Opera Australia has recently introduced what it calls Opera for One, a ticketing option that aims to make it easy for people attend opera by themselves without suffering the loneliness blues. It is simple in the way it works: one books a single ticket and turns up on the night to join a group for an introductory talk, conversation and refreshments before curtain-up.
OA’s website explains: “A member of our creative team will give a talk to get things going, and then you’ll have something to chat about with others attending by themselves. Then take your seat for the opera, together with your new companions”. A guide is emailed ahead of the performance “with tips on what to expect, a little bit about the opera and some conversation starters”.
So it all sounds fairly easy. Those taking this option receive a 10 per-cent discount on their booking, and refreshments are included free. What it promises is hope for those who feel locked out of opera because they have no-one to go with. OA recently conducted a survey of 1,100 individuals who had either gone to an opera performance for the first time, or who had expressed an interest in doing so, and it found that going alone was one of the main obstacles they identified against attending.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the dozen individuals who attended the first night of La Bohème under OA’s new Opera for One scheme were female, and that several of them had been bereaved. In one case, it just happened that one in the group had a partner who did not like opera. The idea is about not feeling barred from attending. John Quertermous, the company’s head of marketing and tourism, told the SMH that the objective is that people will “find an opera buddy. As a classical art company, we are always trying to get new people and a new audience.”
No doubt part of the plan is also to capture younger people who would otherwise feel awkward going solo. This is one particular barrier that opera companies world-wide have identified in bringing millennials through the doors – and orchestras for that matter too. A report in 2017 by The Wallace Foundation profiled 25 arts organisations in the US and found that among the main turn-offs from attending were a lack of clarity about pricing and failing to realise the need to create social experiences.
“Group experiences that get attention on social media could help arts organizations attract younger audiences,” the report noted.
That being the case, group experiences such as this Opera for One scheme might be a step in the right direction. New York’s Metropolitan Opera offers an exemplary way of doing this in its ‘Fridays Under 40’ parties, where young opera audiences are able to mingle with cast members over wine and cheese. The Met holds 10 of these a year.
Whichever way it develops, Opera for One is a welcome development in making opera more socially inclusive. Three further OA productions offer the scheme this season in Sydney: Turandot until 30 March, Massenet’s Werther on 28 February, and Salome on 21 March. Plans are to extend it to Melbourne later this year.