Opera Theater's highest note: more money, more diversity
Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ 37th season, which ended Sunday night, experienced an 18.3 percent increase in total subscriptions and single ticket revenue, general director Timothy O’Leary announced Wednesday evening. That’s the company’s biggest attendance hike in seven years.
During the season at each of its four new productions, observers noticed an increase in younger persons and in ethnic diversity among audience members. Box office statistics that O’Leary released Wednesday evening underline that. An increase in sales, youth and ethnic diversity are all part of the strategic plan O’Leary and his board set out in 2009, one year after he moved to St. Louis to take the top job with the company.
Of the first time ticket-buyers, 17.8 percent self-identified themselves to the box office as being members of an ethnic minority. O'Leary, who himself got the opera bug in high school, has nurtured younger music lovers. He started a Young Friends group with special pre-performance and post-performance events during the season as well as parties and other events out-of- season. This year attendance at those special “young” events was up 132 percent over last year, which in turn had broken previous attendance. The three original Young Friends events during the season sold out, so more were added.
Box office totals show that 25,187 individuals attended the festival season’s four operas. Ticket sales topped the company’s strategic goal of $1.8 million. The four productions drew audience members from each zip code in the St. Louis area as well as continuing its longtime tradition of bringing opera lovers from across the U.S. and at least a dozen other countries specifically to attend the opera.
Despite the national economy, subscription sales were up 5 percent over the previous year. And 16.5 percent of those who signed up for the three or four opera subscription packages were first-time subscribers.
In selecting the operas for the season, O’Leary said he had hoped that the introduction of a musical by Stephen Sondheim – “Sweeney Todd” – would draw from a wider pool of ticket buyers who know American musicals better than opera and would see that the line dividing the two can be faint. The 2011 OTSL’s production of Sondheim “A Little Night Music” had brought in many new audience members.
That show may have helped garner new interest. This season 29 percent of all attendees were from households that had never bought OTSL tickets before. That was a 6 percent increase from 2011.
Subscriptions for next season, which will begin May 25, 2013, are on sale. It includes Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance”; a duo production of two short operas on the same bill: Puccini’s “Il Tabarro” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”; Smetana’s “The Kiss,” and the company’s 23rd world premiere, “Champion” by New Orleans Jazz great Terence Blanchard and Pulitzer Prize-winner and actor Michael Cristofer.