Improving Opera

Harry Padington of Newgate writes:

I run an opera company, and attendance has been flat. A rival company in our city’s been packing them in, though. How can I increase our audience share?

Harry, I’ve thought long and hard on your question (sorry it took so long to answer). Opera has a lot to offer. Beautiful singing, dramatic plots… but it needs an update to resonate with modern audiences. Here are a few ideas.

  • Tosca in 3D!Advertise the show as being in 3D. I don’t understand why anybody puts on a live show these days without highlighting this big plus.
  • Add zombies. Everything sells better with zombies. They may be tapering off, though, so watch for the next big thing.
  • Get big stars. Hollywood actors love to take a turn on the stage to prove they got culcha. Who the heck has heard of RenĂ© Pape, much less anyone your outfit can afford? But get Nicolas Cage or Johnny Depp up there, and you’ll fill those seats. Of course, they can’t necessarily sing, but see my next point but one.
  • More sword fights. I know it’s hard to sing well when you’re jumping around with a sword (or even without a sword), which brings me to my next point.
  • Lip-sync. Having people stand around singing is static. It’s boring. But if they move much, it interferes with the singing. What you need is someone to jump around, while someone else does the singing offstage. Especially appropriate if performing Cyrano.
  • Boost the cute factor. Puppies and little kids increase the aw-w-w-w of any show. Do you think anyone would’ve watched Frasier without that little dog?
  • Do operas for kids. Think about it. If adults come to a show they often have to find a babysitter. If the kids come, they need an adult to accompany them. So, more seats filled, and you’re training the next generation of opera goers. Bright colors, simple lyrics, clowning, killer robots, and none of that damn foreign language stuff.
  • Actually, nobody likes shows where they can’t understand the words. If you can’t do it in English, don’t bother. This also frees up the translation display for more important uses.
  • What uses, you ask? Audience participation is key. Picture this: “SHOULD MIMI SLEEP WITH MARCELLO? TEXT TO 65001.” Or, “tiro4005: OMG this family needs help #elektraatthemet”.
  • Join forces with a modern acrobatic circus, like Cirque du Soleil. More eye candy to keep things hopping.
  • Do sequels. This is really a no-brainer, and I don’t know why we don’t already have Carmen II and Madame Butterfly Does Vegas. If something was popular, people always want more of the same. Yes, I know some operas leave the stage littered with the corpses of major characters, but these things can be worked around. Comic books manage it just fine. You might also consider combined sequels, like Faust Meets The Merry Widow.
  • Popup opera. Like the music video show that flashed up fascinating facts about the band members during a performance, you can have assistants hold up placards with trivia about the performers and the shows (or use that translation board). Audiences eat this stuff up — “Joyce Didonato has 30 monkeys” or “This show was first performed in a barn, by horses.” It doesn’t have to be true, just entertaining. (Note: I have no idea whether Ms. Didonato actually has any pets. It was just an example.)

If you do even a few of these things, I’m sure you’ll sell out every night. Good luck! And if you want to thank me, a small commission on your increased sales would not be unwelcome.

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