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They’ve gone about as far as they can go

“Last year, Freud sold 80 percent of available seats during the 2012-13 Lyric Opera season. That represented 264,000 tickets purchased, a 15 percent increase over the previous year. But much of that ticket sales increase was attributable to last season’s addition of the musical Oklahoma! at the end of the opera season. Lyric wound up in the black for the year, but only with the addition of $4.8 million in reserve monies from its Campaign for Excellence Fund.” [Chicago Business Journal]

51 comments

  • turings says:

    Sounds ominous.

    I was just reading that Vienna was at 99.63% of capacity for opera performances (up from 98.94) so far this year, and 97.1% for ballet (down from 98.99), which are amazing numbers. Even so, they are going to have to raise ticket prices by 5%, except for the cheapest places. http://kurier.at/kultur/buehne/wiener-staatsoper-mit-sechs-premieren-in-die-neue-saison/57.623.762

    • oedipe says:

      That’s because the Staatsoper model (like all Continental European houses) is based on a set % coming from government subsidies, even at 100% capacity. If the subsidy goes down, the only option left to you is to increase ticket prices.

      • oedipe says:

        P.S. Private sponsorship represents only a small % of European opera house budgets and chances are it will not go up an awful lot in the near future.

        • turings says:

          According to the article, they are negotiating to make donations from private sponsorship more tax-deductible, as well as arguing for an increase in their government subsidy – so a combination of the American and European models.

          • oedipe says:

            Hmm, considering that European governments are not leaving any stone unmoved looking for more tax revenues, I am a little skeptical those negotiations will succeed.

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka says:

          Munich is sponsored by BMW if I am not mistaken.

          • A. Poggia Turra says:

            Yes, and in addition, the Linde Group (world’s largest industrial gas company, also big in industrial engineering) has been the official season sponsor for several years running.

            Both companies are headquartered in Munich

  • -Ed. says:

    We recently had a discussion here about American opera houses of yesteryear, that they were multipurpose venues located all over the country in even the smallest cities. Maybe we are returning to our roots? (btw whoever it was that recommended the book Opera Houses of Iowa, thank you, I found a copy and enjoyed it.)

    I’m getting tired of hearing opera company general directors whine about poor attendance. Over the past 20 years I’ve had no problem bringing several people in my life to the point where they absolutely fall in love with opera. I don’t sing, and the only musical instrument I know how to play is the radio. If I can bring people in, and general directors can’t bring them in, something is very wrong inside those houses.

    • kashania says:

      I’m getting tired of hearing opera company general directors whine about poor attendance. Over the past 20 years I’ve had no problem bringing several people in my life to the point where they absolutely fall in love with opera. I don’t sing, and the only musical instrument I know how to play is the radio. If I can bring people in, and general directors can’t bring them in, something is very wrong inside those houses.

      I’m puzzled by this comment. You are a passionate opera lover and are naturally able to convince your friends to go with you. I don’t see how that compares to a general director (or marketing director, more specifically) selling tens of thousands of tickets to the broad public. I don’t know about the last 20 years, but I do know that tickets sales for performing arts in general have still not recovered since the Great Recession.

  • zinka says:

    NY DEBUT!!!! My first year teaching we did a great Oklahoma in JHS.

    I was wondering what a Persian accent was like…so I did ZINKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • redbear says:

    The article from San Francisco Classical Voice is gloomy in the same way:
    https://www.sfcv.org/article/sf-opera-looks-to-the-future-eyes-wide-open
    Much of the same audience and charitable donation decline is noted over the last decades in SF too.
    The problems on the continent is that the support level has remained constant but static for some years. Intendants are pressured to keep up the numbers while the cost of living index continues to peck away at the bottom line. One year, OK, Two years, a problem, but this has been going on for several years in Paris, Vienna and Berlin.
    Stephane Lissner, who had been running the Aix-en-Provence Festival (with almost all funds privately raised) took over a floundering La Scala and immediately improved the product and found sponsors for the “brand.” It is one of the few viable companies now in Italy. It can be done. The ONP has increased their sponsorship money in the last decade but it is still a small percentage overall.

    • grimoaldo says:

      Opera companies in the US will have to re-think if they find themselves unable to go on as they have been. There does not have to be a dichotomy of “go on the same way or close down”.
      Reading more about the San Diego collapse-
      http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2014/mar/22/san-diego-opera-dignified-end/
      it seems they were given 10 million dollars ten years ago, spent a million a year and then folded. They say they chose “a noble end, a dignified death” but they do not seem to have considered anything except continuing with top level international stars in lavish productions and closure.
      If that sort of “top level grand opera” is too expensive now and there is not sufficient support for it, that does not mean that there cannot be much simpler productions in smaller halls with local singers.

      • operaassport says:

        The problem with that is its hard to get donors for small operas in small venues with local singers. Audiences want spectacle and stars.

    • SilvestriWoman says:

      Things aren’t that bleak in the Bay Area. In fact, the smaller companies are managing to keep going.
      https://www.sfcv.org/article/survival-economics-small-opera-companies-drive-change

  • operaassport says:

    LOC, also known as Like Our Crap.

  • Batty Masetto says:

    If they start selling off assets like City Opera, I get dibs on the cowboy in the middle.

  • SilvestriWoman says:

    As a Chicagoan, Lyric has mounted few productions in recent years that tempted me. Goerke’s Elektra was fabulous; the baroque operas are well done. I’m sorry, though, I’m not going to pay good money to see Botha’s Lohengrin when I can see Kaufmann’s on DVD. (Note to Freund: Do whatever you must to bring back Kaufmann in an opera, not a concert with Renee.)

    Their marketing efforts have also left something to be desired. I’ve heard that their Second City collaborations have been fun, but comedy fans aren’t flocking to the opera house.

    That said, I’m probably going to subscribe to the upcoming season. It looks promising, and I’m highly anticipating the Ring with Goerke and Owens.

    • DonCarloFanatic says:

      I’m tempted to see Botha and Amber Wagner in Tannhauser. Or just close my eyes and listen.

    • CwbyLA says:

      Well, you just described any opera company’s problem by stating the choice you made, i.e. watching Kaufmann on DVD vs actually going to the opera house and being surrounded by live music and singing. Kaufman and a few other star artists can not be everywhere. If you and other opera lovers think like this, what can a general director do? I am not telling you to change your behavior (who am I to tell you what to do anyway?) but that kind of thinking from an “opera lover” demonstrates how tough a job the general manager has to do to not only keep the current audiences but attract new ones.

      • operaassport says:

        There is a huge difference between going to a live opera and watching one on DVD. One is not a substitute for the other.

        • Cicciabella says:

          Ditto between live opera and HD, which is misleadingly marketed as “live”. There is nothing live about it: it’s canned and piped, just like DVDs, webcasts and TV broadcasts, only the screen is bigger. “Live in HD” is just filmed opera. The fact that it is being relayed more or less at the same time as it is being performed does not make it a live experience. The visuals may be more detailed but the sound is a poor substitute for live singing.

          • KCB says:

            You are of course correct. But I must say that as a first-time HD-er this season (Eugene Onegin and Werther), I found the HD Live experience quite enthralling, the performances thrilling. Well, until those final unfortunate seven minutes of Werther. I’ve attended hundreds of Met performances over the decades and I must say that my two HD audiences were, from my long experience, vastly better behaved than the average Met audience is in the house. I find that fact quite extraordinary and actually quite moving. Seems to me that people attending the HD broadcasts are actually paying attention. Intensely, raptly. You could have heard a pin drop during the Werther, which I saw in a huge theater that was absolutely packed. I can’t wait for the Boheme. Smart marketing, that, having Anita Hartig sing “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” during the Werther broadcast. I was like, “What a gorgeous, gorgeous voice. Must see her in the house and on HD.”

            • Cicciabella says:

              I’m very glad the Met and other theatres share their productions with the world via HD. Not everyone has live access to opera, or to the singers who sing at the Met. And if the HDs are making money: hurray! I just find the sound very one-dimensional and rather disappointing. (Ed makes an interesting observation about surround-sound below.) And the “live” angle doesn’t add any excitement for me, although I can understand that for many people it is an added attraction. SilvestriWoman has every right to stay home and watch a DVD instead of a live opera with a cast that does not appeal to her. Alas, no DVD or HD can reproduce the sound of unenhanced live singing.

              Re: Anita Hartig singing the Bohème teaser accessorised by Grigolo: what a beautiful rendition! It also made me want to listen to this Bohéme, an opera I’m never enthusiatic about unless the cast is first class.

          • oedipe says:

            You are of course correct. But I don’t think anyone is arguing that canned is as good as live. I think SilvestriWoman is saying that s/he has no desire to see/hear some singers, live or otherwise, so s/he will stick to the one(s) s/he likes, live or otherwise.

          • -Ed. says:

            All I know is I’m very thankful they’re broadcasting to theaters. I’ve enjoyed every broadcast I’ve attended, though I do think the intermission features are wearing thin.

            I wonder why the Met won’t permit the theater to use its surround-sound speakers? At least that’s what our theater’s manager explained to us. He said the audio feed will only play on the speakers at the front of the theater due to technical restrictions placed upon the feed.

            • armerjacquino says:

              What would come out of the surround sound speakers? What you hear on an HD comes from a very restricted source- usually radio mics, one boom, and a couple of hanging mics. There’s nowhere near the sophistication with which a film is recorded.

              Sound is the major difficulty for the live relays- I had my radio mic moved four times during NT Live because the sound wasn’t matching the rest if the stage. I don’t want to be indelicate here, but sweat is a big issue too.

            • -Ed. says:

              Just to pipe the sound through all the speakers in the theater, instead of just from the front speakers. It wouldn’t have to be the bone-rattling IMAX movie experience (which I dislike), but a bit more audio volume would be nice. Perhaps the Met decided to make things as realistic as possible and have the sound come only from the “stage”? Or perhaps the audio feed contains too much extraneous noise that would be too pronounced and distracting over surround-sound speakers.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Ed: wouldn’t it be offputting to have the singers’ voices coming fr behind you?

            • -Ed. says:

              Depends who is singing..

              It would be in keeping with the traditional movie theater experience today. Perhaps it’s just my theater but the volume from the front speakers could be louder. But once the performance has begun and everyone has settled in, it’s fine.

            • Rackon says:

              The theater(AMC Castelton in which I usually see the MET HDs has very good sound, for what it is. It’s quite large (40-50′ screen) and they did -- once upon a time -- actually balance the speakers. The speakers are large, warmer and less congested than many theater speakers -- you even get some soundstage placement left-right, top bottom. It varies somewhat, but the Parsifal last year was especially fine, at times the chorus sounded and voices sounded as if they were wafting from on high.

              Given the miking and digital feed constraints, I think the sound can be very enjoyable. Fortunately, this particular theater doesn’t blast you with mega decibels or have it so low you strain to catch the text. The smaller auditorium where Landmark does the ROH operas is smaller and the sound is duller, not terrible but more congested dynamically and less depth of soundstage.

              As an old 2 channel audiophile, I don’t mind not having surround sound for the HDs.

            • Rackon says:

              -Ed, the surround option may be simply a question of bandwidth (not enough for multi-channel). Or budget.

              There is no substitute for the thrill of live performance -- opera, ballet, concert, theater or recital. But right now I can’t afford to go to NY or London for any opera, so the HDs are a happy substitute. A different experience from in house. But the Hds can be quite powerful up on the big screen. And I love seeing the HDs with an audience, in the dark.

              BTW, where is Barbara Willis-Sweete this season? I loved her direction of Parsifal last season.

            • -Ed. says:

              Rack on that’s good to know, thanks. I’ll check with the charming young manager of our theater again, perhaps what’s ended is a letter writing campaign to the theater chain owner.

              Nothing replaces a live in-house experience, for sure. I’ve been to the Met only once, back in the fall of 1998 for one of their ‘three operas in three days’ packages for out of towners. For the Figaro performance I sat next to a great guy who was very funny and knew absolutely all the gossip, I’ve sometimes wondered if it was one of you guys! Truth be told, the Met is my least favorite house of the ones I’ve been to. My first is still my favorite, SFO War Memorial. Which reminds me of another great feature of the HD broadcasts: legroom!

            • -Ed. says:

              Rack on = Rackon; ended = needed
              I really can type, you know..

        • grimoaldo says:

          SilvsetriWoman did not put it forward as a general thing that s/he would rather watch a DVD than see a live opera, s/he said “I’m not going to pay good money to see Botha’s Lohengrin when I can see Kaufmann’s on DVD.”
          Quite specific and I know how she feels. I have only seen him live once and that was enough. He negates any effort that any director or colleague has put into the show to make it work as theatre, all I can think of when I see him in a staged production is “good lord, doesn’t he look ridiculous”.

          • manou says:

            Just saw Botha as the Emperor at Covent Garden -- he had been turned to stone before the performance started.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              I’m going on Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it -- I’ve read some really good reviews.

            • manou says:

              Unlike many others, I liked the production which had some very clever concepts; a piece like Frau lends itself very easily to a variety of interpretations. The singing was amazing, especially the women (and Parterre fave David Butt Philip), and Botha sounded fine (be warned -- there is one moment when he attempts to run forward. Luckily he only takes one step). Bychkov and the orchestra were stellar.

              Enjoy!

            • David says:

              I very much enjoyed it, too. Singing and playing were top-notch. Bernard Haitink was in the audience when I saw it and he was watching the pit intently.

              Production was fine. Some interesting insights, although there were aspects of the central premise which I didn’t like (and about which I won’t mention -- spoilers!). But for a fundamentally odd piece I found myself moved at the end

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Yes, no doubt David Butt Philip will steal the show as usual, inspiring further gushing comment about his remarkable talents from all of us UK contingent, as if we needed any encouragement! Oh no, wait.

              A friend tells me the women are very exciting -- the same friend who felt Magee’s Foreign Princess augured badly for her Empress when we saw the Rusalka HD together, so I am much encouraged.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Seriously, I was very impressed by David Butt Philip as the Apparition both times I saw the show. It seemed a big, warm, glamorous sound -- not what I was expecting, actually.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Dame Gwyneth seemed to like him when he took part in her masterclasses last May.

            • manou says:

              Of course -- I had completely forgotten he was the butt of Dame Gwyneth’s corrections.

              (A direct descendant of Dame Clara, of course…).

              To whom it may concern:

            • Regina delle fate says:

              Cocky -- you’re in for a treat. This is one of the best things the RO has done in ages. But Manou is right about Botha. He seems to be a fixture in Bychkov-conducted shows, alas.

            • Regina delle fate says:

              Hehe Manou re Butt Philip. I was v impressed, too, with his Apparition of the Youth. He will have to drop the middle name if Rattbag brings him to the Met! Rather as Christoph Prick appears in the US, and UK, under the name of Christoph Perick. I wonder if Alfred Muff has much of an American career?

            • MontyNostry says:

              You gotta hand it to Botha, though -- he can certainly sing the role (and from too far upstage in his big scena in Act II). Most tenors sound like they are going to bust a gut in roles that like, Apollo and Bacchus, but he delivers them magnificently.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Regina, Muff’s career dived after a good start in the US.

      • DonCarloFanatic says:

        I don’t complain about ticket prices because every live professional entertainment today costs a lot for a good seat, and opera is by no means the most expensive. But it can’t be denied that television and its successors has made choosing not to see a live event in person a rational choice. Which means that any purveyor of live entertainment has to create an audience expectation of unique value to draw us out of our comfortable homes.

        HD has done so, by giving us the up-close-and-personal (sometimes too much so) as if we all had super prime orchestra seats. It also has added value by giving us live backstage tours and intermission features. Additionally, it frees us of social and monetary constraints because no one cares what is worn to a movie theater, and no seats are assigned or cost more; wear anything and get there early and one can sit happily in the best seat in the house. DVDs also offer this comfort.

        At the opera house, the free lectures beforehand are an example of added value; there should be more of them and they should be better publicized and better physically arranged. Mostly, though, anything special at an opera house is reserved for extremely wealthy regular patrons. Any sense of the event itself being special almost does not exist. Compare the sense of excitement at a Ring Cycle evening to any other opera evening and there’s a huge difference. If Anna Netrebko or Jonas Kaufmann is singing, there is nothing in the opera house to urge people to be excited about that unique performance. It’s exactly the same experience outside the auditorium as it was the night before for Joe Blow singing. I do not call an ad for signing CDs at a later date exciting.