It's bad that Torontonians beg for more opera tickets while Roy Thomson Hall recitals play to the echo of empty seats
Five out of the nine remaining performances of the Canadian Opera Company productions of Carmen and Otello are nearly sold-out. Meanwhile, two blocks away, Roy Thomson Hall is clearly struggling to sell tickets to its classical concert series.
Last Friday night, pianist Angela Hewitt played a solo recital to what appeared at a glance to be a hall at 60% of capacity. Yesterday afternoon, soprano Karina Gauvin sang into an echo-ey space where more than half the seats were empty.
Granted, the people present were clearly happy to be there. Also, the recitals competed with the Winter Olympic opening ceremonies, Valentine's Day and a long weekend. But the Saturday and Sunday opera performances were sold out.
We can't blame the low attendance on the lack of an audience. When the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents a guest pianist, it has no trouble selling more than 80% of its tickets. Over two performances, that represents about 4,000 people. Over three, about 6,000. Seven opera performances are seen by about 13,000 people at the Four Seasons Centre.
We know that opera is hot stuff these days. Even the traditional symphony concert, a dicey economic proposition in many American centres, is doing well in this city, thanks to intense, savvy marketing. Both the COC and the TSO are $20 million-plus machines whose survival depends on audience loyalty. Both are institutions who are keenly aware of reaching beyond the mainstream, older listener with programming that proudly celebrates the core values of each artform.
But Roy Thomson Hall is a civic building, not a musical institution. Its administrators are presenters who split their focus among a wide range of entertainment genres. One day, we have world music. Then its a performer of musical theatre. Coming up? A respected international orchestra.
Each piece of marketing needs to reach a different audience, which is not an efficient way to do business.
Already, the international orchestra tours are being co-presented and co-marketed with the Toronto Symphony. Perhaps its time to hand over all of the classical programming to people who know how to reach out to a bigger audience.
I smile every time I see how many 20-somethings come to and enthusiastically cheer Toronto Symphony concerts, thanks to the tsoundcheck discount ticket plan. Wouldn't it have been great to see a few hundred of those young audience members experience the magic of Karina Gauvin yesterday?
It's not the wasted money of seeing a great recital in a semi-vacant house that bothers me. I'm disturbed by the knowledge that there are hundreds of eager eyes and ears that aren't being connected to this fabulous music.