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National Opera Open House: Don’t Miss This Opportunity!
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Opera America Magazine9/1/2009

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Historic property. Large central space retains many original details. Great for entertaining. Adequate storage. Bathrooms need some updating.

The open house is an important event for those on both sides of a real estate transaction. The purchaser arrives at each property wondering, "Could I be happy here?" The seller does everything possible to make sure the answer is a resounding "Yes" — from greeting visitors with a welcoming smile to filling the place with appealing art.

Many arts organizations have borrowed the idea of the open house, demonstrating to community members that yes, they will enjoy their association with the institution. But an opera company is more than a building — an open house is as likely to be about providing access to people and ideas as it is about flinging wide the doors of a particular building. "People love getting behind the scenes to see the things we as professionals in the field take for granted," says Tracy Galligher of Opera Company of Philadelphia, which has hosted five open house events to date. "It clues them in to the amount of work and preparation that goes in to the art form."

As part of National Opera Week, to be held November 13-22, 2009, OPERA America is encouraging its members to take part in a National Opera Open House. Launched with the presentation of the 2009 NEA Opera Honors in Washington, D.C., the celebration will reach from coast to coast as opera companies offer a range of free programs for the public that demonstrate the allure and accessibility of this most multi-media of the arts.

While the Open House is the key element in a new national initiative, it's hardly a new idea. Rare is the opera company that doesn't supplement its mainstage season with some other kind of introductory programming — whether large-scale outdoor concerts or intimate gatherings at local restaurants and community centers. OPERA America members reported mainstage attendance of 3.6 million in 2007, but with these other events included, total attendance reached 5.3 million. In a world where traditional media are reducing arts coverage at an alarming rate, these programs do not always get the coverage they deserve. National Opera Week is designed to create a kind of critical mass on a national scale and produce a buzz that events in single cities might not otherwise generate.

Make Yourself at Home
For some companies, "Open House" will mean just that. In anticipation of Opera Week, Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) has invited the community to a free event at the Shubert Theatre. "We want the community to enjoy a closer experience with their opera company through interactive activities with singers, artists, crew onstage and musicians in the pit," says General & Artistic Director Esther Nelson. "The complexity and creativity of the process is often as interesting to the audience as the result. I believe that it is also important to give something back to our community, which has been very generous during these economically hard times."

BLO's Open House will include events for all ages, including an aria contest. Middle and high schools students will be given a list of famous arias and invited to submit videos of their performances. The company is encouraging a creative approach, and hopes that interpretations will range from classical to rap. The videos will be posted on a special YouTube channel, and finalists, selected by popular vote, will compete at the Open House before a panel of celebrity judges.

The Power of Cross-Promotion
Opera Company of Philadelphia (OCP) frequently partners with the Curtis Institute and Academy of Vocal Arts, as well as with other opera providers in its city. While the opera company has no performances during Opera Week, both conservatories do. "We've been talking about working together on educational opportunities, because we at OCP have the resources to do that," says Galligher, director of marketing and communications. "In addition to ideas related to their productions, we've also been talking about all the Philadelphia opera lore. It is the birthplace of Marian Anderson, as well as the home of the Mario Lanza museum, and we'd love to create some kind of online resource."

Houston Grand Opera is among the companies planning to capitalize on their association with this year's NEA Opera Honorees. The company will screen video tributes to this year's honorees on November 13 and 15; in addition, a display from the Houston Grand Opera Archives will document the activities of the honorees at Houston Grand Opera. San Diego Opera will host a Twitter Opera Synopsis contest in anticipation of its production of Nabucco, which will be directed by Opera Honors recipient Lotfi Mansouri.

New Orleans Opera is partnering with a range of community organizations for Opera Week events. With the New Orleans Museum of Art, the company will sponsor an opera-themed children's art contest. In association with the local NBA team, the Hornets, the company is planning its second Opera Night at the basketball arena. The company will also capitalize on the opportunity to highlight its city's storied opera heritage. "Everyone knows about jazz, but New Orleans is also America's first city of opera," says Janet Wilson, director of marketing and public relations. The Inn on Bourbon, an elegant hotel on the site of one of the city's French opera houses, has embraced this heritage, with spaces christened the Puccini Bar and the Salome Salon. During Opera Week, the Inn will work with the opera company to host performances in its public spaces and hang banners over Bourbon Street. New Orleans Opera will also perform in more casual watering holes in collaboration with Opera on Tap, an organization that brings together two common pastimes of the Big Easy.

Location, Location, Location
Sometimes it's best to meet the opera-shy where they are most comfortable. For residents of Louisiana's North Shore, located across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, the 40 miles separating them from Crescent City seems further than it is. As part of an effort to build audiences following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Opera launched an Orientation Series for North Shore residents, which includes an informal preview at the Tammany Public Library the week before each production. The company rents a bus to take participants to a Sunday matinee. This year, the first such event will take place during National Opera Week, and Wilson hopes the national coverage will help the company attract even more North Shore residents to the opera.

Across the country, opera companies have successfully drawn new audiences to opera performances in unlikely venues. Opera Boston's Opera Underground, now in its fourth season, will produce a special program for National Opera Week in a local bar. "It will be similar to a typical Opera Underground program, in that it an interactive program featuring young artists, says Director of Development and Marketing William Chapman. "One of the things we've discovered is that the more informal, the less production, the better. It's a club atmosphere, where people are eating and drinking, so a cabaret format is better. At the same time, we've been delighted to discover how far we can move from cabaret material. People love to hear opera scenes in a bar, in a setting that is more familiar to them."

Chicago Opera Theater's Young Artists will present flash performances of popular opera favorites all over the city in locations including Millennium Park, Union Station and various L stops. The company will also present a free performance of Jake Heggie's At the Statue of Venus and Wolf-Ferrari's Susanna's Secret at the Chicago Cultural Center. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, will b
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