Opera screenings failing to boost interest in the art form, survey finds

A scene from Sicilian Vespers by the Royal Opera, a company which live streams some of its productions. Photo: Tristram Kenton
A scene from Sicilian Vespers by the Royal Opera, a company which live streams some of its productions. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Around 85% of audiences that attend live screenings of opera do not feel more compelled to see the art form live afterwards, according to a new survey.

The investigation found that, after seeing an opera at the cinema, around 75% of participants reported feeling no different about attending a live production, with around 10% feeling less motivated.

This has shown that screening opera productions to create a new generation of audience for the live art form is “wishful thinking”, according to English Touring Opera’s general director James Conway.

The survey included responses from around 230 participants who were almost all attending cinemas in London at the end of 2013 to watch live relays of operas Eugene Onegin, The Nose, Sicilian Vespers, Tosca and Falstaff.

It revealed that around 80% of cinema opera attendees were more than 60 years old, which was slightly older than the average age of live opera-goers. Fewer than 10% of those at the cinema screenings were younger than 50 years old.

The research, which was conducted by ETO and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in partnership with the Barbican cinema in London, is thought to be the first of its kind looking at attendance of live opera screenings.

Conway said: “A lot has been speculated about the potential for cinema relays to create new audiences for live opera. I would love that to be the case but, as this research indicates, it may be wishful thinking.

“What is sure is that access to digital opera performance has changed quickly, and producers of opera will need to respond with some intelligence to an environment that has not transformed, but has certainly shifted. This partnership with the Guildhall School and Creativeworks London [which funded the research] has been vital as ETO starts to formulate its response to these changes and our future business development.”

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6 Comments

  1. This survey of course asked the wrong question. The pay-off for the art form is not necessarily increased ticket sales for live performances.

  2. So you’re telling us that 15% (34.5 people) of the sampling felt like going to see the opera live after cinemacast? That’s good news; maybe even good enough!

  3. Oh? I didn’t know that telecasts in theaters were supposed to be some kind of recruiting tool with a visit to a live performance being the goal. Here in the US it gives people in remote parts of the country who would probably NEVER travel to New York to hear the Metropolitan Opera in all its glory. Aren’t the Met’s theater broadcasts more like what we do after the many years of Met radio broadcasts, only now the Met can collect a small admission and bring in substantial extra revenues?

  4. Met Opera HDcasts are pricey for adults – double the cost of regular movie tickets for adults and are offered Wedneday evenings or early Saturday mornings here in California. If you want to generate new audiences get these into schools and make them part of school curriculums. Stop telling people how important Opera is – show it meaning, history, revelance to its time and how it shapes and revitalizes itself. I do have to concur with the study -at 56 I have been by a decade or more the youngest member of the audience

  5. I think it is unrealistic for the Met hierarchy to think that HD will expand in house attendance, except for those in the greater Metropolitan area. No way could we on limited incomes ever get to the Met again. But the HD broadcasts allow us the chance to see the Met performances again – something I have not been able to do since leaving New York in the 1980’s and something I have missed terribly. I can’t see why they don’t make money.

  6. >So you’re telling us that 15% (34.5 people) of the sampling felt like going to see the opera live after cinemacast? That’s good news; maybe even good enough!<

    Don Octavio's comment above makes a very good point.

    It's the infrequent or first time visitors that really count here, as it may not be possible to increase the regulars' attendances anyway. And the motivation for infrequents is much higher than regulars (although numbers aren't given in ETO's report, it looks from the graphs as though about 28% showed a greater inclination to attend live opera). How many new people would that attract if it's extrapolated to the whole universe of opera/cinema attenders? We need some base rates (such as how many people see opera in the cinema) to be sure of what the data is telling us. It's not many people on the small-sample survey but how many is it overall if the findings are representative? If 500 or 1,000 people are encouraged to attend live opera is that a failure? 5,000? 10,000?

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