Opera to end Saturday showings of primary productions
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 7:28 AM
Tulsa Opera will alter its performance schedule beginning with the 2013-2014 season, giving two performances of its three primary productions.
The company plans to eliminate the Saturday evening performance, which has been "opening night" for Tulsa Opera since 1980. Performances will open Friday, followed by a Sunday afternoon matinee.
The company's remaining two productions of the 2012-2013 season - "The Most Happy Fella," which opens Feb. 23, and "Aida," opening April 20 - will not be affected by the change.
"This is something that has been talked about for some time, going back to when Carol Crawford was still the artistic director," said Tulsa Opera artistic director Kostis Protopapas. "It's been discussed seriously several times in recent years, but each time we decided the time wasn't right.
"This would be a major strategic change for the company, and I wanted to make certain we had everything in place to handle it," he said.
Season ticket subscribers for the Saturday evening performance will be offered the opportunity to transfer their tickets to either the Friday or Sunday performances.
"We will work with everyone to make sure they are happy with their seats," Protopapas said.
Dropping one performance from the company's schedule will translate to saving about 15 percent on each production's cost, Protopapas said. In recent seasons, production costs for Tulsa Opera have totaled about $1 million each year.
"We will not sacrifice, however, on the artistic quality of our productions," Protopapas said. "The high quality of productions that our audience have come to expect will always be there.
"One thing this change will do," he said, "is enhance the experience of our audiences. Opera, or any performing art, is something that we do as a community, and there is an undeniable energy that comes from experiencing great art in a theater full of people."
That is something that Tulsa Opera has been struggling to achieve for much of the past decade, as the company has tried to deal with declines in ticket sales.
It's a phenomenon that is not confined to Tulsa Opera. The national arts advocacy organization, Americans for the Arts, earlier this year released its National Arts Index, examining trends in the performing arts over the decade 2000-2010.
Based on data from more than 100 U.S. companies, the NAI report stated that attendance for these companies' mainstage productions has declined from a high of 3.9 million in 2000 to 2.7 million in 2010.
The decline in national attendance has been particular steep since 2007, when attendance was about 3.6 million. The NAI report did not factor in such things as educational programs, such as the annual tours to Oklahoma schools that Tulsa Opera conducts, or the live broadcasts to movie theaters of Metropolitan Opera productions.
Protopapas said the last Tulsa Opera production to sell out all three performances was the 2001 production of "The Marriage of Figaro."
"Last season's 'Madama Butterfly' was our best-selling opera since the 2006-2007 season, when we did 'Carmen' and 'Porgy & Bess,' " he said. "And our season subscribers are an extremely loyal group - our renewal rate is about 80 percent. But the truth is, we haven't filled more than half the seats we've had available in a long time."
Even the company's much acclaimed production of Jake Heggie's "Dead Man Walking" last season was more of an artistic success than a financial one, Protopapas said.
"It brought a lot of attention to Tulsa Opera," he said, "and it accomplished our mission to present American operas."
Protopapas hopes that the scheduling change will allow Tulsa Opera to expand its educational programs, such as adding more weeks to its statewide touring, and bringing in more young artists to participate in the company's Studio Artists program.
"Opera companies need to look for new and more effective business models," he said. "We can't keep doing things that it is obvious are not working any more. That is why I look at this change as a very positive thing."
When the decision was made to eliminate the Saturday performance, Tulsa Opera polled about 100 of the 290 subscribers holding tickets for Saturday night.
"Those 290 subscriptions represent a total of about 600 seats," he said. "Of the 100 people we approached, we received about 80 responses. And of all those, only one person said they didn't like the change. We even had some people ask us why we haven't done this before now."
Original Print Headline: Opera to reduce its showings
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
The Tulsa Opera will reduce the number of performances of its three primary productions beginning with the 2013-14 season. The last production to sell out three performances was "The Marriage of Figaro" in 2001. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file