Virginia Opera gets a fresh look for an old art form

With a marketing makeover, the Virginia Opera hopes to attract younger patrons.

Photo courtesy of the Virginia Opera

It’s high-stakes, gripping, and the story is really expansive.” These are the reasons my 20-something colleague geeks out over Game of Thrones. Basically, it’s opera without the singing.

Yet though throngs of folks tune in to the HBO show each week, you’d be hard-pressed to find as many streaming in to their local opera house.

“That’s the problem that’s facing all performing arts organizations at this point,” says Jamin Hoyle, an art director with credits at Wolf Trap and Amtrak who plays a key role in Virginia Opera’s rebranding effort. “Their audiences are aging out, and younger people haven’t been as exposed to what the opera and other performing arts organizations have to offer.”

With patron ages averaging 55-plus at its venues in Fairfax, Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia Opera has been actively pursuing younger audience members—offering social opportunities, pop-up events and discounted admission—with the goal of having the “youngest opera audience in America by 2025,” says company president and CEO Russell Allen. These efforts have focused primarily in the Hampton Roads and central Virginia communities, but plans are in the works to expand outreach to Northern Virginia. The company has already seen increased subscription growth in the past few years, says Allen, who hopes the company’s new marketing materials will continue that progress.

“Opera is really sexy; it’s all about people falling in love—and falling in love so passionately that they’re pushed to murder and other crimes,” Hoyle says.

Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s principal conductor and artistic adviser, includes a few “adventurous” shows for the season each year with the hope of turning heads, including season opener and company premiere Samson and Delilah.

“Once people my age and younger just walk in those doors and find out that’s it’s not so frightening, that it’s not so stuffy at all, they can really be elevated and just escape the humdrum of their digital, social media world and kind of recharge,” Turner says.

Virginia Opera’s 2017-18 Season

At the George Mason University Center for the Arts:

Samson and Delilah
Oct. 7-8
Music by Camille Saint-Saens

The Girl of the Golden West
Dec. 2-3

Music by Giacomo Puccini

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Feb. 17-18

Music by Benjamin Britten

Lucia di Lammermoor
April 7-8

Music by Gaetano Donizetti

(September 2017)