Notes from Marc Scorca’s visit

President and CEO of Opera America Marc Scorca (above) was in Madison this weekend to lead a discussion with the Madison Opera Board of Trustees. At the start of the strategic planning process, during which Madison Opera will set long term goals, Marc came in to focus our attention a bit, leading with the notion that “good planning pulls you from the future.” It was an enlightening, positive day, full of spirited discussion, and here are some excerpts:

Marc’s “Trends in the Opera World”

Marc walked us through his lists of ten positive trends in the opera world and ten concerns. This helped everyone in the meeting contextualize Madison Opera’s growth, and along the way sparked some pointed questions and debate (as all lists do). For the blog I’ll just note what I felt to be the most interesting positive and concerning trends:

: “Opera is a multimedia art form in a multimedia world”

  • The rest of the entertainment world is just catching up to opera, in many ways: we’ve been doing the full sensory overload thing for 400 years. Mixing media (music, drama, visual art, dance, technology) is intrinsically operatic. Today our lives are marked by the diversity of media that come at us every minute. You’re on the computer with your iPod on and the TV in the background (well, hopefully not). Opera has always been in the business of coming at an audience with multiple stimuli, and this bodes well for us, especially as directors and designers incorporate new stimuli through technology in their productions (e.g. Jun Kaneko’s Butterfly, Robert Lepage’s La Damnation de Faust).

Concern: “The emergence of multiple audiences”

  • Audience behavior is changing (e.g. less interested in subscriptions, more single tickets being purchased and purchased late), but perhaps the biggest conundrum is what Marc calls “the emergence of multiple audiences.” He says, “There are now audiences wanting to see Carmen for the first time and those who never want to see Carmen again.” This has serious implications for programming, especially in a city like Madison, where we have a strong group of devoted and knowledgeable opera goers in addition to new audiences potentially interested only in a Boheme or Butterfly that arrive every fall at the University of Wisconsin. Add to the mix a faltering economy that is making all ticket buyers more choosy. Balance is key, but it’s sometimes hard to strike.

Comparative Analysis: Fun Facts

  • Between 1992 and 2007, Madison Opera has grown 587% based on expenses. That’s an average of 13.7% per year, a rate almost unheard of and well ahead of other similar sized opera companies.
  • Madison Opera’s artistic expense per available seat is $99.14, and our cheapest seats are just $16, a price that has only increased 56% in the last 15 years. By comparison, the average increase on the lowest ticket price for other similar sized companies has been 173%, who in turn only have an artistic expense per seat average of $80. (Translation: HUGE bang for your buck at Madison Opera!)
  • Two general trends that emerged in looking at development and marketing productivity ratios (which were both very high) was that [a] a small staff is capable of doing A LOT and [b] a small staff keeps costs down which in turn keeps those ratios high
  • 40% of our unrestricted contributed income comes from individuals, 33% from foundations, 15% from guilds and other sources, 7% from corporations, and 5% from government
  • Madison Opera’s main season capacity utilization is at 86%, compared to 78% for other similar sized companies
  • And one last trend that may look slightly freakish is our subscription renewal for fiscal year 2007, which was at 94% (our season has only recently expanded from 2 to 3 productions; this and the increase in quality can attest to that high figure, up from 84% the year before!)

The Future of Madison Opera

Saturday’s meeting was meant to be an assessment of where we are and an organization of our thoughts on where we want to go. Unfortunately I can’t just go blathering about all of the cool stuff that came up in the discussion about Madison Opera’s next steps, but I can say it’s clear many exciting destinations await. Thankfully, our financial ducks are at present all in a row, as the comparative analysis revealed. But the reality remains that nothing huge can really happen in this economy, it’s just too risky. So for now, we go ahead with our strategic planning, letting the future pull us forward while being prudent and always striving to present the highest quality opera possible.

A visit from the President (and some snow)

We’re getting hit pretty hard right now with snow here in Madison, but that isn’t stopping President and CEO of Opera America Marc Scorca from coming out to Wisconsin for a visit with us. Tomorrow, Mr. Scorca will lead a discussion with the Madison Opera Board of Trustees and staff on “best practices” in the opera industry, in addition to presenting a comparative analysis of Madison Opera’s operations against other similar sized, American opera companies. He’ll also be gearing the Board up for the start of our strategic planning process.

Translation? Madison Opera has grown considerably in recent years, and it’s time to ask those existential questions of identity (“who do we want to be?” and “where are we going?”) and from there really focus on how we can continue to grow healthily and maximize our impact in the community. Mr. Scorca’s visit is a unique and exciting opportunity for us, and I’m sure it will generate much positive energy and practical awareness as we look to the future. More to come on this next week.

Also on the docket for today is a High School Apprenticeship Program event in collaboration with the UW School of Medicine Division of Otolaryngology-Voice Clinic. Our apprentices–all high school vocalists–will be meeting with a speech pathologist at the Voice Clinic for a tour and to learn about healthy practices for singers. They’ll also have a chance to see their own vocal cords on camera, which I’m sure will be equally gross and cool!

^Photo (C) The Capital Times.

The real Mozart

Okay, maybe the Cosi posts are a bit preemptive, as performances are still two months away. But it’s winter, in Wisconsin, and well, this music warms the soul and Mozart is just good fun.

For anyone interested in getting a sense of the “real” Mozart, I recommend perusing his letters. They are endlessly funny and touching. Surprisingly, they often reveal a picture of the man very similar to the churlish, goofy, playful character portrayed in the play/movie Amadeus. But they also display a seriousness and religiosity that gets lost in the popular perception of the boy genius. I’ll likely post more on this in the future, but here are some examples just from a quick scan of letters sent during his Italian tour in 1769-70, when he was in his early teens:

To his sister, from Worgl, December 1769 (13 years old):
“The prima Dona is tolerable, but I think she is as old as the hills, sings less well than she acts and is the wife of a violinist at the opera called Masi…Ballerino primo, good; ballerina prima, good but a monstrous scarecrow.”

To his sister, from Milan, March 3, 1779 (14 years old):
“Kiss Mama’s hand for me 100000000000 times. My compliments to all good friends and a thousand compliments to you from if-you-want-to-catch-him-you-have-him-already…”

To his sister, from Rome, April 21, 1770:
“Pray you will look out the arithmetic tables, for you wrote them out yourself, and I have lost them and so have quite forgotten them.”

To his sister, from Naples, June 5, 1770:
“Naples and Rome are two sleepy cities. Beautiful writing, isn’t it? Write to me and don’t be so lazy. Otherwise you will get some whackings from me!
….The opera here is by Jomelli; it is beautiful, but too discreet and old fashioned for the theater…The dances are wretchedly pompous. The theatre is handsome. The King is a rough Neapolitan in manners and always stands on a stool at the opera to appear a little taller than the Queen…”

To his mother, from Bologna, September 29, 1770:
“I am grieved indeed at this prolonged illness of poor Miss Martha’s which she is forced to endure with patience. I hope with God’s help she will soon get well again, but if not, one must not grieve too much, for God’s will is always best and God doubtless knows best whether it is better to be in this world or in the other. But she must take heart now that the rain is over and the fine weather is come.”

To his mother, from Milan, Oct. 20, 1770:
“I can write but little, for much recitative writing has made my fingers very painful. I beg Mama pray that my opera* may go well and that we may then be happily reunited.”
*Opera referred to is Mitridate, re di Ponto.

Source: Letters of Mozart, edited by Hans Mersmann. Published by Dorset Press, 1986.

Cosi fan Tutte: Click/Read/Watch/Listen

Click/Read/Watch/Listen is a new educational component on the Madison Opera website. It’s our guide to online articles and videos in addition to suggested DVDs, recordings, and books related to a given season opera. With this new feature you’ll be able to easily locate clips on YouTube, music and plot study guides, composer and librettist biographies, and more.

CLICK HERE to download the PDF guide to Cosi fan Tutte and get going. Click/Read/Watch/Listen and explore the sounds and background of Mozart’s opera for yourself!

Danielle de Niese in NY Times

The “gifted and glamorous young soprano” Danielle de Niese–who presents a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater on February 19 in partnership with Madison Opera–was featured by the New York Times this weekend: click to read “This Euridice Doesn’t Need a Lifeline.” De Neise makes her role debut as Euridice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on Friday, though at just 29 she’s already been singing at the Met for an astounding 10 years. Madisonites can see de Niese live in HD during a Met Opera broadcast of Orfeo ed Euridice at Marcus Point Ultra Screen Cinemas (Big Sky Drive) on January 24 at 12 p.m. But don’t miss the real thing: click here to purchase tickets to Danielle de Niese in recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, Thursday, February 19, 8 p.m. In the article you’ll see she’s presenting the same program at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall a week after her stop in Madison!