15,000 seat Opera Houses & The Avengers VS La Traviata

The Dallas Opera at the Cowboy Stadium!

The Dallas Opera at the Cowboy Stadium!

Actually, the Dallas Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas, seats up to 80,000 (and up to 100,000 for special events).  On Saturday April 28, 2012 it seated approximately 15,000 Opera fans for a live simulcast performance of The Dallas Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

The stadium hosts a state of the art HD video board which is apparently the largest in the world:

Hanging approximately 90 feet above the field from the roof structure, the innovative video center spans between the 20-yard lines and features four individual boards- two facing the sidelines, 160 feet wide and 72 feet tall, and two facing the end zones, 53 feet wide and 30 feet tall, totaling over 25,000 square feet of display area other in the world, a center-hung video board.

The video board, weighing approximately 600 tons, is what the audience viewed the simulcast.  The initial ticket requests (tickets were free and presented by The Dallas Foundation) reached 33,000 and had the attendee number topped the 32,000 mark this event would have surpassed the San Francisco Opera‘s Opera at the [AT&T] Ballpark production of Verdi’s “Aida” in 2010.

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Economies of Scale and Orchestras

As quantity of production increases from Q to Q2, the average cost of each unit decreases from C to C1

A recent post by Drew McManus at Adaptistration reminded me of a brief argument I had with Greg Sandow at his blog.  In my previous post I talked about one way to increase performance or earned revenue through Price Discrimination for Orchestra Tickets.  Another way to increase performance revenue as well as lower costs is by changing the scale of the operations.

This is commonly referred to as Economies of Scale, and no, this has nothing to do with reducing pay or cutting back a season to lower costs.  The reduced costs comes about as the result of increased production, thus lowering cost per unit.  As the Investopedia defines it:

The increase in efficiency of production as the number of goods being produced increases. Typically, a company that achieves economies of scale lowers the average cost per unit through increased production since fixed costs are shared over an increased number of goods.

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“I hope next time we’ll have an opera in Arabic and I think it should feature the oud, which is one of my favourite instruments”

Renée Fleming doing choreography by Sara Jo Slate for "Thaïs" at the Metropolitan Opera 2008 December

“I hope next time we’ll have an opera in Arabic and I think it should feature the oud, which is one of my favourite instruments”

Renée Fleming

But…but, Ms. Fleming–there are already operas in Arabic and Turkish.  Not long after the importation of Western Styled Orchestras into the Ottoman Empire in 1828 (led by Giuseppe Donizetti, the brother of the more famous Gaetano Donizetti), Ottoman composers were writing Operas which incorporated all the stylistic elements of Ottoman Classical Music (including improvisatory taksims).  And not long after the Cairo Congress in 1932, Arabic composers such as Mohammed Abdul Wahhab, were composing Operatic works which melded some elements of Western Classical Music with the indigenous maqams and instrumentation.  All of these works would have included a standard instrumentation of Middle Eastern ensembles of which the Oud is essential.

Sadly, such is the nature of Western Music History education that we don’t learn of such things.  And such is the nature of Western Music ensembles that we don’t play such things.

Fortunately, I’m not stuck in that mold and have, as standard repertoire in two of my groups, selections from some of these numbers.  One of my favorites is “Cleopatra,” which is a beautiful tune from Mohammed Abdul Wahhab’s Operetta “Kilopetra” (1947).

Here’s a wonderful non-staged rendition of it by the Nezareth Orchestra:

Maybe one of these days Western Classical Music ensembles will truly become international and stop focusing on the Western Canonical works as well as Western Canonical compositional style and instrumentation.

I do wonder, given some of the “exotic” themes, stories and locales of many Western Operas, whether Ms. Fleming gained that interest that way or through the work she did with one of my friends who choreographed for the Met Opera production of “Thaïs” back in ’08.   *shrugs*



The death of the cinematic industry…

The Met’s “Die Walküre” by Richard Wagner, now showing at your local movie theatre!

So the last movie I went to, Thor, I was intrigued to see a table with fliers for a couple of upcoming “special events.”

The two fliers were slick promos for upcoming (one now past) live HD cast performances by the Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Look at that blurb in the top left hand corner of the first link – “Movie theaters aren’t just for the movies anymore.”  The big blurb in the middle column says:


Programming for everyone, and we mean everyone – from opera, sports, and comedy to original programming feature the biggest names in radio and television – with all of it containing exclusive content you won’t find anywhere else.  Special event features like behind-the-scenes footage and backstage interviews.  Big screens with high-definition picture and big-time surround sound with the best seats in the house and close-up view unlike any other.

For all the folks who continue to maintain the popularity of pop culture–in conjunction with the the supposed decline of high culture (Classical Music)–it’s a bit ironic that movie theaters are now showing live casts of, well, classical music.

The Met has been doing this for some time now, one of my friends and wonderful bellydancer, Sara Jo Slate, had the opportunity to teach Renée Fleming some moves and do choreography for the Gala show of the Met in ’08 (Thaïs) which I had to miss for various reasons (both the live opening as well as the livecast).  It was back then that the idea of live casting productions peaked my interest.

Now the LA Phil is getting in on the act.  With their new star power in the young Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, who first shook the Classical Music world when he toured the Venezuelan Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar (Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra).  Both he and the Orchestra are products of the Venezuelan, El Sistema, which has forcedsome of us to question how [little] we fund our Orchestras in the states given the wild success of the Venezuelan system.  The Berlin Philharmonic has also been broadcasting its concerts live for some time now with its Digital Concert Hall though I’m not sure how that fits into Movie Theaters as I believe this is for webcasting and/or live Television.

Changing US Demographics and Classical Music

The title here could just as easily have read “Changing US Demographics and Music” but it is the title of a blog that Ramon Ricker had posted some time ago.  Mainly the realization that the population on the streets of Amsterdam looke nothing like the audience he was seeing at a Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra concert (they were playing Mahler 6).

The most relevant quote, as this relates to what I’ve started to blog about regarding my mission and performing for underserved audiences. follows:

As we waited for the concert to start, I looked around the hall and noticed that the patrons didn’t look like any of the people we were seeing on the street. The concertgoers were stereotypical “Dutch people,” in my mind—good sized with mostly fair complexions. But the people on the Amsterdam streets were much more diverse. There were many more dark-skinned people—I suppose from Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East. I thought to myself, “The people in the streets can’t be listening to European classical music. I’m not hearing it anyplace out here. The demographic of Amsterdam must be changing. But if it continues to change who will be coming to these concerts in 50 years?”

Now, scroll over to US orchestras? In my mind it’s the same as the Amsterdam example. As I look out at the audience at a Rochester Philharmonic concert, the attendees don’t look the same as the general population of Rochester. I ask myself, “Why were US orchestras formed in the first place?” My guess is that the population was predominately of European descent at that time, and they probably wanted to experience or recreate the culture of their homeland. It felt natural to them.

Thinking about the well-documented changing demographic of the US towards greater numbers of citizens with other than European (read: white) ancestry, I can’t believe that this population, in 50 years or probably less, will want to sit in a concert hall and listen to Mahler. It’s not in their DNA or culture. And that’s not a put down. They also don’t get exposure to this music in schools. If I keep going along this line of thinking, I don’t see a bright future for “classical” music in general or US orchestras in particular. Sure this music will be with us, but will professional musicians be able to make a living playing it? That’s already difficult to do today in all but the largest US cities.

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