Boston has hosted many conferences in the last quarter century — for medicine, bio-science, finance, life sciences, education, basically, according to the office of Mass Convention Center Authority, for those “that support core industries of Massachusetts.” Attendees may range from 50 to 26,000. (The Penny Arcade Expo logged over 60,000 in three days.) Although it does not readily come up on MCCA’s radar screen, Boston has hosted a number of national conferences in the classical music field — for the American Guild of Organists (‘33, ‘58, ‘76, and ’90), the American Musicological Society (‘81, ‘58, ‘98), Music Teachers National Association (in 1885! and 1947, not since), even the lesser-known Society for Music Theory (for which figures were not readily available, though a staff person DID say there has been a conference in Cambridge).
But now, Boston is hosting its first conference on opera, Opera Entrepreneurship: Building on Tradition, being staged by New York-based Opera America, from May 7 through May 11, in the Theater District. Boston Lyric Opera, one of the two co-hosts of the conference, gets the head start with its spring production, Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening this Friday, April 30, at the Shubert Theatre; it continues during the conference.
Boston Baroque is putting on a choreographed performance of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes during the conference (Friday, Mary 6 and Saturday, May 7) in Jordan Hall, with Amanda Forsythe, Nathalie Paulin, Daniel Auchincloss, Aaron Sheehan, Sumner Thompson, and Nathaniel Watson.
According to Lee Perry, a prominent local supporter of opera since the 1970s with Boston Concert Opera, David Stockton, Boston Opera Theater, Peter Sellars (Marriage of Figaro) et al, “Opera America is information central for all things opera-related in this hemisphere. It’s all over the United States, in Canada, South America, and half of Europe.” Organizers expect close to 400 people to attend, he noted. The intent is to involve boards, administrations, and performers — but also audiences.
As for those audiences, one of the general sessions that should prove of interest to BMInt readers is “The Audience Knows Best,” a session led by Dr. Thomas Wolf, in which ordinary opera-goers will be able to discuss their ticket-buying decisions, what they like to see and hear, and what might send them to more opera.
The opening session and keynote address by Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, on Monday, May 9, followed by a panel, “Think Like a Startup,” to discuss the benefits or hazards of risk-taking and entrepreneurial thinking, are also open to the public, as is the closing session on May 11 at 3:00 p.m. Those who register (fee is $95) will also be entitled to enroll through May 3 in the Online Learning Course on Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The “start-up” approach, according to Marc A. Scorca, who has served as OPERA America’s president and CEO for exactly half of its 40-year existence, is that “the opera field is transforming — companies are taking risks and retooling business practices, repertoire and venue selections, audience cultivation efforts and modes of presentation. Boston offers us the perfect setting to probe this entrepreneurial energy animating the field.”
To that point, Tod Machover, whose Death and the Powers just had its premiere in Boston (Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 23, 2011) followed immediately by a highly successful run in Chicago, has promised a tour of the provocative MIT Media Lab, where elements of his opera were generated (pun intended).
“We’ll show some of the technologies behind Death and the Powers, and probably see an Operabot or two up close,” he said. “Then I’ll talk about the culture of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship at the Lab, how that can be relevant to the opera community, and how it bubbles up in projects like Death and the Powers. I will play some excerpts from Powers, and will also leave time for some Q&A.” This session is available only to participants in the full conference, however.
So twenty open sessions, the bulk of the offerings during the course of Opera Conference 2011, will address the needs of staff and trustees in the areas of artistic and artist training, management, development, finance, marketing, public relations, and technical/production. Since its founding, Opera America has made grants of over $10.5 million to assist opera companies with expenses associated with producing new works.
Boston’s young Guerilla Opera is production liaison for the American Repertory Theater which will host the New Works Sampler to be presented at OBERON in Cambridge on May 9. The Sampler features local Boston opera companies presenting scenes from new operas that have been or will be premiered this season nation-wide. Guerilla Opera’s Heart of a Dog, presented at Boston Conservatory last year (BMInt review here) will have two encore performances for the conference.
On May 6, the night before the start of the conference, Opera Boston, the other co-host of the conference, will open Donizetti’s Maria Padilla, which also can be seen on May 8 and May 10.
Registration for the Opera Conference 2011 is required for admission to this event. More information is available here.