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Amherst College > News & Events > Amherst Magazine > Archives > Summer 2003 > Curtain Call

Marc Scorca '79Curtain Call

Marc Sorca '79 is bringing opera to the masses

By Rebecca Binder '02

Some things about opera will never change. Black tie and long dresses are still apropos at the New York Metropolitan Opera on Saturday nights. The sullen, pierced teenager with baggy jeans, backwards baseball hat and hands in pockets will most likely draw scathing glances as he slinks to his seat (even if his seat is in the Grand Tier) for some time to come. But traditional opera lovers will need to get used to the pierced neophyte, because the audience for opera is not only growing, but also getting younger and becoming more diverse, both economically and socially.

Despite the fears caused by ChevronTexaco’s withdrawal from sponsoring the radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, opera in the United States is in the midst of a resurgence of popularity in nearly every strata of society. Far from being in danger of becoming outdated, a museum art form, opera is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. New works are being written. New opera companies have been established, and older ones are growing. And attendance figures are strong, too: the opera audience is the only arts audience that has grown steadily in the past 15 years, and it has also grown younger; the median age has declined, with the 18- to 34-year-old age category having the greatest surge in growth.

"Opera has enjoyed tremendous growth over the past decade,” says Marc Scorca ’79. And he should know: He is president and C.E.O. of Washington, D.C.-based Opera America, a nonprofit organization that promotes the creation of opera and excellence in the production of opera, as well as helping to strengthen opera companies and developing broad and deep audiences.

opera singer in ornate gown
Meredith Hall in Opera Atelier’s production of Claudio Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea.

In March 2002, Opera America, along with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, American Symphony Orchestra League, Dance/USA and Theatre Communications Group, formed the Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC) to study public attitudes toward the performing arts. “The act of going to an arts performance,” Scorca says, "where you see your neighbors and share a special moment with them, where you learn about yourself and your emotional reactions to what’s on stage—that transformative power is central to why we work as hard as we do in the nonprofit performing arts. So we wanted to discover how members of the public ascribe value to this arts experience.” To that end, the coalition initiated a three-year research project that will survey public attitudes in 10 regions. In March 2003, they published the results from the first five areas: Alaska, Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh and Seattle. “The results,” Scorca says, “are very encouraging.”

The study found that the audience for live, professional performing arts, at least in the five cities included in the project, was larger than the audience for live, professional sporting events. (Scorca stresses the “live, professional” qualifier; one televised Superbowl would cause the arts attendance figures to pale in comparison.) Also, arts attendees tended to be more active in their communities and are more likely to volunteer. The findings that most stand out, however, suggest that the typical vision of the opera audience as “old, rich and white” is becoming more a myth than a reality. The PARC project found very little relationship between age and attendance; middle-income households attend as often as higher-income households. The only characteristic that seemed relevant, the study found, was a strong relationship between level of education and attendance; well-educated people tended to be more frequent attendees.

Why education? Nobody’s sure yet, but the topic is begging to be explored. “It may be an issue of exposure,” Scorca offers. “During a longer period of education there are more opportunities to explore the arts and do coursework in the arts. That’s something that needs to be researched.”

Continued >>

Photo: Frank Ward

 
 

Online Extra

RELATED LINKS

Opera America

Audio of an interview with Marc Scorca at Opera America

Performing Arts Research Coalition

Biography of Marc Scorca at Opera World

Distance Learning at Opera World

Opera Volunteers International

Essay by Marc Scorca at PBS.org

Marc Scorca is quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article, "Out from Shadows of the Metropolitan Opera"

Metropolitan Opera

ChevronTexaco Opera Information Center

 
     
     
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