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Thread: To worry about the number of operagoers or about the quality of singing?

          
   
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  1. #121
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    How would one explain that so many young people in Russia go to the opera?
    Hm... because the Ruskies are crazy?

    No, kidding, of course. I don't know what explains it, but would guess, wildly different cultural environment so transposing conclusions to the American environment (and that's what I've been addressing; the youth outreach efforts by American regional opera companies) might be unwarranted.

    But you know, this could be as simple as a matter of offerings and concentration. Maybe the bulk of the musically-inclined youth in Russia will move to Moscow for the continuation of their musical education and there aren't too many offers that are well-priced to this demographic's spending power so they all flock to the Novaya Opera Theatre. Just by looking at a list of opera companies in Russia and in spite of Russia being a country where classical music seems to have played a much more prominent historical role than in the United States, they don't seem to have a lot of opera companies, especially, outside of the big centers like Moscow and St. Petersburg (even there, the offer seems to be limited). This contrasts with America's over one hundred regional opera companies and easily another hundred of opera-producing academic departments. Of course in all of these regional companies you do find young people, especially those who are already training in our college voice programs and conservatories, etc., who will always make a point of attending the regional productions when one is available, in order to learn from the more experienced pros. So, if we only had a limited number of offers and we had the Met in New York City being the kind of almost lonely big game in the nation, equivalent to the Bolshoi (together with say, San Francisco Opera which would be the equivalent to the Mariinsky) and something like New York City Opera charged more affordable tickets as the equivalent of the Novaya, plus just a handful of regional houses and nothing much else were available, maybe all those voice students would be flocking to NYCO from all the other 49 states for lack of other options, and would give to a foreigner attending a NYCO performance the impression that the American youth is highly interested in opera.

    So this is all speculative of course, but I'm just saying, if you have wildly different cultural environment, wildly different socio-economics, wildly different offer and concentration, then what you'll get will be wildly different behaviors and it will be hard to draw conclusions that would be valid to both environments.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); August 22nd, 2013 at 05:54 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #122
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    I'm sure that "audience expansion" efforts in the U.S. would be different to some extent than that in many European countries where opera has been a significant part of the culture for three centuries and more. It's not unusual for opera houses in the German-speaking countries to include performances specifically designed for children/families in their season schedules. It may well be the case that American opera companies need to focus their promotional efforts on a more mature audience. In connection with that, I'm sure the marketing/public relations departments at many of these companies are conducting research to determine who their audience is -- i.e., all of the pertinent demographic information related to age, income, educational level, etc. -- so that they can focus their advertising campaigns more effectively. Playing the devil's advocate for a moment, I have to ask: Could at least some of these companies be engaged in educational outreach programs not simply because it's "nice," but because their own marketing research has indicated to them that there are, indeed, some long-term payoffs here?

  3. #123
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MAuer View Post
    Could at least some of these companies be engaged in educational outreach programs not simply because it's "nice," but because their own marketing research has indicated to them that there are, indeed, some long-term payoffs here?
    I suppose they could, but suspect that they are doing it out of misguided hopes, because the long-term payoffs can't be really studied yet, given that these outreach efforts are relatively recent. So what I think is that people engage in the premature conclusion that exposing the youngsters will result in future replenishing of opera audiences because it sounds right and feels nice, without much evidence to support it.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  4. #124
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Just by looking at a list of opera companies in Russia and in spite of Russia being a country where classical music seems to have played a much more prominent historical role than in the United States, they don't seem to have a lot of opera companies, especially, outside of the big centers like Moscow and St. Petersburg (even there, the offer seems to be limited).
    You are right about classical music. 25 years ago, you radio was dominated by classic radio. These days, you can't find a single classical radio station in Moscow (don't know about St. Pete's).

    But that said, is a lot of classical music, theater, and opera aimed at kids in the former USSR. For example: [clicky] (This one is in the Ukraine, but when it opened, it was part of the USSR.)
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  5. #125
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    You are right about classical music. 25 years ago, you radio was dominated by classic radio. These days, you can't find a single classical radio station in Moscow (don't know about St. Pete's).

    But that said, is a lot of classical music, theater, and opera aimed at kids in the former USSR. For example: [clicky] (This one is in the Ukraine, but when it opened, it was part of the USSR.)
    Yes, I've talked to people from Eastern European countries and they said the communist educational system was very organized and regimented in terms of getting them to play an instrument, exposing them to classical music, etc., as a matter of national pride. That includes the friend I was talking about - she is from Croatia - although they did feel she had no talent for music (true) and after some tries, left her alone. My point is, how do we know if all these organized efforts is what now is leading the youngsters to attend the Novaya Opera Theater? Maybe the kids they kind of forced into it were turned off and are engaged in whatever other field they wanted to pursue (the case of my friend, who is now a medical doctor), while the youngsters flocking to the Novaya are the ones who were naturally musically inclined, regardless of exposure (not to forget everything else I said before; for all I know the Novaya may be the only game in town for them, opportunities in the rest of Russia are nowadays meager, and that's why they go to the Novaya for lack of other options while in the USA they are spread out among hundreds of regional companies and opera-producing academic departments).

    You know, if you go to Juilliard, then you'll see a lot of youngsters there attending their opera productions. It doesn't mean the young US population is interested in opera. Maybe the Novaya is the Juilliard equivalent, in this context.

    The fundamental part of all of this and the only thing that would actually convince me, would be evidence that an exposed group versus a non-exposed group, both randomly picked, with intervening factors controlled for and matched for those, had a higher rate of opera-loving conversion - a statistically significant difference favoring the exposed group, and one that would link the same people who were exposed early to the same people at an older age expressing love for opera. Otherwise it's all speculation.

    So, we have no studies showing this (at least, not that I know - it would be a fascinating subject of study), therefore I'm not convinced.

    What do we do have?

    Anecdotal evidence - people who say "yes, I grew up with opera, my father listened to it all the time. Today I love opera."

    However to counter that, we have *countless* anecdotal evidence that is just the other way around, with people who say (like my son) "my dad listened to it all the time; it drove me bananas; I hate it, and won't get any close to it. The school took me to see La Bohème. I thought it was a colossal bore." Well hopefully I'm trying to change this and my second exposure attempt, like I mentioned here - to La Traviata in a much better production (and a very attractive Violetta - my son is a straight guy with all his hormones in good functioning order, hehehe) - but more importantly, with him having at least reached the age of almost 22, did work better. But regardless of my son's personal story, we do hear the above quite a lot so one anecdotal evidence cancels the other.

    Then, we're left with looking back among those who do love opera or work professionally in opera.

    So, if this early exposure hypothesis were true, we'd at least find that a majority of people who now as adults love opera or work professionally in opera are the ones who had been exposed early, right? It turns out that no, the majority of people who love opera, it is my untested impression, seem to have encountered it later in life without early exposure, and even the professionals seem to fall into the same majority, with only a few of them actually having had childhood or middle-school exposure to opera. At least, that's what I see in America. Of course, maybe in Russia it's different.

    Plus, we look at the outreach programs with literally *hundreds of thousands* of exposed kids (I'm making it sound like an infectious disease, LOL) still remaining totally indifferent to it, bored by it, and away from it.

    Like I've said over and over, if the hypothesis held water, we'd expect a much higher percentage of young patrons attending the very same regional companies that have outreached to them. Well, no. We don't see it. These kids are not slapping each other trying to get ahead in a box-office line, and trying to snatch tickets the minute they go on sale online (like they do for a Beyoncé concert that sells out in all of 47 seconds once sales start). We see a bunch of gray-haired senior citizens.

    So where in the hell is the evidence that supports early exposure as a valid strategy? I don't see it. I see the opposite, actually, and I'm kind of puzzled at why the opera companies keep throwing money at this.

    At the very least, Opera America should sponsor one such study, and companies should fund the study with a fraction of what they're spending on outreach. If like I suspect the conclusion then popped up to say "the data in the study supports the idea that early exposure doesn't matter and doesn't increase significantly the odds that the subjects will become opera-loving, ticket-buying patrons in the future; while other factors such as a musically-inclined brain and a general inclination for classical music and the theatrical arts, have a much larger size-effect and account for *spontaneous* conversions when people reach the right age, at a much higher rate than the one achieved by early exposure" then Opera America should issue a recommendation to its member companies, saying "we recommend that funds be diverted from early exposure efforts to diffusion of the art form among older populations because the latter seems to have a better investment-return ratio. Getting our itinerant programs to visit senior centers rather than middle and high schools and distributing free dress rehearsal tickets to senior citizens rather than to teenagers is much more likely to enhance our attendance figures."

    I'm so convinced of this (although I have no hard core evidence to be, either) that I'd be prepared to bet some top money that this would be the outcome of such a study, if implemented.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  6. #126
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    What I've been questioning much more is the investment/return ratio. I think it is often more effective to invest money in bringing opera exposure to older demographics (in terms of how many will then, convert), then to younger demographics.
    OK. Even if my idea was valid and could be proven it would still depend on the effort of parents. When we're talking about specific measurable programs a society can do, I've no doubt that targeting mature population is far more effective than targeting teenagers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    I think these "planted seeds" equate to opening the mind so that when the opportunity presents itself, there may be a higher likelihood of an "Aha" moment.
    Yes, that's exactly my feeling, not only about classical music. If young parents should be taught anything, it's the concept of exposing their children to the highest creative achievements (science included) in order to create the respect (awe!) and discourage kitsch and triviality in young minds - even if the parents themselves are not particularly interested in reading or opera or painting...
    It's very difficult to think highly of Coke if you've tasted the red wines of Hvar or white Iločki Traminac...

  8. #128
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Davor View Post
    Yes, that's exactly my feeling, not only about classical music. If young parents should be taught anything, it's the concept of exposing their children to the highest creative achievements (science included) in order to create the respect (awe!) and discourage kitsch and triviality in young minds - even if the parents themselves are not particularly interested in reading or opera or painting...
    It's very difficult to think highly of Coke if you've tasted the red wines of Hvar or white Iločki Traminac...
    There is a lot of truth in this. My father used to visit the local public library on his way home from work, to check out books that were age-appropriate for each of his children. Then he would encourage us to read them, and would have literary soirées with us, when he'd ask questions and discuss the books with us. So, he guided us all through all the classics in world literature, causing in all five kids a love for literature. Even my profession came from this, since Dad brought me at one point - I was 13! - a book on psychoanalysis (by the late Dr. Charles Brenner - I had the pleasure of meeting the author a couple of years before he passed away of old age, when I was already a psychoanalyst, and told him that his book had influenced my career choice - he was very pleased) and I found it so fascinating that then and there at that young age I decided what I wanted to embrace as a career.

    Funny enough, while Dad also loved opera (or at least, opera singers - I don't recall him attending opera, but he did have recordings of Caruso and Maria Callas) he never tried to expose me to that.

    This said and rekindling something that was said earlier in this thread, I'd say that chances are that there is something specific about opera that turns off young people because other genres of classical music are routinely appreciated by the youngsters (including me; I used to listen to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Liszt etc since a very young age but not to opera) in much larger numbers than opera, which seems to be an acquired taste that comes with age.

    I can almost guarantee that if we were to do an experiment and expose the same group of youngsters to even a good production of a short opera, and then to symphonic pieces of the same duration (to control for the attention span problem) another day, and collect their impressions, a larger percentage would have liked the symphonies as compared to the opera.

    PS - Hehehe, I see your point about wine... although it's another acquired taste, not to forget that it would be difficult to expose kids to it instead of Coke, at least here in America (actually, it would be illegal here). I also love wine and I confess I was eager to see my son turn the corner of the legal drinking age to teach him about wine - it worked, he even took a wine appreciation class in college, and now has started to even have his favorites (he loves Malbec). I'm still working on the opera front, though, with mixed results.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  9. #129
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Following is an interview with the Director of, and link to, her documentary "I Live to Sing" that was shown here in Washington during the World Music and Independent Film Festival on Wednesday. The doc follows three budding opera singers who grew up in poverty - in South Africa.

    Since the interview and film touch on how the three singers came to focus on the unlikely art form of opera as well as their backgrounds, it is germane to our discussion . I don't know whether it will receive another showing here in DC, but I'm dying to see it:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifest...4cd_story.html

  10. #130
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    I suppose they could, but suspect that they are doing it out of misguided hopes, because the long-term payoffs can't be really studied yet, given that these outreach efforts are relatively recent. So what I think is that people engage in the premature conclusion that exposing the youngsters will result in future replenishing of opera audiences because it sounds right and feels nice, without much evidence to support it.
    I can only speak for the local opera company, but they had a troupe of young singers who were performing in area schools back in the early 1980s. Those students who heard them are in their late 20s/early 30s now, so at least in this instance, some of the long-term payoffs (if any) can be measured. (Though that's assuming that they remained in the local area, which certainly wouldn't be the case for all of them.) And while there's probably no way to find out, I'd love to know if any of Kathleen Battle's former students ever developed a lasting interest in opera. Before she was singing with major opera houses and when she was fresh out of college, she was teaching with the Cincinnati Public Schools and would take her class to Music Hall when she was performing there with the Symphony or at the May Festival. While I suspect that outreach efforts aimed at teenagers probably aren't effective, I'm not quite so certain about those aimed at younger grade schoolers. Heck, it may work with kindergarteners if done the right way.

  11. #131
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MAuer View Post
    I can only speak for the local opera company, but they had a troupe of young singers who were performing in area schools back in the early 1980s. Those students who heard them are in their late 20s/early 30s now, so at least in this instance, some of the long-term payoffs (if any) can be measured. (Though that's assuming that they remained in the local area, which certainly wouldn't be the case for all of them.) And while there's probably no way to find out, I'd love to know if any of Kathleen Battle's former students ever developed a lasting interest in opera. Before she was singing with major opera houses and when she was fresh out of college, she was teaching with the Cincinnati Public Schools and would take her class to Music Hall when she was performing there with the Symphony or at the May Festival. While I suspect that outreach efforts aimed at teenagers probably aren't effective, I'm not quite so certain about those aimed at younger grade schoolers. Heck, it may work with kindergarteners if done the right way.
    Right, it's difficult to know. Can you imagine how expensive it would be to run a study over 30 years and track down people exposed to opera at a young age to see if they later became opera lovers?

    These things are expensive and difficult enough when they are being done to find out the answer to much more pressing questions such as various health risks and outcomes for some deadly diseases. I don't think funds to study this and reply to an opera marketing question would ever be available.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  12. #132
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    Following is an interview with the Director of, and link to, her documentary "I Live to Sing" that was shown here in Washington during the World Music and Independent Film Festival on Wednesday. The doc follows three budding opera singers who grew up in poverty - in South Africa.

    Since the interview and film touch on how the three singers came to focus on the unlikely art form of opera as well as their backgrounds, it is germane to our discussion . I don't know whether it will receive another showing here in DC, but I'm dying to see it:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifest...4cd_story.html
    Yes, but see?
    Look at these three examples.
    One, a young person who used to sing in a choir, then came to opera.
    Two, a young person who didn't even have a clue, and whose voice was discovered, and got encouraged to apply for a college program.
    Three, a young person who listened to a singer in a TV ad and thought it was beautiful.

    These three people didn't get to opera from outreach programs. The closest would be the third example, but even that one also does qualify for some major role played by spontaneous interest.

    That's exactly what I've been saying, that when we look at real life opera professionals, not even these people came to opera due to some sort of early exposure, and even when they do (a case can be made for the third example) this is kind of cancelled by other factors - in the case of the South Africans, one out of three got interested from being exposed to an operatic singer through a TV ad, while two out of three did not go through any early exposure at all but still found their way into opera.

    Again, a sample of three is not that significant, but these things keep illustrating my point rather than the point of those who believe in the effectiveness of early exposure.

    So, actually, these examples would tend to indicate that even when you invest in the youngsters, maybe the performing-opera-in-middle-and-high-school model is not even the best method.

    Maybe people should, instead, screen choir singers in church and schools and try to recruit the more promising ones to opera, or just plain screen voices and try to discover them by offering scholarships, and so forth.

    The let's-outreach-to-the-schools-by-taking-opera-to-them remains, for me, unconvincing as an effective strategy.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); August 24th, 2013 at 06:23 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  13. #133
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    The let's-outreach-to-the-schools-by-taking-opera-to-them remains, for me, unconvincing as an effective strategy.
    I'm convinced my willingness to consider classical music (broader than opera) post-college was related to being taken to see Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf at the Children's Theatre in the Woods at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in the 4th grade in a class trip where we were all bused over from our elementary school. Certainly I remember Prokofiev's work well (accompanied by age-suitable theater scenery, props, costumes, and performers) from that performance.

    My only other Western classical music experience that I remember before this was being taken to some classical concert at age 5. I recall the first part of it and then nothing--presumably I slept through the rest of the concert.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  14. #134
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Right, it's difficult to know. Can you imagine how expensive it would be to run a study over 30 years and track down people exposed to opera at a young age to see if they later became opera lovers?

    These things are expensive and difficult enough when they are being done to find out the answer to much more pressing questions such as various health risks and outcomes for some deadly diseases. I don't think funds to study this and reply to an opera marketing question would ever be available.
    The study wouldn't need to be done over 30 years. An opera company's marketing department could begin by surveying its own subscribers to find out when they had their initial exposure to opera, and under what circumstances. In fact, I'd be quite surprised if opera companies aren't undertaking such research.

  15. #135
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Look at this typically misguided plan for an opera company:

    Seattle Opera does not begin its educational efforts with potential patrons in their 20s and 30s, however. Those begin in prekindergarten, with a program called “Opera Time” presenting musical storytelling, which reached 1,591 kids in the 2012-13 season. A touring program, “Opera Goes to School,” served 13,163 students, with hourlong programs of fully staged operas in schools and community centers. This year, Seattle Opera commissioned and premiered a new trilogy (“Our Earth”) of short operas for young children, with music by Eric Banks, a libretto in English by Irene Keliher, and performances featuring the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.

    For middle- and high-school students and youth-music groups, there’s “Experience Opera,” offering passes to dress rehearsals (4,390 attendees last season), backstage tours and visits to the costume and scene shops (as well as 2,929 attendees at classroom visits). Seattle Opera also presents “opera camps,” workshops and other programs for school breaks and summer holidays.

    For adults, the company presents pre-opera talks, chats with the staff and post-performance Q&As with Jenkins, as well as tours and performances by singers in the Young Artists Program. (That program has fallen victim to the budgetary crisis for 2013-14).
    So, the company continues to invest money in the attempt to attract youngsters. The older population, they cater to the ones who are already there (pre-opera talks, post-performance Q&As) and the little outreach they did, they dropped due to budgetary problems.

    However, 81% of the Seattle Opera patrons are older than 45. Shouldn't they be focusing on this demographic instead, for their outreach efforts?

    Unsurprisingly, the company is in the red.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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