In 1985, a fledgling opera group made its debut with a brown-bag performance at Linnaea’s Café.
Thirty years later, the BYO spirit endures at OperaSLO, though now the entreaty is directed at the area’s arts organizations: Bring Your Own Audience.
Ticket sales in recent years had fallen to dismal levels, so two years ago, Artistic Director Brian Asher Alhadeff rebranded the opera’s annual production as a Citywide Arts Collaboration, reaching out to related arts groups and getting them marketing to their own constituencies.
“We are representatives of ancient art forms,” he said. “We have to hold hands together and work as partners.”
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The opera company has always relied on performers from these other groups, but formalizing the relationship has boosted marketing power and broadened opera’s appeal to patrons of other local arts, said Jill Anderson, who co-founded the company as Pacific Repertory Opera with the late Jean Cook.
“He’s (Alhadeff’s) pointing it out to the community that these are collaborative efforts,” Anderson said, adding that the productions have increased ticket sales.
Indeed, attendance at the collaborative productions of “Carmen” in 2013 and “Aida” in 2014 topped 90 percent capacity, compared to half-full theaters in prioryear performances.
And while the opera remained in the black through those years, the collaboration has been instrumental in increasing the donor base and donations as well as ticket sales, OperaSLO Executive Director Sharon Dobson said.
“We’ve made a lot of new friends,” Dobson said. “And the other groups have made a lot of new friends, too.”
The group marketing represents an opportunity for all of the arts organizations to get their name out there in a different way, said Beth Klemm, artistic director of the Central Coast Children’s Choir.
“It’s a real win-win for everybody because we all love performing and we’re getting an opportunity to perform in a different way than we do in our own single groups,” Klemm said.
And the kids eagerly look forward to being involved with the opera, which they have for at least 10 productions, Klemm said.
“They get the chance to perform in a more acting role, they get to be costumed, they get to sing with professional singers, they get to work with a professional orchestra,” she said. “It really gives them a huge learning opportunity.”
“They have become hooked on opera,” she continued. “And I have, too. It’s such a wonderful way to have music, choir, solos, orchestra, staging and acting, all blended together.”
This year’s production features almost 150 performers.
The opera company’s 30th anniversary performance — in collaboration with the Children’s Choir, Civic Ballet San Luis Obispo, Core Dance Company, Deyo Dances, Resonance Vocal Ensemble, and Studio @Ryan’s American Dance — is especially ambitious, with a double bill of two hour-long operas, each with its own set, costumes, music and choreography.
Italian verismo-style operas focusing on regular people rather than gods or kings — Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” — have been performed together since 1893.
The fast pace and large scale of the productions — with a 52-person choir, 36 dancers and a 56-person orchestra — make the pair a wonderful first opera experience, Alhadeff said.
But down the road, Alhadeff hopes, people won’t even need to know what the show is — they’ll just come.
“When the circus comes to town, you don’t ask what kind of show it’s going to be, whether there will be elephants or tigers, or how many clowns there are,” he said. “You say, hey let’s go to the circus.”
Soon, he hopes, people will view OperaSLO in the same way.
“When there’s an opera, you buy a ticket” is how he describes his goal, “because you know you’re going to get chorus, you’re going to get ballet, you’re going to get orchestra, you’re going to get soloists, costumes, sets, lighting, props — the whole nine yards on one set.”
‘CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND PAGLIACCI’
Presented by OperaSLO and Citywide Arts Collaboration
7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Performing Arts Center, San Luis Obispo
$15 to $20 at http://pacslo.org or 756-4849