Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eco-Conscious Opera; Plus, Parsifal in Lyon

It’s time for another update from this year’s Opera Europa conference! In case you’ve missed the first three blog posts by Andrea Reay, Seattle Opera’s Production Administrator, click here, here, and here.

My day started with a session on opera in an eco-conscious society. It included a presentation by an opera company in England that installed a wind turbine to help offset their energy costs, and the National Theatre in London, which gave a presentation on refurbishing its older building to newer and more modern energy-saving standards. Both presentations were incredibly enlightening. I know in Seattle, we are all very eco-conscious and we often think we are doing everything we can to be as green as possible. It was a nice refresher to see that the small things do matter (recycling sets, printing on both sides of the page, etc.) but there is always more that can be done—and with a cost savings to the company as a result. One very exciting idea from Lyon is a website dedicated to helping patrons rideshare to performances and events. We did something similar with the Seattle Opera Chorus and Orchestra during the last Ring cycle, and I wonder if something like that would catch on in Seattle with our patrons.

I then went on to a session on co-productions. It was wonderful to listen to the European perspective on why a co-production makes not only good financial sense, but also good artistic sense. Even in circumstances where so much local pride is attached to an artistic institution, co-productions are still a viable way to introduce an audience to a new perspective and build a cross-cultural bridge. Over and over again it was stressed by the members on the panel and other participants that every dollar (or Euro) spent on a co-production is a great investment. You are not only investing in the artistic piece itself, but in marketing yourself to a wider audience.

Since I’m at Opera Europa to promote our rentals program, I was curious if there was a European market to rent and share productions as we do in the U.S. I was very pleased to discover that it is quite popular to rent other productions and that there is a database of available productions that many companies look at when searching for shows. I can't wait to get home and learn how to add us to that database. There is also a program in France that allows other French companies to rent shows to each other for a per-performance fee. I wonder if that kind of pricing would work in the U.S. Our pricing now is much more based on how large a show is, so it will be interesting to do some research on our pricing model to see if this type of model could increase rentals.

We were then honored to have lunch at the town hall, where the Minister of Culture for Lyon spoke with tremendous passion and vigor about the importance of funding for the arts. He reiterated that for every euro spent on the arts, there is a threefold return on that investment. I know I have heard other arts advocates in Washington state list similar statistics. It was wonderful to know that wherever you go there are people in positions of political leadership willing to stand up and fight for the arts. They see funding for the arts is an investment in the economy and community—one which makes good financial and social sense.

After lunch (the French food was amazing), we went on a backstage tour of the opera house given by the Opéra de Lyon technical director. It was incredible to get a first-hand perspective on how they organize their rehearsals, staging and technical, and learn about how they produce. They have a full-time technical and production staff of over 100 people. It was amazing to learn how their model works, some of their advantages and disadvantages, and to think about how we could learn from their experiences.

We were then fortunate enough to get tickets to see their production of Parsifal. Having been a PA on our last production of Parsifal that opened McCaw Hall, I was very excited to see the show from the front of the house. It was a wonderful that my first European opera experience was a Wagner production, and quite appropriate given our devotion to his work. During the long intermissions (one was 50 minutes, and one was 40 minutes), we were able to meet more people and do even more networking. We got back to the hotel late, and were tired—but also very satisfied with our day.

--Andrea Reay

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