hope that you can call back again soon
Opera can be intimidating. A couple friends and I bought season tickets to the opera while in college – $30 US each got us 6 tickets since the school (Indiana University) put on 3 operas per semester. It was our first access to that medium and was an affordable way to expose ourselves to something completely new. Two of us played instruments and the third had been in choirs through high school, so we were all into music. Classical music though – my love for it stems from the exposure I had while growing up. Dad was always playing Bach inside the house and to this day I absolutely love J.S. Bach. I’ve expanded what I like quite a bit, but it’s that initial exposure to it that sparked a bit of curiosity that is still continuing today. Children do need to sample more music than what’s on their ipod playlists and best sellers on itunes. Trying something new can be scary, too. I think most people think that going to the opera means you’ll have a few hours of heavy music where you won’t understand a word. I just went to a light opera, HMS Pinafore last month and couldn’t understand some of what the soprano was singing, but she had a beautiful voice and I thoroughly loved the performance, so figure that one out!
I believe that the experience that Opera provides is more than just down to understanding the lyrics, it encompasses the music, the sets, the audience and often the History. I have been fortunate enough to get involved in managing the surtitles at two Operas whilst studying in Glasgow. This allows those people that want to understand the lyrics the opportunity to do so. But often the music and the artists performances carry you away and you “feel” the experience as much as hear the songs and music. I hope that we can encourage wider participation and introduce classical pieces and operas to a younger audience. I doing this maybe there will be other like yourself that connect with the experience and become enthusiastic followers 🙂
Best wishes and I hope to see you back here again
What a breath of fresh air you are Charlotte! Thankyou for visiting and I shall enjoy following your posts. I wondered how you found my site, was it the letter to the football team, suggesting they needed some choir practise?
Hi Barbara, I saw your reference to Richmond Football Club and thought what an opportunity for Gareth Malone 🙂
Thanks for dropping by and for your support.
If you could see the macho Melbourne football team you would smile! But I do believe that choir work would benefit the whole cohesion of the team and make them better players! Choir singing was a passion in my youth, and listening is still most important.
Seeing your photo of Verona brought back many memories of my time in Europe.
I am sure you will continue to thrive in your area, but if you ever get to Australia, I shall come and see you sing!
Best wishes and thank you for your support, Barbara
Hi Barbara I really do hope that I am lucky enough to perform in Australia and if I do I will let you know 🙂
My school regularly took us to ballet and theatre, although no opera. I did however go to opera at Leeds Grand and it was invariably well full. Leeds is outside the M25, I might add.
Don’t you think the lack of appreciation of opera is yet another symptom of the appallingly increasingly narrow-mindedness of our society?
I had experience with Opera North at Leeds University on a NAGTY organised outreach event when I was about 14 years of age. It was a fantastic day, we produced an opera scape for the Opera ( stage sets ), we listened to training postgraduate students and had a discussion with them, it was a brilliant day. I do think that we need to introduce classical music and opera at an earlier age in a fun way so that children make up their own minds 🙂
Do you have a youtube video of your singing? That’d be great to hear…
Hi Chris, I don’t have a youtube video only the recordings that I did in the College studio, I will have to see what I can do.
Thanks for checking out my blog! I hope you enjoy it! Yours looks really cool!
Thanks for visiting Josie, baking is really big in the UK at the moment, we have a show called The Apprentice where business people compete for a £250,000 investment in their business, the runner up this year was a baking equipment wholesaler, I didn’t get to watch the whole series but I saw the final it was good, I was sad the baker didn’t win but like they said you have to sell a lot of glitter to make as much as one Botox jab sadly.
Hi Charlotte, Interesting and thought provoking items by you and Rupert Christiansen. I have noticed a growth in musical theatre groups for youngsters (upto about age 18). One example is Kids R Us in St Ives, Cornwall. Their productions are inspiring. I am sure other similar groups are just as good. I’m not sure if you consider modern operas such as Les Miserables and Evita to be “serious” opera, but anything that engages youngsters in music and the performing arts will give them a life long interest.
Thanks Rhys, yes I love musical theatre, I went to Stagecoach, Northwich for about nine or ten years which is like Kids R Us. I loved the annual productions. My family went to see Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre London for my elder brother Matt’s 21st birthday, Alfie Boe was Jean Valjean and it was their 25th Anniversary concert so it was very special. Matt Lucas as Thenardier and all the cast were fabulous.
I played Little Corsette when I was ten at primary school in the High School production for one show and it gave me a love of Les Mis from then on. I get the chance to be Eponine in August at Gawsworth Hall and in two shows at the Stockport Plaza and the Buxton Opera House with the Tideswell Male Voice choir and other young singers which I’m very excited about.
This is why I think introducing the excitement of Opera to younger children could bring a whole new audience to this wonderful art form
All the best
You know what Charlotte, you are right, this really rings true with me. I’ve never been an opera ‘buff’, but I’m certainly not opera opposed. I have a 5 year old son, how would you recommend introducing him to this kind of music, to ensure a well round appreciation of music and an open mind? In the Australian version of the Voice we had a former member of the Ten Tenors come runner up. I’ve downloaded his album this week which includes Time to say Goodbye and Caruso, I think insidious subliminal exposure at this age is possibly the way to go, in the absence of those child friendly dress rehearsals that you so wisely suggested.
Thanks for dropping by and contributing to the discussion, I do think that we need to provide children with access to creative activities and a wider variety of music. I would suggest something visual to start with maybe Disney’s “Fantasia” or “Peter and the Wolf” both provide exposure to classical music alongside visual stimulation using the animated characters. Let me know how you get on 🙂
Another song that I find young boys like to march around to is “Toreador” sung by the character Escamillo in the Opera Carmen.
Nice blog and good luck with your path. More art of every kind can only be a good thing. Thanks for following my blog. I appreciate it.
Thanks for dropping by Connie, I agree that the world would be a sadder place without the creative Artists that inspire and entertain us 🙂
Best wishes and I hope you can call back again soon.
I first went to an opera when I was 7 years old – over 60 years ago – with my grandmother. It began a life-long love but I’m pretty sure she would not have afforded it at a price equivalent to today. At that time opera and ‘classical’ music was very much music of the masses in my part of Yorkshire at least. I remember going to a performance of Wozzeck in then East Germany in the 60s and was pretty surprised to find what was clearly a ‘working class’ audience appreciating Berg. Again, prices meant that opera was for everyone. So some scheme for bringing in schoolchildren at a reasonable cost is needed – dress rehearsals sounds like a great idea. A high school at which I taught in Romania, an agricultural school no less, arranged a visit to the opera for its pupils every year and opera or concerts there rarely had an empty seat, but prices were such that a teacher on less than £200/month could afford it. As a volunteer the £30 for a season ticket at the ‘Filarmonica’ – 20 concerts – meant that I went to every performance in a season. I could not do that here, even though I do currently have an income.
I looked at the Royal Opera House to see how much the tickets are for the professional operas now ( Link ) it says they are from £8 to £178 I think you’re up with the gods for the £8 seats but you can get seats in the stalls/circle from £12. Anyone wanting to try out an Opera should check out the Conservatoires around the UK, their programmes are quite good value for money, you get to hear the best emerging artists from £7.50. At the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow you can see lunch time concerts and buy Royalty Cards and get discounts and free entry once you have one to master-classes and competitions. They have “three levels to suit your wallet and your needs from £10 per year”, I can’t beat your £30 season ticket for 20 concerts that is fantastic value for money 🙂
What do you think about watching Opera on Cinema by live link? Do you think it could cross over on to the screen successfully?
A very interesting thread. I have found that really good DVDs of opera can be transformative for people who think they wouldn’t like it. e.g. the Dornhelm film of Bohême with Villazon and Netrebko, or the Salzburg Traviata with the same two singers. After a few carefully chosen DVDs then people are willing to try the Live from the MET productions… and finally live opera. I haven’t tried these with children, but it should work. The main first viewing comment is about the subtitles, people really like to know what is going on, they get to the music at a later stage. The excitement of watching Tosca with a group of people who don’t know the story or the ending is incredible and so intense.
Hi Hilary, I have several DVDs of different Operas and I will see which are the best to pass around for a first viewing. I will try and get copies of the ones you suggested. I do think reading through the comments that the key is to get to people before they develop pre conceived ideas about classical music and opera.
Following my post “Me and mini me” I have been invited to sing with my puppet to a class of infants in September I will let you know how they take to the music 🙂
AnElephant is, perhaps surprisingly, a great lover of opera, and had a season ticket to Scottish Opera in Glasgow for many years.
He found English language super-titles a great boon in his early days, allowing him to follow the story while enjoying the music.
Good luck to you.
Thanks for dropping by and for your comment 🙂 I volunteered to manage the Surtitles for Opera ‘Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor’ that the RCS put on 13th May 2013 ( Link ). I had a great time and really enjoyed the experience.
Best wishes and call back again when you can