The English Touring Opera and London’s Guildhall School of Drama and Music conducted a survey of 230 participants or so, all of whom had attended live screenings in movie theaters in 2013. The opera offerings ranged from modern satire (Shostakovich’s The Nose) to grand warhorses, both comic and dramatic (Verdi’s Falstaff, Puccini’s Tosca). Afterwards, some seventy-five percent of the attendees reported they felt no different about possibly attending a live production in the future. Ten percent felt less motivated.
That’s not good. In fact, the ETO’s general director James Conway concluded, “A lot has been speculated about the potential for cinema relays to create new audiences for live opera. I would love that to be the case but, as this research indicates, it may be wishful thinking.”
There ARE several caveats, though, before anyone starts dismantling the efforts of the Dallas Opera with its simulcasts at Texas Stadium and the Arts Magnet, with its in-school Met Opera telecasts. First, these London screenings were held at cinemas — which would mean the experience is decidedly different from a free gigantor simulcast at Texas Stadium, complete with beer and Warner Brothers cartoons. Second, the audience that was drawn to these screenings and participated in the survey was, well, not exactly the ‘new’ audience opera companies would hope for (nor the one that actually attends the Booker T screenings): Eighty percent were more than 60 years old. Fewer than 10 percent were younger than 50. Exposing younger minds to opera as a way of interesting them in it may still have validity.