Tag Archives: Michael Mayes

Ordinary folks, doing extraordinary things….

taken from esusanboyle.com

Recently, I posted a (perhaps) ill-advised status update on Facebook, marveling at what passes for classical music these days.  It sparked a lively conversation about the general public’s perception of opera, and the idea that Paul Potts, Susan Boyle and Jackie Evancho might not be the most accurate representation of an opera singer.

The sheer number of comments and types of comments that I received were quite interesting.  Of course, a large percentage of my friends on Facebook have some sort of connection to the opera world, and their responses were as I’d expect…showing a great deal of frustration that the Boccellis and Boyles of the world are what the public thinks of as opera.  I spoke about this very fact in a previous post about “vocabulary building” for opera fans, and again…Marcy Richardson’s short video (linked in previous post) is a perfect description of uphill battle that many singers and opera fans face.

I was quite surprised by the backlash that my comments received from some folks.  I was accused of being elitist.  I was warned that in my current position as the general director of the Baltimore Concert Opera, I should think twice before posting anything that might offend our patron base.  I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve been able to clarify my thinking.  I sincerely appreciate being challenged on this, because it has allowed me to spend some time really digging into what bothers me.

I would take no issue if someone preferred to listen to Susan Boyle, or Andrea Bocelli rather than Joan Sutherland or Luciano Pavarotti. Truly, I would not (you should see what is on my i-pod!)  They both seem like very nice folks.  It is not the fact that people like to listen to these folks that bothers me.  It is that the public is being told to listen to these folks, and being told that this is opera.  Producers found the “everyman” characters that the public can relate to, and have thrust their moderately talented faces in front of the camera.  A few short  years ago, late night TV had some class…you’d routinely see real opera singers getting a fair shake…Robert Merrill, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, appeared right after Elvis, or the Beatles.  Why is it that today, opera is being represented in the public eye by those who are rather ill-equipped to represent it?

One argument  is that people need to “walk before they can run” when it comes to classical music.  Of course, on some levels, I agree.  I’ve written several posts on how opera takes a little investment on the part of the listener, and how a listener needs to gradually build their operatic vocabulary. My problem is that I do not think that a watered down “pops” version is a terribly effective way to bring people in….at least past the point of consuming watered down “pops” material.  I don’t have any numbers on this (maybe someone out there does, and will share them with me) but I don’t think that pops/crossover material by singers and symphony orchestras ever really brings people in for the regular season.   Sure,  Josh Grobin has a pleasant voice…for once, I’d like to see Tim Mix appear right after him so that the public can make some decisions for themselves.

My theory is this:

Give the public something so extraordinary that they are compelled to find out more – Not : Give the public something pleasant, so that they can find some more pleasant, un-inspired garbage to listen to.  Challenge people, and they might surprise you.

Recently, I had some hope that television producers might be getting it right.  There was a lot of buzz about a project called LONESTAR OPERA, which chronicled the off-stage lives of some opera singers (including our pal, Michael Mayes).  LONESTAR OPERA was getting a lot of attention, until sadly, the good folks at the BRAVO network (remember when they used to show operas?) found that there was no room in their programming for such a show…I suppose they’d have had to bump the real housewives of who-cares-where in order to make room.  This would have done wonders for the opera world…for the public to get to know characters like Michael off-stage….sadly, we’ve got to find another way to get the word out!  Michael has picked up the gauntlet, and taken matters into his own hands with THE TEXAPOLITAN OPERA, I encourage you to sign up for his hilarious podcast, if you have any interest in the seedy underbelly of the opera world!

Opera singers…perhaps we can all follow Michael’s lead?  Hollywood thinks that the American public is more interested (in some cases) in the story than in the talent.  How can you tell your story?  There are some great stories out there about football players turned opera singers (looking at you Mark Rucker) and bounty hunters turned opera singers (recent NYTimes article on Carl Tanner’s Met debut) what’s your story?  How did you get here?  Why do you devote hours of daily study to an art-form that the general public seems to be losing interest in?  What are you going to do to help?  You are some of the most interesting people I know….get to work.

Adam Hall’s tenor-dad blog is a pretty colorful commentary about the trials and tribulations of a stay-at-home-dad-when-he’s-not-traveling-and-singing opera singer.  Any other fun things I’m missing?

OK, so maybe my thinking on this subject isn’t as clarified as I thought….this post sure rambled on!

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Marketing Opera…A singer’s perspective.

I have two (and a half) degrees in music.  I’ve studied with some fabulously talented people who have helped me hone my craft.  I’ve had the opportunity to sing with many great opera companies all over the country, and to meet some incredible personalities.  In that time, I’ve had to learn how to market myself as a commodity.  I continually borrowed marketing tactics from my successful real estate business, and was always able to approach singing with a business mind.  This all made sense to me.  Now that I am no longer pursuing a performance career to the extent that I was before (I’m a family man, not cut out for being on the road!) I have a new perspective on the opera world.  I am still singing at a pretty high level, when I want to, and when I can.  Those opportunities are becoming tougher and tougher to come by in this rough economic climate,  but they thankfully remain a part of my life..

I settled in Baltimore after attending graduate school because there were ample opportunities for someone like myself.  Before the collapse of the Baltimore Opera, I was lucky enough to sing very regularly with them, in the chorus, and in dozens of supporting roles.  It was the best of both worlds…I could do what I loved, and be with those I love.  I am forever grateful to that Baltimore Opera Company, and to the many fine experiences that it gave me…I miss it dearly.  I miss it most of all, because its collapse did not need to happen.  Baltimore Opera did not collapse because one person failed.  Baltimore Opera collapsed, because we ALL failed.  More on that later.

As we end our first complete season at Baltimore Concert Opera, I find myself incredibly energized and excited for the future, even while staring at the mountain of work that is before us.  I’m so grateful for the tireless work of our board, our volunteers, and for the enormous amount of good-will that has surrounded this project.  Through the experience of getting this company on its feet, I feel as though certain secrets have been revealed to me, that have been eluding me thus far in my career.  Since it’s my name on the door, I have had to accept responsibility for the artistic product, and for the management of the company.  I have made some mistakes, no doubt…but not one that I haven’t learned from.  Honestly, the failures hurt more than they ever did while I was singing, but the rewards for me personally are far greater.  I’ve been able to get outside of myself in a way that I was never able to before, to see where I fit in, and what my role is in the future of opera.  Yes, I still have to promote Brendan, the singer (singing at some level is always going to remain important).  I still have to market houses for sale (diapers are not cheap!). I have to (with the help of my extraordinary board) market and promote Baltimore Concert Opera’s season. Now, for the “Ah-HAH” moment:  I have to market OPERA.  All of it.  All the time. And so do you.

Remember when I said that we are ALL to blame for the collapse of the Baltimore Opera?  Many people were devastated by the loss of the BOC.  Many more people, myself included, took it for granted, which made its demise even tougher to take.  You see, for the singer who is working very hard  to make ends meet, to get the next gig, to learn music, it’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees.  Did I ever stop to think that I myself should be promoting opera?  Of course not, there was someone in an office doing that…getting paid a good salary.  It was taken care of….right?

In hindsight, what better person to be telling their friends, and helping break down some of the awful operatic stereotypes than someone who KNOWS opera…who LOVES opera, and who LIVES opera (but also likes drinking beer on Sunday afternoon while watching the Ravens)?  Marketing something that you are passionate about..imagine that! It may be a little too late for Baltimore Opera (although I am confident that we’ll have grand opera in Baltimore again soon) but my mission is now crystal clear.  Not only do I need to be an ambassador to the world of opera, I need to encourage other people to do the same.  To be fair, most of the wonderful singers that have passed through the Baltimore Concert Opera’s doors this year taught me this lesson.  They  already “get it” or they wouldn’t have signed on for this project, no need to “preach to this choir.”  Across the board, these fabulous artists worked for far less that they are accustomed to, much far less than what they are worth…why?

  • Some owed me a favor
  • Some owed a friend a favor
  • Some are now owed a favor
  • All are passionate about what they do
  • All believe in what we are doing.
  • All have the capacity to be extraordinary ambassadors to the world of opera

Take for example, my new friend Michael Mayes. Michael had worked with my dear friend Jason Hardy several times, and when we had last minute need for a Don Giovanni, Jason suggested that we give Michael a call.  Here’s a guy who has never met me, who agreed to come sing for “magic beans” as he likes to refer to a miniscule stipend, all because he loves what he does, and is an ambassador for opera.  Follow Michael’s videos on LONESTARopera.com, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Here is a regular guy…a nice guy…likes to barbeque, likes beer, good jokes, and oh yeah…he sings like a demon.  This, my faithful readers, is the future of marketing in opera.  Regular folks, that do extraordinary things on stage.  Michael, through his work for Lonestaropera.com documents the fact that he is doing his part…what are YOU doing?

If you are a singer…you are going to need to have a place to sing.  If you are a fan, and you want to continue to enjoy live opera, what are you doing to help spread the word?

Please, consider being an ambassador of opera.  Get someone to attend for the first time.  We’ll keep ’em coming back.  It is far easier for one thousand people to commit to each finding two new audience members, that it is for one person sitting in an office to find two thousand people.  The time is now for you to get involved.  Share your time, talent, treasure and love of opera.  Or, just complain when it’s gone…up to you.

Here are a couple of examples of things that I am doing to promote opera:

Recently, I had a proposal accepted to speak at IGNITE BALTIMORE #5, my presentation Saving Opera, One Voice at a Time is found below.  The IGNITE format is quite compelling (and stressful).  Presenters get five minutes, and twenty powerpoint slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, in order to make their point.  I’ve never been more nervous prior to taking the stage…but it was quite an experience.

A transcript of this presentation, with all of the “um’s and you know’s” removed (Thanks Christy Thomas!) is available here. Brendan Cooke, Ignite Baltimore

Finally, here are a couple of promotional videos that I have done for BCO.  All footage was taken from our “So You Think You Can Sing Opera” auditions last year…thanks to some wonderfully talented singers with great attitudes, we have the following propaganda:

First, my good friend Matthew Curran shows that Opera and beer can indeed mix…beautifully:

Finally, a little promo for our recent Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci that shows in a few short moments, what we are all about:

In summary, if you love opera…don’t love it privately.  Don’t let what happened here in Baltimore happen in your town.  Get involved.  Now.

Marketing, the Masses, the Money and the Mazer

As we prepare for our performances of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana next week, a friend came across this ad:

A very smart colleague pointed out that it is rather odd that marketing giants use opera to market to the masses, but that the masses don’t come out to the opera.  It is a very interesting point, and one that I never really thought of.  Seems as though every other TV commercial exploits the Lakme duet, or Vesti la Giubba…so there must be some mass appeal, right?

So where is the break in the chain?  Is it our industry that is failing to bring people in?  Is it lack of government funding?  Is it lack of education in the schools?

My feeling, is that it is probably a little bit of everything…but frankly, we in the opera industry are the only ones who seem to care…so we must shoulder the responsibility.  Yes, we would have an easier road ahead if music and art were viewed as an important part of education.  Yes, we would have an easier road if government funding for the arts and education was more readily available.  We can choose to champion these causes, and I applaud those who do.  However, when I look at where I can have the most immediate impact, it is in the arena of going out there and FINDING new audiences for opera.  One person, and one misconception at a time.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that I have all the answers.  Every day that passes in this wonderful world of trying to run an arts organization, I realize that I have fewer answers than I originally thought.  I do know, however, that we have succeeded in bringing opera to a new audience…and some of them have come back!  I know that I am much more engaged than ever in promoting this art form that I for so long took for granted.  I know that empowering five hundred fans to take a vested interest in the survival of opera is a lot easier, than trying to do it all yourself.

If you are an opera fan, I urge you to be an active opera fan.  Do not assume that someone else is going to do all the work.  If you are passionate about opera, bring a friend who has never been…try to get them interested.  Share your ideas with your local opera companies regarding ways that they may reach out to the public, volunteer, support.

I hope that we start to get more funding for art in schools.  I know that regardless of whether or not we do, my son will have a well rounded diet of music and art in his curriculum…if not at school, then at home.  I THINK that we can inspire other people to place value on the importance, and spark them into action.

Back to marketing…perhaps we as an industry just leave marketing opera in the wrong hands?  I had an idea several months back regarding promoting Cav/Pag next week…I asked the cast (those who have webcams) to send us a little shout-out that we can post on our website, letting us know where they are, what they are up to, and why they are looking forward to coming to Baltimore.  Admittedly, only one person took me up on it.  I was expecting a cheezy, webcam shout-out…what I got, was better than any recent version of SVU…in a sort of Ladies Man meets Blair Witch kinda way…  This makes me think, perhaps we need to empower the most creative people we know to take a stab at breaking down the barriers…our artists!  A huge THANK YOU to Michael Mayes, who obviously has a little too much free time on his hands in Shreveport right now!

You can follow more of Michael’s antics on LONESTAR OPERA and of course, you can catch him in the flesh at BCO next week!