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Opera Theatre celebrates financial gains and younger, diverse audiences

Marjorie Owens is The Prima Donna/Ariadne in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne on Naxos at Opera Theatre” presented by Opera Theatre St.  Louis during 2016, its 41st season.
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre St. Louis
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Marjorie Owens is The Prima Donna/Ariadne in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne on Naxos" at Opera Theatre” presented by Opera Theatre St. Louis during 2016, its 41st season. ";s:3:

Opera Theatre of St. Louis is celebrating important gains in financial support and audience growth.

On Friday, the company released numbers for record-breaking fundraising as well as increases in diversity and opera-goers under the age of 50. Luring younger audiences is a crucial component for a successful future, according to general director Timothy O’Leary.

“It is crucial for live performing arts, like Opera Theatre, that we develop relationships with the younger generations now,” O’Leary said.

Specific highlights of the 2016 season include:

  • Fundraising totaled $6.3 million, an increase of 15 percent from the previous fiscal year.
  • 51 percent of first-time attendees were Generation X or Millennials.
  • 23 percent of new single-ticket buyers were from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Andriana Chuchman plays Boonyi and Sean Panikkar is Shalimar in the world premiere of Shalimar the Clown.
Credit Ken Howard
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Andriana Chuchman plays Boonyi and Sean Panikkar is Shalimar in the world premiere of Shalimar the Clown.

The company opened the 2016 season with “Shalimar the Clown,” based Salman Rushdie's novel about a jilted lover. It’s the kind of new work that Opera Theatre of St. Louis credits with bringing in younger audiences. Market research also shows that younger opera-goers also enjoy the other end of the spectrum, highly traditional operas including “La Bohème.”

Drawing younger crowds is a big deal when you’re competing with on-demand media, O’Leary said

“Netflix knows how to customize itself to each person’s individual preferences, without them having to leave the comfort of their home,” he said.

Diversifying audiences is also an ongoing goal, according to O’Leary, especially in a city with an approximate 50-50 black-white demographic split.

“The diversity of the audience should reflect the diversity of St. Louis because we are the Opera Theatre of St. Louis,” he said.

Opera Theatre also enjoyed a higher national and international profile this past season, O’Leary said. The company’s increasing financial security allowed it to stage a world premiere of its production of “27” in New York this week.

Opera Theatre will open its 2017 season May 20 with “Madame Butterfly.”

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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