Friday, June 11, 2010

Opera Conference Recap, Day 2

... in which we shake our head at the mystery opera, walk right by Maria Callas, learn what it feels like to be a sardine, get floored by Jackson Pollock and slurp noodles while suppressing the urge to kill a mime...

Day two of the Opera Conference has come to an end, and it was quite a day. The second day of the conference (actually the first official day - yesterday was a special seminar session) started with a welcome session with comments from Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Zev Yaroslovsky. Filled with self-depreciating humor he was an excellent speaker, an advocate for Arts Education (he knows how to sweet talk the Aria Serious crew) and encouraging all of the attendees in the hall to spend money while in LA - they need the income he chuckled in recognition of the $14m loan to the Los Angeles Opera to help cover expenses of the Ring Cycle. He also called opera fans the loudest fans in the world, after the Lakers.

As if. We totally have them beat.

Then there were comments by Marc Scorca of Opera America and Anthony Freud of Houston Grand Opera. The theme of their speeches was one not of recovery but one of discovery. It was hard to gauge how this was received. Traditionally - and the thrust of their speech was about bucking tradition - organizations retract rather than expand when facing the problems so many opera companies are currently facing. Budgets get cut, programs get reduced; terms such as “weathering out the storm” are brandied about. So it was exciting to hear them talk about exploring new ways of doing business, not to work back towards where we were before the economic crisis, but to new plateaus and to new ways of doing business. It was inspirational stuff, but I’m not sure how easily Companies will take to the advice. Opera is based on the very tradition they challenged us to buck, and at times we are painfully slow to change course.

This theme was continued in composer Daniel Catan’s speech. Challenging opera companies to work together, he suggested that when planning a season, opera companies could leave a slot blank in their programming; a “mystery opera” that would be announced last minute. This would enable companies to assist one another in commissioning new operas, keeping them current and in the cultural dialogue. It’s a nice idea, it is also institutional suicide. Would you buy a subscription to a season without knowing what the repertoire was? Would a donor fund it? They were interesting ideas, and in a perfect world…

Afterwards, meetings were had, and a quick lunchtime trip to Amoeba was made (well, instead of lunch) and on the way back I obliviously walked by Maria Callas’s star on Hollywood and Vine. Thank god I keep company more astute than I am.

The big event of the day for me was “Critics, Bloggers and the Changing Media Landscape” a panel discussion with Los Angeles Time’s Mark Swed, Washington Post’s Anne Midgette, OC Register’s Timothy Mangan, Brian Holt from Outwest Arts and was moderated by Sherry Stern from the Los Angeles Times Culture Monster blog. This was clearly the big event for everyone, with the crowd spilling out of the room and sitting on the floor, packed like sardines. I had attended the panel with expectations on learning how to work with bloggers more effectively, what they look for in pitches, the tools we can use to make their job easier. Instead we talked about their experiencing blogging, and how their jobs have changed. It was nice to see these colleagues in a relaxed setting; their personalities were on display which I rarely see when they are in our theatre for a review and quite formal. And it was nice to learn Mark Swed is an anarchist.

After this, we had a Marketing/PR roundtable discussion. Since we had talked Social Media and PR at all our other meetings it was time to talk about ticket sales. The question: what are companies doing to increase subscriptions and ticket sales? The answer: Nobody knows. Everyone has some things that work but nobody has the definitive answer.

So, do you buy tickets to the opera? Why? If you don't, why not?

Then it was time for a shower and a trip to MOCA outside the door of the hotel which is free on Thursday nights. While the MOCA is small, the layout is impressive and the collection incredibly solid. Plenty of Rothko's, Jasper Johns's, a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, but it was a single solitary Jackson Pollock, perched in the center of the wall on the first turn that stopped me in my tracks. I had seen Pollock's before but something about this one captured the frenetic energy and I couldn't tear myself away from it.

Thursday night is also Art Walk in the downtown district so we headed down that direction to slurp some noodles and eat black sesame ice cream. The Art Walk was a zoo, an incredibly diverse hodgepodge of people going from gallery to gallery, graffiti artists working on building facades, performance artists, pop art and modern light sculptures, jazz bands jamming, two incredibly thuggish looking guys I was ready to hand my wallet to making incredibly catchy and sweetly sung electro pop. And mimes *shudder*. We hate mimes.

Then it was off to meet more convention people back at The Edison, our favorite time traveling bar.

Tomorrow are a few meetings and then it'll be time to return home. But first we'll be up at 6:30 AM to watch the first match of the World Cup. Priorities...

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