Opera companies teaming up

By Todd Cohen

Five professional opera companies in North Carolina and the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the N.C. School of the Arts plan to work together more closely and treat opera as a statewide industry.

The partnership, to be called “Voce Carolina: An NC Opera Consortium, will begin with a campaign to promote opera as a tourist destination, says Tom Clark, executive director of the Fletcher Opera Institute and dean of the school of music at the School of the Arts.

The initial effort, which has been advised by The Woodbine Agency in Winston-Salem, also likely will include online publication of a statewide opera calendar, plus joint advertising in tourist and possibly other publications, he says.

Eventually, organizers says, the partnership could offer joint ticket packages and discounts, an opera festival and collaborative traveling productions.

The state Department of Cultural Resources will host the consortium’s webpage, which will include a link to each of the member opera companies’ webpages and will include a calendar of opera events for the entire season throughout the state.

“I look at this as an opportunity to do repertoire we might not otherwise be able to afford individually,” says David Barnwell, executive director of the Greensboro Opera Company.

With an unusually large number of opera organizations and an unprecedented spirit of cooperation and a business-like approach, North Carolina can serve as a model and resource for opera in other states, organizers say.

“I believe we can really influence the industry,” says David Craig Starkey, general and artistic director of Asheville Lyric Opera.

James Meena, general director and principal conductor of Charlotte-based Opera Carolina, says the companies can share resources, renting costumes from one another, for example, at lower rates than they otherwise might have to pay.

The five companies, including Piedmont Opera in Winston-Salem and The Opera Company of North Carolina in Raleigh, have been meeting for about 10 years to share ideas, and in June teamed with the Fletcher Opera Institute to serve as underwriting sponsors for local broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera tribute to Joseph Volpe, it’s retiring general manager.

Meena says the marketing effort likely will begin with development of a statewide opera website or reciprocal links on the organizations’ websites.

The effort eventually could offer ticket packages or “cross-discounting,” with members of each company eligible for discounts or free admission at the others, arrangements similar to those offered by children’s museums or YMCA’s, Meena says.

Opera fans regularly will travel hundreds of miles to see a performance, he says, with Opera Carolina, for example, drawing customers from Raleigh, Atlanta and Charleston, S.C., and the other companies in the state drawing fans from throughout the state and beyond.

The companies have talked about the possibility of co-producing opera productions that could travel among their cities, Meena says, an arrangement that Piedmont Opera and Opera Carolina have had for six years.

Asheville Lyric Opera has toured for three years inside and outside the state and is believed to be the only touring opera company in the Southeast, says Starkey.

With five companies and one of America’s premier opera conservatories, he says, North Carolina has the “unique capability of being the opera center of the Southeast.”

A key to the success of the alliance, he says, is a businesslike approach to opera.

Clark says the collaboration will be able to tap “synergies” among the six organizations.

Singers trained at the Fletcher Opera Institute, for example, “are becoming a main source of talent for each of the other companies in North Carolina,” he says.

Each of the companies also engages other emerging stars, a common feature all the companies can use to promote their collective efforts, he says.

“In the past, there hasn’t been an effort to look at the bigger picture,” Clark says, “and that’s exactly what we hope the promotional initiatives of this alliance will do.”

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