Keith Cerny, General Director and CEO of The Dallas Opera
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Opera in the Age of Anxiety

In his latest Off the Cuff, The Dallas Opera's Keith Cerny has reasons to be excited about the crowd that showed up for The Marriage of Figaro simulcast in Klyde Warren Park.

published Sunday, November 2, 2014


Dallas — If you talk to virtually any board leader of any American opera company about their audience—or a General Director, for that matter—you are likely to hear three, interrelated concerns. The first is that opera audiences, and opera donors, are “aging out,” and are not being replaced with enthusiastic supporters from the next generation. The second concern is that the opera audience is not sufficiently representative of the community, in terms of income and ethnic background. While no one expects a perfect match, it is true that for many opera companies, symphonies and ballet companies, the audience is typically older, somewhat wealthier, and less ethnically diverse than the community in which the company performs. Third, as many observers point out, there are too few opportunities for young people to learn about the performing arts, since school budgets for these programs are so often cut. Taken together, these three factors create the potential for an ever-dwindling audience, and, not surprisingly, performing art leaders are increasingly anxious about what the future may hold.

As many readers will already know, The Dallas Opera presented its second simulcast in Klyde Warren Park on Oct. 24, 2014—the Linda and Mitch Hart Season Opening Night Performance of Mozart’s popular classic, The Marriage of Figaro. According to official estimates from TDO’s partner on this event, Klyde Warren Park (KWP), the performance drew approximately 7,000 patrons. This was the company’s ninth free public simulcast in four years, attracting a record-breaking crowd for any Dallas Opera performance outside a sports stadium. Those who were there have commented on the large number of families, including children and lots of pets; you can get some sense of the event from the photo below.


Photo: Luke McKenzie/The Dallas Opera
The crowd at Klyde Warren Park to watch the Dallas Opera simulcast of The Marriage of Figaro on Oct. 24, 2014


As part of The Dallas Opera’s mission, the company is focused on maximizing the company’s community footprint, and in attracting and engaging an opera audience that is fully representative of the broader community. For our part, we were particularly gratified by the large audience that attended this second KWP event, and the considerable interest it has generated for the company over the last few days on our Facebook page.

While there are many metrics that could be tracked in reference to TDO’s core audience, there are three primary areas that we monitor constantly, whether our focus is on Dallas Opera season subscribers, single ticket buyers, AT&T stadium simulcast patrons or Klyde Warren Park patrons; in all cases, the metrics on the KWP simulcast were very favorable. The metrics are as follows:

  • Patron Age: Only 10 percent of subscribers, and 36 percent of single ticket buyers, are age 40 or younger. At the Klyde Warren Park performance, 44 percent of the audience was 40 and younger, and a whopping 81 percent was 55 and younger. By contrast, less than one-third of our subscribers are under the age of 56, and slightly more than two-thirds of single ticket buyers are age 55 and under.
  • Patron Ethnic Diversity: Many classical performing arts organizations have found it difficult to attract audiences that are fully representative of the community. TDO’s subscribers are 91 percent Caucasian (all statistics self-reported), and single ticket buyers are 81 percent Caucasian. The most recent stadium simulcast was 76 percent Caucasian, with gains in Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American patrons relative to subscriber and single ticket audiences. The KWP simulcast was 63 percent Caucasian, with 23 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African-American, and 5 percent Asian-American—much closer to a snapshot of the overall community (see graph below), and a very positive step in the right direction.
  • Patron Income Diversity: In my view, opera as an art form should be relevant and accessible to everyone, and countries throughout Europe are very successful in this regard (e.g. Germany). As might be expected, the stadium and park simulcasts attract a much broader range of household income levels than subscribers and single ticket buyers enjoying the same performances in the Winspear Opera House. Over time, of course, we hope to migrate simulcast patrons to the live performance setting.

Photo: The Dallas Opera

From a national standpoint: I have written before about how TDO’s stadium simulcast audiences compare with the Metropolitan Opera’s HD Broadcasts. As a reminder, Peter Gelb launched the Met HD broadcasts in 2006 in neighborhood cinemas, nationwide, and these broadcasts are now carried by around 1,900 theaters in the U.S. and abroad. I believe strongly in the value of these broadcasts, as I believe that any program that builds interest in the art form will ultimately benefit the field as a whole. However, while only around 25 percent of the Met’s broadcast audience is under 65, around 80 percent of TDO’s stadium simulcast audience falls into that category. We were particularly gratified to learn that over 90 percent of the Klyde Warren Park audience was under age 65 (see graphic below).


Photo: The Dallas Opera


In conclusion, the Klyde Warren Park Dallas Opera simulcast attracted the youngest and most representative audience of any opera performance yet—either in or out of the Winspear Opera House. Over the last four years, total attendance for TDO’s free public simulcasts has topped 50,000, and garnered national publicity for the company (including a two-page photo spread in the October edition of Opera News). The program has clearly demonstrated the popularity of the operatic art form, by opening up new performance venues—avenues of entry—to audiences that more accurately reflect the exciting diversity of our community. TDO’s donors, whether individual, corporate, or representing foundations; have taken note of this outreach and the positive response it has generated. In fact, increased giving in support of these events has been an important part of the company’s efforts to stabilize financial operations and realize back-to-back balanced budgets for the first time in fifteen years. We also hope that these free simulcasts, when combined with our public education program that reaches schools and the community through nearly 100 special performances each year, will help to build future opera audiences, while also serving the needs of music lovers today.

None of this would have been possible without the incredible efforts of our performing artists and staff, and we would especially like to thank our union partners for their enthusiastic support of these special events: the American Federation of Musicians, the American Guild of Musical Artists, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

We are grateful to you all!


◊ Keith Cerny is the General Director and CEO of The Dallas Opera. His column OFF THE CUFF appears every month in Below is a list of previous columns:

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Opera in the Age of Anxiety
In his latest Off the Cuff, The Dallas Opera's Keith Cerny has reasons to be excited about the crowd that showed up for The Marriage of Figaro simulcast in Klyde Warren Park.
by Keith Cerny

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