October 3, 2010 / 1:20 PM / 8 years ago

New York opera houses woo new fans with edgier fare

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York opera companies are rolling out more high-tech shows, broadening their repertoire and raising their star quotient this season to help break the genre’s image as a stodgy art form and lure new younger fans.

The Metropolitan Opera is using cables to hoist singers in the air, employing moving scenery and intricate projections, while the New York City Opera has unveiled a concert series featuring Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth and rocker Lou Reed.

The Metropolitan Opera will stage seven new productions this year — double the number of new shows seen just a few years ago — as it seeks to phase out long-running traditional performances staged to please conservative audience members.

“Part of the problem is that for many years, the aesthetic didn’t change at the Met,” the Met’s General Manager Peter Gelb said in an interview, adding that there was no question the average age of audiences had begun to fall in recent years.

These new, more adventurous productions, along with celebrity-filled red carpet premieres, are at the center of a strategy for New York opera companies to survive as a modern art form in the face of what remains an older audience.

“It’s a direct engagement with younger audiences,” said City Opera General Manager George Steel.

The Met’s season began on Monday with “Das Rheingold,” the first installment of its $15 million, high-tech new production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung,” directed by Quebec theater director Robert Lepage.

The red-carpet opening night gala was attended by Hollywood stars including Holly Hunter, Patrick Stewart and Meg Ryan.

The four-part “Ring of the Nibelung” is part of a campaign by the Met to tap contemporary filmmakers and theater directors to stage new operas or overhaul classics to become more relevant to modern tastes.

“Moving away from ‘park-and-bark’ to emphasizing performers who can act and move has made it much more appealing for me,” said 33-year-old opera fan Ryan Poynter, who works at New York University. His “park-and-bark” comment referred to the performance style in which singers stand statically on stage to sing a song.

Iyer said last-minute cheap tickets were what first lured him and now he sees about 30 performances a year.

The Met also will broadcast 12 live, high definition broadcasts of performances this year to movie theaters worldwide, compared to nine last season. It also broadcast the Rheingold premier in public spaces including New York’s Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza.

“I overall think you need a cleanup — I wish we could afford more new productions,” said Shrikant Iyer, a 32-year-old computer engineer at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, who discovered opera five years ago.

The Met’s Gelb said traditional opera fans largely have come around to the changes. “They recognized that change is necessary to keep that art form healthy. Otherwise the audience would ultimately diminish to nothing,” he said.

Reporting by Phil Wahba; Editing by Michelle Nichols

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