Friday, May 17, 2013

Reflections on the Opera America conference

Every year, opera companies from throughout North America get together for a conference and discuss strategies in development, new marketing ideas, technical production discoveries, programming ventures, etc. This year's host city was beautiful Vancouver, Canada.

I assisted a few sessions, here is a behind-the-scenes look at some of them:

Electronic Media Forum: Where is Opera headed now that we have media as a means of communication? We explored twitter and facebook as a marketing tool, some companies are creating short videos of behind-the-scenes (anything from following the day in the life of a singer, to how a set is built, to an homage to their unsung heroes), how blogging is a great way to connect directly with your audience, recording a world premiere, livestreaming a performance online, radio and television broadcasts, having your audience tweet live during a final dress performance etc.  In this day and age of communication, the thirst for audiences to get more information on the process has broadened and it’s very exciting to see how we can interact more with our patrons.

Atmospherics Onstage: This session was very interesting because we are always seeking to have more haze or fog onstage. Haze is wonderful for lighting effects; it helps create beautiful dramatic shafts of light. What is tricky in opera, as opposed to theatre, we have to worry about our singers' voices, the orchestra, visibility of monitors- how can we not hinder their performance, etc? The consensus is mostly to use water based machines--unfortunately not all of them give us that great of an effect as glycol based machines.

As the Seasons Turn: Non-traditional Opera on the Mainstage: This is always a hot topic at the conference. Some companies are having difficulty getting their audience excited about new music or new productions. Some companies do shows in parking lots, swimming pools, outdoors tents. However, if you put out a quality product, then the audience has a better chance to follow you and take artistic risks with you. I have to say, I was very proud to be sitting in the conference room as a member of BLO. We have been adventurous, concept wise, while being respectful musically and I think the pay off has been successful. Our Annex series (producing one opera each Season in a non-theatrical venue) is a wonderful opportunity to see a show within a different architectural context and many companies are hoping to have something similar in a few years.

I also visited the Queen Elizabeth theatre which underwent some major renovations over the past few years to sound proof it and make it more comfortable for the audience. I attended the keynote address, numerous mingling activities, and the Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase (they have interesting projects from the next generation opera makers). I heard about The Magic Flute Vancouver Opera produced with a new book and it made me look forward even more to our upcoming production. Our creative team has come up with a brilliant context and it will give our audience a new take on the story.

My favorite, year after year, remains the NEW WORKS SAMPLER. Over the evening you get to hear all kinds of new works either in development phase or recently performed. I find it fascinating because it’s a great way to get a pulse as to where opera in America is. I am incredibly excited by some of the new materials  I got to hear.

Julia Noulin-Merat
BLO Associate Producer 

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