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Article Published: 17 Jul 2021

A Welcome for Newcomers

As the industry looks toward bringing people back into theaters, a couple of companies are taking measures to include new-to-opera attendees from all income levels. In Albuquerque, Opera Southwest’s Opera for All offers $5 tickets to anyone receiving state benefits. Audience members purchase their tickets online or by phone and then present their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards at the door.

Opera for All went into effect at the beginning of the truncated 2019–2020 season, accounting for 2.5 percent of the company’s ticketholders. The two offerings that made it out of the gate before the pandemic shutdown — Giovanni Bottesini’s 19th-century rarity Ali Baba and Daniel Catán’s Il Postino — both lay off the beaten path. But next season the company offers examples of more standard fare. Zancanella expects La traviata, scheduled for the fall, to be especially attractive to the Opera for All participants, and hopes to double their previous audience share. “We’ve had a lot of early success so far,” he says. “I’m excited for this program to become a routine part of what we do.”

Zancanella’s idea for Opera for All came from the Arts for All program in Portland, which allows residents with Oregon Trail Cards (the Oregon equivalent of EBT) to purchase $5 tickets at cultural institutions across the city. Portland Opera was one of 12 music presenters that joined the pilot program in 2011; since then, the program has expanded to include 95 local arts organizations.

For Sue Dixon, Portland Opera’s general director since 2019, welcoming new audiences is a key strategic planning goal. “We found that most people assumed that only the very wealthy go to the opera,” she says. “That they would have to get dressed up, spend upwards of $150, and then walk in and not understand the language. We were hearing it loud and clear, over and over. So we’ve been trying to break down those barriers.”

“The art form has the capacity to be much more populist than a lot of people give it credit for,” says Zancanella. “If you can break down the economic barrier to participation, opera becomes available to many more people.”

This article was published in the Summer 2021 issue of Opera America Magazine.