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Live Operacasts (At Texas Stadium, At Booker T)? They May Not Be Winning A New Audience
by Jerome Weeks 29 May 2014

A London survey concludes it may be “wishful thinking” – the idea that these live simulcasts are making new fans for opera.

CTA TBD

Massimo-Giordano-Tosca-Cavaradossi-Tenor-Tenore-Catherine-Naglestad-Dallas-Opera-Massimo-Giacomo-PucciniThe Dallas Opera’s Tosca from 2008 with Massimo Giordano and Catherine Nagelstad.

The English Touring Opera and London’s Guildhall School of Drama and Music conducted a survey of 230 participants or so, all of whom had attended live screenings in movie theaters in 2013. The opera offerings ranged from modern satire (Shostakovich’s The Nose) to grand warhorses, both comic and dramatic (Verdi’s Falstaff, Puccini’s Tosca). Afterwards, some seventy-five percent of the attendees reported they felt no different about possibly attending a live production in the future. Ten percent felt less motivated.

That’s not good. In fact, the ETO’s general director James Conway concluded, “A lot has been speculated about the potential for cinema relays to create new audiences for live opera. I would love that to be the case but, as this research indicates, it may be wishful thinking.”

There ARE several caveats, though, before anyone starts dismantling the efforts of the Dallas Opera with its simulcasts at Texas Stadium and the Arts Magnet, with its in-school Met Opera telecasts. First, these London screenings were held at cinemas — which would mean the experience is decidedly different from a free gigantor simulcast at Texas Stadium, complete with beer and Warner Brothers cartoons. Second, the audience that was drawn to these screenings and participated in the survey was, well, not exactly the ‘new’ audience opera companies would hope for (nor the one that actually attends the Booker T screenings): Eighty percent were more than 60 years old. Fewer than 10 percent were younger than 50. Exposing younger minds to opera as a way of interesting them in it may still have validity.

 

 

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  • Suzanne Calvin

    Anecdotal evidence on this side of the pond indicates that the majority of those
    attending HD opera broadcasts in theater settings are already opera fans or at
    least occasional opera goers, so I can see how many of those who fall into that
    category would feel “no different” about attending live opera in an opera house and perhaps even less inclined if health or monetary issues played a role in their decision to opt for the Cineplex instead.

    Those who come out for Dallas Opera simulcasts, on the other hand, represent a much, much greater variety of household income, zip code, age and diversity and many of these patrons are attending opera for the very first time – adults as well as children. Self-reported information indicates 20% of TDO simulcast patrons have household incomes under $40,000 (versus 6% of our subscribers). Where the British report found that 80% of attendees were over age 60, we estimate only about 20% of Dallas Opera simulcast patrons are 60 or above—nearly 59% are under age 55. And the percentage of simulcast patrons with Latino, African-American, or Asian-American backgrounds, or from the Indian subcontinent, is more than twice the percentage of these ethnic groups found among our current subscriber base. The Bottom Line? Simulcast audiences are younger and more economically and ethnically diverse than those attending performances in the Winspear Opera House.

    All told, more than 40,000 people, often in multi-generational groups, have taken a seat (not merely requested them) at Dallas Opera Simulcasts during the past three years. The “tell” isn’t how many of them have been converted into paying customers as of today (although a small number have), it’s how many of their children and grandchildren in attendance will walk away with a different and much more positive perspective about the art form itself, fashioned by their memories of these exciting, colorful and genuinely moving big-screen experiences (as well as the over-the-top costume contests and those classic Warner Brothers cartoons!).

    No pessimism is necessary. The future isn’t written…yet.

    Suzanne Calvin,
    Director of Media and Public Relations
    The Dallas Opera

  • Suzanne Calvin

    Anecdotal evidence on this side of the pond indicates that the majority of those
    attending HD opera broadcasts in theater settings are already opera fans or at
    least occasional opera goers, so I can see how many of those who fall into that
    category would feel “no different” about attending live opera in an opera house and perhaps even less inclined if health or monetary issues played a role in their decision to opt for the Cineplex instead.

    Those who come out for Dallas Opera simulcasts, on the other hand, represent a much, much greater variety of household income, zip code, age and diversity and many of these patrons are attending opera for the very first time – adults as well as children. Self-reported information indicates 20% of TDO simulcast patrons have household incomes under $40,000 (versus 6% of our subscribers). Where the British report found that 80% of attendees were over age 60, we estimate only about 20% of Dallas Opera simulcast patrons are 60 or above—nearly 59% are under age 55. And the percentage of simulcast patrons with Latino, African-American, or Asian-American backgrounds, or from the Indian subcontinent, is more than twice the percentage of these ethnic groups found among our current subscriber base. The Bottom Line? Simulcast audiences are younger and more economically and ethnically diverse than those attending performances in the Winspear Opera House.

    All told, more than 40,000 people, often in multi-generational groups, have taken a seat (not merely requested them) at Dallas Opera Simulcasts during the past three years. The “tell” isn’t how many of them have been converted into paying customers as of today (although a small number have), it’s how many of their children and grandchildren in attendance will walk away with a different and much more positive perspective about the art form itself, fashioned by their memories of these exciting, colorful and genuinely moving big-screen experiences (as well as the over-the-top costume contests and those classic Warner Brothers cartoons!).

    No pessimism is necessary. The future isn’t written…yet.

    Suzanne Calvin,
    Director of Media and Public Relations
    The Dallas Opera

  • DonJ

    I was present at the simulcast at Texas Stadium when “The Barber of Seville.” was done. I would imagine that a large part of the audience were opera lovers, but when you consider the price (free) and the location with the huge screen, it seemed to me to be a great opportunity to attract. a new audience. I was surprised that evening with the size of the crowd, both sides of the stadium were used (the straight portions excluding the end zones). My guess was that the audience was somewhere between 2,000 to 4,000, far more than could fit into an opera house. And with the subtitles, the language difficulty was eased, and the giant images made you feel very close to the performers.

    • Suzanne Calvin

      Thank you, Don, for sharing your Dallas Opera simulcast experience. I think you are correct on every count except one: it’s easy to be thrown-off by the immense size of AT&T Stadium and your crowd estimate of two to four thousand is a bit off. The official ticket count was just under nine thousand last April, and when we do a simulcast on a Saturday night, we generally find attendance runs much higher: between fourteen and sixteen thousand. One of these days we’ll break the twenty thousand mark. Personally, I can’t wait to see it.

  • DonJ

    I was present at the simulcast at Texas Stadium when “The Barber of Seville.” was done. I would imagine that a large part of the audience were opera lovers, but when you consider the price (free) and the location with the huge screen, it seemed to me to be a great opportunity to attract. a new audience. I was surprised that evening with the size of the crowd, both sides of the stadium were used (the straight portions excluding the end zones). My guess was that the audience was somewhere between 2,000 to 4,000, far more than could fit into an opera house. And with the subtitles, the language difficulty was eased, and the giant images made you feel very close to the performers.

    • Suzanne Calvin

      Thank you, Don, for sharing your Dallas Opera simulcast experience. I think you are correct on every count except one: it’s easy to be thrown-off by the immense size of AT&T Stadium and your crowd estimate of two to four thousand is a bit off. The official ticket count was just under nine thousand last April, and when we do a simulcast on a Saturday night, we generally find attendance runs much higher: between fourteen and sixteen thousand. One of these days we’ll break the twenty thousand mark. Personally, I can’t wait to see it.