Opera America is underway here in Dallas, Texas and at the opening session the tone was set for the next four days. Marc Scorca outlined the theme of the this year’s conference. Despite many changes taking place in our ecomony, including the numerous issues facing the retail industry, the buying patterns of millennials, changing audience tastes, and pressure from the current political climate, opera, according to Marc, still has a place in our communities.
In fact, some of the shifts occurring are actually a good sign for opera. With the decline of retail consumerism people are seeking out experiences that they can enjoy in their social circles. While the subscription ticket model, long rumored to be dead, may not garner the kind of support it used to, there are signs that audiences are frequently seeking out the kinds of experiences that opera companies are offering. In addition to companies that have been around for decades there are new innovative companies sprouting up that are challenging the very notion of what it means to be defined as an opera company.  

Not only was their a general feeling in the room that the constant talk about the death of opera was no longer in the forefront of opera company’s minds, there might actually be cause for optimism. Impending doom hasn’t come. The opening session also featured remarks from some of brightest artistic talent, each outlining in 279 words or less their vision for the future of opera. 

The theme of the conference, “Creating Collaborative Change” seemed all the more fitting in light of the innovation happening in the industry. From operas that take place in cars to production companies that are investing in Rock Opera, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, there is a creative and collaborative spirit that is driving opera at this moment in exciting ways. As I sat in the opening session I couldn’t help but think about the phrase, “What is old is new again.” Opera had for most of its history been a pop culture art form. It thrived in the 19th century in opera houses that contained opportunities for people to gathering in social settings. We often forget that composers like Rossini made more off the gaming tables in the opera houses than in actually composing opera. The opportunity that opera has to reconnect with audiences is a competitive advantage afforded to few industries. I would like to see the next generation of opera houses harness this concept and create spaces that are less architectural monument and more socially driven. A restaurant, a bar, a casino in an opera house? One can only hope.

Plenty of challenges still remain however. Innovation costs money and many opera companies are still struggling with cash flow. While audiences are responding to innovative programming and novel production approaches, keeping them engaged beyond the actual performance is becoming even more important if an opera company is to remain sustainable. Though the technology to track, segment and communicate with audiences is readily available many opera executives haven’t yet learned to use it to their advantage. They are fed information rather than seeking it out for themselves. This seems to indicate both a lack of technological savvy among a generation of executives and the slow evolution of systems that can deliver information with the need for advanced programming skills.

Three more days are still to come, but at the opening reception attendees felt pleased that the mood so far had generated the kinds of conversations that may lead to continued innovation and change.