Art Changes Lives (or, the afterglow of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna)
When Arizona Opera began to plan how we wanted to launch the first artistic season planned entirely by us, the current administration, a few things were clear. Practical goals needed to be achieved in order to capitalize on the momentum our company had enjoyed in the previous season—the two most important of which were building larger audiences and garnering more support for our art.
Cruzar la Cara de la Luna is utterly unlike anything we had ever previously attempted at Arizona Opera. Independently, several members of the Board of Directors, a handful of staff, and a few interested patrons suggested we look at presenting Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. While our collective intuition told us that this was a perfect opportunity to help steer the company in a new direction, we spent countless hours in the community evaluating the interest of individuals and corporate partners before we decided to schedule Cruzar la Cara de la Lunato open our 2014/15 season. We partnered with Houston Grand Opera to bring the world’s most renowned mariachi and the original cast of the piece to both Phoenix and Tucson in celebration of two phenomenal musical traditions with a long history in our state – mariachi and opera!
The past few weeks have taught us much about our company and our community. Now that our Hispanic Heritage Festival has concluded, and Cruzar la Cara de la Luna has played in both Phoenix and Tucson, I wanted to take a deep breath and look at what we’ve discovered from this incredible experience:
AUDIENCE AND PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT:
The public interest in this piece was incredible. We doubled our press coverage in our 2013–14 season over the 2012–13 season. With the launch of Cruzar, Hispanic Heritage Festival and Arizona Bold, we have garnered more press already this year than all of last season put together. Four new major corporate and foundation sponsors and a host of individuals joined the opera for the first time in recent memory. Just little over a month into our new community-based artistic initiative, we have raised $2.2M to support the eight works slated for inclusion over the next four years.
In the last three seasons, we presented three different kinds of performances to open each season: Lucia di Lammermoor (a heart-stopping Italian opera featuring one of the most highly regarded casts in our history), H.M.S. Pinafore (an operetta in English with a much wider appeal than some traditional opera), and Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (a new opera that debuted in English and Spanish just four years ago). Arizona Bold was designed, in part, to generate an influx of non-seasonal audience members from new demographics, and the data confirms Arizona Bold is a fantastic success with our first project: During our 2012-13 season opening show, Lucia di Lammermoor, 5,889 tickets were sold; during H.M.S. Pinafore, which opened our 2013-14 season, 6,902 tickets were sold; for Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, a remarkable 8,124 tickets were sold – an increase of 18% from the previous season, and 38% from two seasons ago.
When taking into account new audience – patrons who have never attended an Arizona Opera production – the numbers are even more impressive: Of those who purchased tickets to H.M.S. Pinafore, 11.9% were new to our company. During Cruzar, 32.9% of ticket-buyers were new to Arizona Opera - a stunning 2,673 new faces in Phoenix Symphony Hall and Tucson Music Hall. Part of the challenge will be to retain some of these audience goers as the seasons draw on, but we’ve had enough initial interest that we are encouraged. Traditionally, Arizona Opera sells mini season subscriptions featuring three shows, and full season subscriptions featuring five shows. However, single-ticket buyers smitten with Cruzar la Cara de la Luna began requesting full season subscriptions, requiring us to retro-fit season packages to accommodate demand. We have now created full subscription packages that allow first-time single-ticket buyers to enjoy all remaining performances of the season, by crediting their ticket purchase from Cruzar la Cara de la Luna to offset the total cost.
Arizona Opera has become the first company to present this work as part of its subscription season, accomplishing several goals that are unique to our organization: first, we brought together a truly mixed audience from a variety of backgrounds to experience this unique exploration of two distinct forms of vocal music storytelling. Second, we can boast having had more people in the state of Arizona see this piece than anywhere else in the world that it has played so far.
EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT:
Outside of the performance venues, the response to Cruzar la Cara de la Luna and Arizona Bold continues to indicate that people both within and without our state are eager for exciting new cultural and artistic programming. During our Hispanic Heritage Festival in the weeks leading up to Cruzar performances and including the show weekend itself, Arizona Opera saw more than 8,390 impressions on Twitter, nearly double our number from the previous year. On Facebook and Twitter, AZO also doubled our number of likes and followers from the previous year during the same time period.
Over 700 people attended the eight Hispanic Heritage Festival events held in Phoenix and Tucson. In addition to our auxiliary Hispanic Heritage Festival events, we held two Student Night Performances. In Phoenix, we took reservations for 1,761 students and chaperones, and in Tucson, we took reservations for 1,187 audience members. We provided this experience to over 50 school groups, most of whom had never before seen an opera. We collaborated with over 30 community leaders, scholars, and vendors to put on our Hispanic Heritage Festival. None of these collaborators were affiliated with the opera before Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, and all of them expressed interest in working with us again. We also provided performance opportunities to 14 local mariachi and ballet folklorico ensembles.
THE NITTY GRITTY:
Those of us who believe strongly in the missions of publicly held, non-profit arts and cultural institutions know that, without a shadow of a doubt, art changes lives. When making our case to support our organizations, it is that unwavering belief in the transformative power of our art that is our best asset. And yet, the exact time and place when these moments occur can be difficult to pin down or prove. These instances occasionally can be public, shared experiences, but more often are intensely personal, private, and profound.
Many who were with us this week shared transformative experiences after seeing Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. A teacher from a local charter school wrote to us to say that, “I couldn't wait to tell you what an amazing evening our kids had last night—just spectacular! The themes and narrative of the opera touched the hearts of our students in a very deep and poignant way. And even many of our stoic young men were crying throughout.”
The artists who performed in the production told us how much it meant to them to have heard from so many in our audiences who were moved by the production. These same artists who performed on stage for thousands even turned up to share in Hispanic Heritage Festival events, with some of them accepting impromptu invitations to join local Mariachi groups to perform for the public on the plaza outside the Tucson Music Hall.
And here’s a story that I love (or something like that): One lucky student at Arizona State University was fortunate enough to have a sticker on his car that identified him as an opera lover this past week when he accidentally chose an illegal parking space on campus. He returned to find that one of the campus police had a transformative experience of their own at Cruzar la Cara de la Luna.
As we continue to work towards building a larger, more cohesive community to support our art, those of us at Arizona Opera take heart in knowing that our efforts to bring this beautiful transformational work to our stages were a spectacular success. Lives were changed, not the least of which was my own. It has been a week since the show closed in Arizona, and not a day has passed that I haven’t listened to the recording of this amazing work, remembered a conversation with an exuberant patron, or smiled at the memory of having met a new batch of talented artists with incredible spirits who have brought this story to life as a family of musicians for four years now.
The bar for Arizona Bold has been set quite high with this production and all the amazing accompanying activities. Our goal now is to continue to create a space that allows for a variety of life-changing moments like these to emerge with greater frequency, diversity, and power. Onward!