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(No) Big Deal!

img  Tobias

It has often been said that the crisis of Classical Music can be summed up by the crisis of the Opera. There is something to be said for that. For despite being its most spectacular and in some ways most commercial form and despite many flirts and romances with modernism, the general public all too often associates Opera with boredom. Especially the exodus of young people from the sacred halls has been massive and has caused deep worries among music lovers: If listeners stay away, how can these productions survive in the future? The New York City Opera has now set up a plan aimed directly at a winning over people between the age of 21 and 35. The question is whether it makes sense.

The offer is called "Big Deal!" and, despite its resemblence to recent ad campaigns by multinational food chains, has nothing do to with burgers and fries. Instead, it is a ticket price reduction scheme: If you pay $50 up front, you can get each single ticket of the season for $30 - instead of the usual $108. The seats you will get are regular ones, which means you won't get placed next to the bathroom or behind a huge pillar depriving you of sight. There are sixteen opera productions each season, so there's a lot of money to be saved, should you be inclined to see them all. And if you want your girl friend or boy friend (or any one else for that matter) to join you, you can get a $75 membership and buy two tickets per night for the same reduced admission fee.

In a recent column, James Ahearn, former managing editor of "The Record", has defended the idea. He believes it to be both "a good deal and good marketing". What he especially liked was the way the NYC Opera spoke the language of its target audience and gave them two-sentence descriptions of each piece. Carmen, for example, reads like this: "Hot gypsy girl, very independent, loves smoking, drinking, and stealing. But if we hook up, two words: watch out." Also, a pre-season party allowed Big-Deal participants to get to know each other and to simply have a good time.

A more critical note comes from Greg Sandow, who runs an excellent Internet blog on "the future of Classical music". While he praises the innitiative as such, to him the basic premise doesn't sound attractive at all: To pay for something up front in order to pay for something once more (as cheap as it may be) will scare off potential spectators. His analysis: "It s too complex and sounds too implausible".

Both authors have a point: The party for participants is an easy and excellent idea and the whole scheme makes sense from a economical and rational point of view. At the same time, the seemingly strange membership fee will likely raise doubts with those who are not opera-afficionados yet. However, both experts miss one important aspect - namely what the NYC Opera wanted to acchieve. We have the strong feeling that this plan wasn't about converting Pop- or Rockfans into Puccini-devotees. Instead, the Company has probably come to the conclusion that its future lies with those who are already interested in Opera and merely scared off by high prizes. Which is probably true: Staying loyal to your core-group is far less costly and allows you to cater to their needs, instead of finding the common denominator. By keeping the opera-experience exclusive and refusing to go cheap, the plan has put quality in first place - and that's not the worst thing, should you want to attract new visitors after all.

Homepage: NYC Opera
Source: Greg Sandow on the Future of Classical Music
Source: North

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